Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Breaking News

Israel’s Plan To Move Bedouins from Villages Sparks Large Protests

Hundreds of Bedouin Arabs and their supporters clashed with Israeli forces on Saturday in protests against a government plan to force 40,000 Bedouins living in the southern Negev region to leave their villages.

The plan has not only angered the Bedouins but also spurred many other young Arab citizens of Israel to associate it with Israel’s occupation of Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and so identify themselves more closely with demands for a Palestinian state.

The historic heart of Haifa, Israel’s northern port city on the Mediterranean, was brought to a standstill as hundreds of Israeli Arabs scuffled with scores of security forces.

Police fired stun grenades and water cannon at the youths, who blocked a main thoroughfare and chanted: “With our souls and blood we will defend you, Palestine!”

Over 1,000 demonstrated in the largest gathering, in Hura, in Israel’s Negev Desert. Stone-throwers clashed with police, who used tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon.

Eyewitnesses said several demonstrators had been injured. An Israeli police spokesman said at least 28 people had been arrested in Haifa and Hura and some 15 officers treated for injuries.

A bill set for a final vote in parliament before the end of the year provides for 40,000 Arab Bedouins from many villages that are “unrecognised” by the Israeli state to be forced to move into seven townships.

Bedouins, other Arab citizens of Israel and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank all say the plan is a land grab meant to benefit Jews at their expense, and point to the lack of progress in the latest, U.S.-backed peace talks between Israel and Palestinians.

“WE WILL RESIST”

“We were here before Israel. What they’re doing in the Negev is what they’ve done to us all along,” Haneen Zoabi, an Arab member of parliament, told Reuters at the Haifa protest.

“It may pass a vote, but the youth here and in the Negev will resist democratically in any way possible, and stop them.”

Other demonstrations took place near the old city of Arab East Jerusalem, another Arab town in central Israel and an area adjoining a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, where tear gas was used to scatter protesters.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the protests.

“The attempts of a boisterous and violent minority to deny a better future for a large population are grave. We will continue to promote this law for the better future that it will provide for all the Negev’s citizens,” Netanyahu said.

Israel says it will compensate many of the Bedouins with a combination of land and cash, and “bring them into the 21st century” by significantly improving their standard of living, according to a government-sponsored report on the draft.

The majority of Israel’s 1.6 million Arab citizens dwell in cities and small towns in the north and centre.

But 200,000 Bedouin live in the southern desert, half in government-built townships and half in 42 ramshackle “unrecognised” villages without running water, electricity or sanitation. Civil rights groups say it is these the government should be developing, rather than the soulless dormitory towns where the Bedouins are being forced to move.

The government agency in charge of the Prawer Plan, based in the prime minister’s office, condemned the protests.

“Extremists, many of whom are not Bedouin, chose to divert the open debate about a purely social and humanitarian cause into a confrontation, falsely linked to the Palestinian issue,” it said in a statement.

“The Bedouin of the Negev, being equal citizens, deserve adequate housing, public services and a better future for their children.”

But Medhat Diab, a young Arab activist from a town outside Haifa wearing the trademark Palestinian chequered scarf, said the Bedouin and Palestinian causes were linked.

“Our ID says we’re Israeli but our identity is Palestinian,” he said. “My generation sees that there’s no justice or equality for Arabs, just taking more and more of our land.”

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.