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January 13, 2022 3:00 pm
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Bedouin Riots Continue for Third Day as Gov’t Considers Plan to Recognize Illegal Towns in Negev

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Israeli security forces clash with Bedouins during protest against forestation at the Negev desert village of Sawe al-Atrash in southern Israel, January 13, 2022. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Riots among the Bedouin sector in Israel’s southern Negev region continued for a third day on Thursday, amid reports that Jerusalem is considering a comprehensive plan to restore order.

The unrest stemmed from opposition to a reforestation project by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which Bedouin leaders have portrayed as part of a government effort to displace their communities from the area. JNF, which says it is planting on state land, suspended activity in hopes of solving the problem, but demonstrations have continued.

Dozens have been arrested since clashes broke out on Tuesday night, with rioters stoning a train, burning tires on a main highway, as well as assaulting a reporter and setting his car on fire.

The violence ballooned into a political crisis, with the Islamist Ra’am party, which is part of Prime Minister Naftali Bennet’s ruling coalition and has a large Negev Bedouin voter base, pledging to boycott Knesset votes until the forestry work ceases. Lawmakers from the party did not show up for plenum votes on Wednesday.

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The government has brought forward a plan in a bid to quell the unrest, which includes the retroactive recognition of 10 to 12 illegal Bedouin villages, Israeli public broadcaster Kan reported. Negotiations were set to begin Thursday.

JNF will not resume planting in contentious areas next week as planned, in order to give negotiators an opportunity to reach a resolution, though similar work will continue elsewhere. “If they tell us to stop, we will stop,” said JNF chairman Avraham Duvdevani.

Housing and Construction Minister Ze’ev Elkin has called for tree planting to continue, stating, “I don’t intend to stop in any form. If the prime minister wants, he’s welcome to stop it himself.”

Nonetheless, the Ra’am party said it will not return to the Knesset next week unless negotiations begin with all parties. If Ra’am quits the coalition, the government will disband and Israel will likely go to new elections.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who is said to be seeking a compromise, held a meeting on the issue and criticized Elkin, saying, “He’s instigating a fight and hurting the stability of the government.”

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