On Saturday, November 30th, thousands gathered in the Negev in Southern Israel to protest the government’s forced urbanization plan of the desert’s Bedouin indigenous people. The plan, called Prawer-Begin after its authors passed first reading of three by the Israeli parliament in June, and sparked mass mobilization. The biggest of the protests was in the Negev Desert and was met with enormous police force, water cannons, and policemen on horses, Dozens were arrested and wounded.
LIA TARACHANSKY, PRODUCER: On Saturday, November 30, thousands gathered in the Negev in southern Israel to protest the government’s forced urbanization plan of the desert’s Bedouin indigenous people. The plan, called Prawer-Begin after its authors, passed first reading of three by the Israeli parliament in June and sparked a mass mobilization involving two days of rage in July and August and an online campaign leading up to Saturday’s protests.
This third day of rage saw hundreds throughout the country travel to join thousands of Bedouins in the Negev in an unprecedented demonstration of solidarity. Simultaneously, protests were organized in various cities and around the world.
CROWD (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Raise, raise, raise your voice. Those who speak up are alive.
My people decided: my people are free. Prawer will not be imposed on us.
TARACHANSKY: The Israeli government decided to respond to the rising movement and organized massive forces, attempting to repress protests. Hundreds of police officers were deployed to the desert alongside water cannons and policemen on horses.
INTERVIEWER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): You were one of the only members of Parliament to oppose the Prawer law. Can you explain why?
AHMAD TIBI, ISRAELI MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT (TA’AL PARTY) (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The purpose of this law is to displace the indigenous off their lands and bring Jewish settlers in their place. We are protesting to say no to Prawer loudly. It may pass parliament, but it won’t pass on the ground.
SALEM EL MADAMMA, BEDOUIN LAWYER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): As we saw today, the police is trying to dictate that Prawer will pass, using pressure on people, using what I call political terror, government terror, when their officers are going door to door, and those who support them, to frighten the people from going to the streets.
But today we saw that the Negev’s Arab Bedouin did go out. And protests still continue even now. And it’s a clear message for the Netanyahu government that Prawer won’t pass and the government should reconsider its steps and retract this racist law.
INTERVIEWER (ENGLISH): Why is the government so interested in the Negev?
HAIA NOACH, FORUM FOR COEXISTENCE IN THE NEGEV DESERT: Well, you know, the Negev is 60 percent of the Israel territory in the Green Line, and only 8 percent of the population in Israel lives here, 30 percent of them Bedouin. The government want to Judaize the Negev by new Jewish newcomers. By the way, they are not coming.
Just in front of us will be the main intelligence base. Another project is a large [incompr.] bahadim army city, which will contain 30,000 soldiers.
Bedouins are citizens of the state, and they are not under occupation, and we should treat them as citizens.
TARACHANSKY: Dozens were arrested and many wounded, including several policemen. Among the arrests was a seven-year-old boy.
Politicians, with the help of the police and the Israeli press, attempted to turn the Bedouins’ protest on its head: the demonstrations were reported as riots, all the reports spoke only of violence, and police brutality was entirely absent from the news.
Indeed, the entire Prawer-Begin plan was turned on its head and presented as an attempt to help the Bedouins, that it was the government that was trying to prevent losing land and not the other way around. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, released a statement saying the Bedouin are not even against the plan: “The attempt of a loud and violent minority to prevent a better future for a large and wide population is severe. We will continue advancing the bill for a better future for all residents of the Negev”.
While the plan rejects the Bedouins’ call to recognize their 35 villages, where they were settled after surviving the mass expulsions of 1948, the Israeli foreign minister, Avidgor Lieberman, said it was the Bedouin who were attempting to grab land and not the government: “This is a fight over land. We are fighting over the Jewish people’s national land. And there are those who intentionally try to steal and take it over by force.”
The movement against Prawer started in the village of Al-Araqeeb, which saw over 50 demolitions in recent years. Before he was arrested by the Israeli police for rebuilding his home, Sheikh Sayyah spoke to The Real News about why the Bedouin refuse to be relocated into the impoverished shantytowns the government’s trying to resettle them in.
SHEIKH SAYYAH ABU MDEIGHIM, CHIEFTAIN OF AL-ARAQEEB (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): What right does the government have to take lands that have been ours since before the Ottoman Empire? I think we must not compromise on the land. Even if we die of hunger, we will not leave this land.
TARACHANSKY: In the days leading up to the protests, police invited central activists in various cities, as well as an Arab member of parliament, for questioning. The police wanted me to sign a document saying I will take personal responsibility for everything that happens in the protests, said one Bedouin activist who was called in to police headquarters for questioning. But when it became clear the protests would not be canceled, police spokespeople were deployed to all demonstrations to speak to the press. Talking at one, the police chief in charge of the Southern District said the protests were an attempt to start a war.
In the Negev, protesters returned to the streets the next day, and various groups in major cities plan to hold weekly demonstrations as well.
For The Real News, I’m Lia Tarachansky in the Negev Desert, southern Israel.