Hundreds of police officers deployed to guard Jewish National Fund (JNF) workers preparing land for forestation near the town of Sawa in the Negev on Monday – attacked an Arab-Bedouin protest. The work was being carried out on two plots of land in the area farmed by area residents, each about 150 dunams (37.5 acres). Protesters said the land has been farmed for decades and that wheat was planted there less than a month ago. The JNF also did work in the area two weeks ago, when police blocked access to the plots.
Journalist Yasser Okbi (second from right) detained by police officers during the Arab-Bedouin protest, last Monday, January 10, 2022 (Photo: Union of Journalists)
Several people were detained after residents gathered to protest the work, including Nas Radio and Maariv journalist Yasser Okbi, a leading member of the Union of Journalists. He was detained on suspicion of interfering with police, despite the fact that he had presented his press card. One person was reported to be injured.
“We condemn and reject the work and damage to the source of income of the Arab families in the area,” said MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash), leader of the Joint List, who arrived to the zone. According to Odeh, the Israeli government want “as much land as possible and as few Arabs as possible. These bulldozers are the true face of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and this racist government.”
MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Hadash – Joint List), Chair of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality canceled a hearing slated for Monday, because “at this very moment, land is being stolen in the Negev.” “At this very moment, the JNF is carrying out planting work on land that belongs to the Al Atrash family in the Negev, and under the guise of forestation work is actually stealing land and inflicting violence on the Arab Bedouin population there,” Touma-Sliman continued, referring to JNF projects on state land in the Negev.
The Union of Journalists in Israel said it “harshly condemns” Okbi’s detention, calling on Israel’s police commissioner to “immediately intervene and bring about his release.” The executive director of the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, Haia Nocah said to Haaretz: “Preparing forestation plans on houses in historical Bedouin villages will only bring to the sharpening of relations with the Bedouin community in the Negev. If the JNF insists on foresting, it should prepare plans for lands where groups have not lived for hundreds of years. It seems the JNF is insisting on reaching a confrontation with the indigenous population of the Negev. There is no reason at all to prioritize trees over people.”