Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s fragile coalition is being rocked by a crisis over tree planting in the Negev by the Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemeth L’Yisrael (KKL-JNF), a yearly tradition that this year sparked violent riots by Bedouins and Ra’am’s boycott of the coalition.
Bedouins falsely claim that the land is privately owned by Arabs, prompting Ra’am, with its voter base in the Negev, to issue an ultimatum – immediately end the tree planting or Ra’am won’t vote with the coalition.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Bedouins in the Negev engaged in violent riots on Tuesday evening near Segev Shalom to protest the tree planting. Protesters blocked roads with burning tires and threw rocks at passing cars and police officers, injuring two. The rioters also almost derailed a nearby train by putting rocks on the tracks. Fortunately, the driver made an emergency stop, noticing the rocks just in time.
A Haaretz reporter was attacked by a gang of about 20 Bedouins who stole his car and set it on fire. He managed to escape from the crowd with the help of the police.
This is what happens when your gov't relies on Mansour Abbas.
Following JNF planting work on state land in the Negev, Bedouin are rioting:
*Rocks on train track near Goral jct.
*Rocks thrown at bus & car on Route 25 next to Nevatim
*Burning tyres & road blocks near Segev Shalom pic.twitter.com/jMIwwEaVlH
— Regavim (@RegavimEng) January 11, 2022
The unrest had led to conflict within the Jewish members of the coalition as well, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid trying to calm tensions by calling for a “pause” in the tree plantings in order to “reorganize,” only to be contradicted by right-wing members of the coalition, who insisted that the planting will continue.
Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin told Kan News on Wednesday morning that “the planting will continue despite the political pressures. The planting is routine and is carried out every year.” Elkin said he understands the pressure Ra’am chairman Abbas is facing but the land in question is state-owned and not privately owned by Arabs, as they claim. “We’ll do what’s necessary,” he asserted. “We won’t waver from this position.”
Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel also spoke out against ending the planting, saying: “There can’t be any leniency toward riots in the Negev. The great lie that has taken place here in the last decade, the loss of governance in the Negev and Galil…is not an excuse. We’re governing and we have no other option but to return sovereignty to the Negev.
In response, Ra’am MK Iman Khatib-Yasin dug in her heels, stating: “We’ll go to the end. We joined this coalition in order to serve Arab citizens.”
The planting did continue on Wednesday morning, sparking further riots. A police officer was injured and at least 18 Bedouins were arrested.
מהומות בנטיעות קק"ל בנגב: למרות האיומים של רע"ם – העבודות באזור נמשכו, ובהפרת סדר שהתפתחה במקום נעצרו 18 חשודים ביידוי אבנים. בתוך כך, ראשי רשויות ערביות בנגב שיגרו מכתב ליו"ר המפלגה עבאס בדרישה "לנקוט עמדה ברורה ונחרצת"@SuleimanMas1 @sharonidan pic.twitter.com/sI8m6UMiZW
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) January 11, 2022
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) January 12, 2022
Meanwhile, Chareidi opposition MKs voiced their disapproval of planting trees during Shemita, with UTJ MK Uri Maklev saying: “Planting trees during Shemita is completely forbidden according to halacha. A protest does not justify harming Shemita.”
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)