On Saturday, thousands of protesters across Israel and the West Bank rallied against a plan to displace Bedouin residents of the Naqab (or Negev) desert. The day was billed a "Day of Rage" and it certainly lived up to its name, with several of the actions swiftly turning into violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces who used tear gas, water cannons, horses, and stun grenades.
The rage was directed at the Prawer Plan, a proposed Israeli law that would lead to the displacement of up to 70,000 Bedouin living in the Naqab, which is in southern Israel. Many of the Bedouin reside in villages the Israeli government refuses to recognize, and the Prawer Plan aims to destroy their homes and forcibly relocate them to government-planned townships.
According to the government, the Prawer Plan "constitutes a major step forward towards integrating the Bedouin more fully into Israel's multicultural society, while still preserving their unique culture and heritage." Anti-Prawer activists, like Khalil Alamour of the unrecognized Bedouin village of Assiri, have a different view of the situation.
"They [the Israeli government] have many excuses and claims and very, very beautiful excuses to cover their real reasons, which is to concentrate the Bedouin and relocate them in a very minimum space and take all their ancestral lands," Khalil told me.
By the end of the day, there were at least 28 arrests and 15 Israeli police officers were injured, including one who'd been stabbed in the leg. In the largest of the demonstrations, in the Bedouin township of Hura, a 14-year-old Bedouin child was dragged off by police at gunpoint.
Dr. Thabet Abu Rass, the director of the Naqab office of the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said the Prawer Plan prescribes different criteria for construction in Bedouin and Jewish towns in the Naqab.
"We are discriminated against by the state of Israel as Arabs," he said. "This law is going to hit one portion, one segment of the Arab minority severely, which is the Bedouin of the Naqab… the state of Israel is moving to put [in place] new criteria for a specific group of people, the Bedouin, which will prevent the recognition of the Bedouin villages."
The Bedouin have inhabited the Naqab desert for hundreds of years, since long before the state of Israel existed, and have traditionally subsisted on agriculture. After the establishment of Israel, Bedouin in the Naqab have faced a long history of home demolitions and forced relocation. "Displacement is the basic historical experience of the Bedouin of the Naqab," said Gadi Algazi, an associate professor in the history department of Tel Aviv University.
"What is happening now is that the Israeli authorities decided to solve the issue of land ownership and the so-called 'Bedouin question' once and for all. And they are doing it in a style that is actually well known. This is the shock doctrine," Gadi said. "It means, as they imagine it, that within three years all open issues of land ownership are going to be solved. And they are going to be solved in a manner that would leave the Bedouin with next to nothing."
Aziz Alturi comes from al-Araqib, an unrecognized village that has been destroyed and rebuilt more than 50 times in the last few years. Aziz said that by destroying the villages and preventing the Bedouin from practicing their traditional agricultural lifestyle, the Israeli government hopes to force them to take low-wage, unskilled jobs more connected to the Israeli economy.
"The government is looking for a way to change our culture, to change us, to confiscate our land," he said. "When someone has land, he feels like a businessman or a normal person. He doesn't feel like a worker or a slave or something because he cultivates the land and he makes his job in the land and he continues his life… Now when I look around at what is happening with the demolitions, I'm sure the government have the idea to change us to be only slaves."
More dispatches from the West Bank and Israel: