HAIFA, Israel (Reuters) – Hundreds of Bedouin Arabs and their supporters clashed with Israeli forces yesterday 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, US-backed peace talks between Israel and Palestinians.