Protesters against the Prawer Plan in Beersheva. (Photo: Allison Deger/Mondoweiss)
Human rights groups have slammed Israel’s “excessive” force against those protesting the “discriminatory” plan to uproot tens of thousands of Bedouins in the state against their will.
Last week, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch harshly condemned Israeli treatment of protesters during a general strike against the Prawer Plan–the name given to the Israeli effort to demolish unrecognized Bedouin villages and push the residents into government-approved townships. As Mondoweiss’ Allison Deger reported last week, protesters in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza–most of them Palestinian– poured into the streets to condemn the Prawer Plan. A bill authorizing the Prawer Plan, named after former Israeli official Ehud Prawer, passed the Knesset for the first time last month. The legislation needs to go through two more readings in the Knesset for it to become enshrined in law.
Israeli police cracked down on the demonstrators voicing criticism of the plan on July 15, according to a Human Rights Watch report on the general strike.
Witnesses told the group that the police attacked protesters with mounted horses and tear gas. “I saw one of the [riot police] officers walk in front of us, he signaled and all of a sudden horses started running and trampling people. Some people hadn’t even heard the five-minute warning. There was no proper communication between the forces and the protesters,” one demonstrator in the northern Israeli city of Sakhnin told Human Rights Watch. Another protester said that a police officer used a horse to “trample” a man trying to protect a girl from the authorities. Other demonstrators said that the police fired tear gas and stun grenades at them.
Ten protesters were injured in the fracas, and over two dozen people were arrested.
Human Rights Watch urged Israeli authorities to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for the “excessive” force. “Security officials literally trampled on Israeli citizens who were demonstrating peacefully on July 15. If those responsible for unjustifiably injuring protesters go unpunished, it would send a dangerous signal that Israeli authorities will not tolerate peaceful protests,” said Human Rights Watch’s Joe Stork in a statement. But crackdowns on Israeli citizens protesting has a precedent. The most famous, and brutal, cases occurred during the start of the Second Intifada, when Palestinian citizens called a general strike in solidarity with the intifada and were met with violence by the Israeli police. 13 Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed in the unrest in October 2000, but no police officer was indicted for the killings.
Amnesty International also condemned the “excessive force against demonstrators in Be’er Sheva and Sakhnin” last week, and also noted that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority prevented demonstrations and marches against the Prawer Plan.
The group also said that the Prawer Plan would “lead to the forced eviction of tens of thousands of Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel. The plan is inherently discriminatory, flies in the face of Israel’s international obligations and cannot be accepted in any circumstances.”
The framework for the Prawer Plan was first approved in 2011. While it has gone through some changes over the years, the basic outlines of the plan have remained the same: demolish the villages where Bedouins have lived on for generations, move them into crowded townships and build new Jewish communities on top of the ruins of some old Bedouin villages. Decried as a “second Nakba” by critics of the plan, it will destroy at least 25 Bedouin villages in the Negev and uproot an estimated 30,000 people.
And while the Prawer Plan is not yet being implemented, the repeated demolitions of the Bedouin village of Al Araqib–destroyed for the 53rd time last week-– in order to build a Jewish National Fund forest is a preview of the calamity to come to Bedouin communities.