Under heavy security, Keren Kayemet LeYisrael (KKL) resumed planting trees in the Negev on Wednesday morning after they were halted the day before by an eruption of Bedouin violence.
At least 18 people were arrested following the rioting, that broke out in protest against JKKL tree-planting ceremonies ahead of Tu B’Shevat, which falls next week.
Rioters placed rocks on railway tracks near the Goral intersection, forcing a train to make an emergency stop. At the Segev Shalom intersection, rioters burned tires and threw fireworks at security forces, as well as stoning passing cars and a bus. Two police officers suffered minor injuries. Haaretz reporter Nati Yefet was attacked after he arrived at Segev Shalom to cover the rioting. Although Yefet presented his press pass, about 20 Bedouin attacked him, stole his car, and set it on fire. Police extracted Yefet, who was uninjured.
Just as it did during the Arab-Israeli rioting in May 2021 during “Operation Guardian of the Walls,” Hamas fanned the flames, putting out a message of congratulations “to our people in the Negev who are rising up against the Zionist oppression and aggression.”
“Do not let our people in the Negev deal with the occupation on their own. All our people inside occupied Palestine [Israel] must be with them. The occupation should think 1,000 times about the idea of harming the land, the people, and the holy sites. The time has come for the occupation to pay a price for its presence and aggression in our land,” said Hamas.
Israeli Housing and Construction Minister Ze’ev Elkin told Kan Radio on Wednesday that Israel would not be deterred.
“We will continue to plant trees like we should,” he said. “We will handle the political problem. I understand the pressure that the Bedouin public is putting on [the Arab] Ra’am [Party]. These are state-owned lands. I’m in favor of solving the problems through dialogue, and that is the line [Ra’am leader Mansour] Abbas is taking, which I welcome,” he added.
However, Omer Council head Pini Badash said he expects Tuesday’s violence to “develop into something bigger, a real intifada.” Israel’s coalition government, he said, “has started to give in. They gave them a finger, now they want the whole hand.”
Badash continued: “It started with three Bedouin communities for development. Something that was supposed to help everyone. But they [the Bedouin] have started crossing all the lines—the government needs to say, no more.”
Israeli Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel said, “The Negev rioting must not be met with forgiveness. The big lie making the rounds here in the past decade, the lack of governability in the Negev and Galilee and the ineffectuality [of law enforcement] under the Likud government, are not an excuse. We are in power and we have no possibility other than to restore sovereignty to the Negev.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called on all parties not to inflame the situation.
“The ‘government of change’ is committed to solving the Bedouin problem and regulating the Negev. Politicians from all sides should calm things down rather than fan the flames. I condemn the violence at the site and support the police actions to restore order,” said Lapid.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.