Planting trees in desert sows discord within Israeli coalition

SAWE AL-ATRASH, Israel, January 12 (Reuters) – Government-sponsored tree planting in an Israeli desert has sparked violent protests from Bedouin Arabs who view reforestation as a discriminatory encroachment on the state, sowing discord within Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s mixed ethnic group. coalition.

Days before the Jewish arbor festival of Tu Bishvat, the desire to turn the sandy expanses of the southern Negev into green returns to the tales of the pioneer founders of Israel.

But the nomadic Bedouins claim private ownership of the nationalized land under zoning and accuse Israeli courts of allowing the expropriations as part of a campaign to deny the right to vote that has kept much of their community in abeyance. off-grid concrete block camps.

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The diggers rode this year despite a call from Mansour Abbas, a partner of the Bennett coalition of Israel’s Arab minority, for a postponement “as we work on a decent plan that would give Bedouin citizens a life and means to honorable sustenance ”.

“A tree is not more important than a person,” he tweeted.

Authorities said flattening dunes and planting trees were necessary for conservation and modernization.

In the Negev village of Sawe al-Atrash, Bedouins scuffled with riot police on Wednesday after a night in which authorities said protesters blocked roads, stoned motorists and forced a train out. stop by piling stones on its rails.

Mansour’s United Arab List (UAL) party was boycotting parliamentary votes, a coalition spokesperson said. If maintained, it could rob Bennett of his slim majority and strengthen the Jewish nationalist opposition.

When asked how far the UAL was prepared to go, party lawmaker Iman Khatib Yassin replied: “All the way.”

“We entered this partnership in the hope of finding partners who understand that the Arab citizens of the country have a fundamental right and deserve fundamental rights to their land,” she told Kan radio, while avoiding any threat of leaving the coalition.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, a centrist, called for an end to the contested reforestation. Despite promises from successive governments to invest fairly in the Negev, “the Bedouin problem has been abandoned,” he said in a statement.

Right-wing cleric Bennett made no comment. His ideologically related Housing Minister, Zev Elkin, saw no need to heed such calls. “This is state land,” Elkin told 103 FM radio.

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Written by Dan Williams Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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