After violent riots by Bedouins, the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) resumed planting trees in the Negev on Tuesday under heavy security. At least 18 Bedouin were arrested as the riots included burning cars, blocking trains, and throwing rocks at police. Two policemen were wounded in the clashes.
The Bedouin claim that the forestation project is an attempt to remove them from the land. The Israeli courts have ruled that the land is publicly owned but the Bedouin claim that they have lived on the land for an unspecified amount of time and therefore own the land. The Israeli government has prepared towns for the Bedouin to live in but they refuse, insisting on setting up illegal dwellings in areas that are difficult or impossible to connect to the infrastructure.
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Mansour Abbas, the head of the Ra’am (Arab) party and a member of Naftali Bennett’s coalition, announced that he would protest the tree planting by not voting with the coalition.
In comments to Channel 12 news, Abbas said, “We will not vote with the coalition until the plantings in the south are stopped.”
“No one will stop the planting of trees in the Land of Israel,” Netanyahu tweeted Tuesday evening. “I give full backing to the security forces and demand [Prime Minister Naftali] Bennett immediately condemn the incitement by Ra’am.”
Abbas also attacked Netanyahu, saying, “Not only did you agree to stop tree planting in the Negev, but you also agreed to recognize three Bedouin communities and agreed to my request in one of the sitdowns [at the Prime Minister’s Office] to delay the evacuation of families from their homes in [East Jerusalem’s] Sheikh Jarah. MK Netanyahu, breathe, take things in and maybe move on.”
Prime Minister Bennett’s coalition has a slim majority and this war on trees could endanger its cohesion.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, criticized Netanyahu for “12 years of abandoning the Negev and neglecting the Bedouin problem.” Lapid called for the planting to stop.
“Israel should plant trees on state lands, but we don’t need to harm the livelihood of local residents,” Lapid said, adding that “politicians on both sides need to calm things instead of fanning the flames.”
Likud’s MK Yair Levin, meanwhile, accused the government of a “total loss of control. It lost control of infections and of managing the coronavirus pandemic and it’s now losing control in the Negev.” He called Lapid’s comments “an immediate capitulation to terror” and “an astonishing display of weakness and a basic misunderstanding of the reality we live in.”
Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin of the New Hope party, whose ministry oversees the tree planting, vowed to continue planting.
Hamas expressed support for the Bedouin, claiming a ramming attack on Tuesday evening that wounded an IDF soldier was motivated by the tree planting.
“The demolitions and violation in the Negev and the mounting crimes by the occupations and settlers will be met by more such heroic operations,” Hamas spokesperson Abd al-Latif al-Qanou said in a statement.
Tu Bishvat and Shmittah
This Hebrew year is the Shemittah (Sabbatical) and it is technically forbidden to plant trees. Rabbi Dov Lior and other prominent rabbinic authorities have given permission for the KKL planting to be carried out as it is of dire importance “for the struggle for the Land of Israel, and called on all Knesset members to come to the Negev to make the desert bloom.”
“There are many areas in the country where when you do not cultivate the land you lose it,” Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel (New Hope) said on Facebook.
“On the eve of Tu Bishvat, agriculture should be recognized and planting is the solution everywhere, and so it will be done this year as well,” he said, adding that members of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party would also be invited to plant.
It should be noted that planting trees during the Shemitta is tantamount to violating the Sabbath. If the Orthodox MKs take part in the planting, it is an admission that there is a Torah imperative to plant trees to save the land that is on the level of saving lives.
Naomi Kahn, the Director of the International Division of Regavim, an NGO that monitors illegal Arab construction,
“Planting trees in the Negev is a necessity for the State of Israel right now,” Khan told Israel365 News. “The only reason why rabbis would permit planting of trees during the shemittah is that it is necessary to protect the land of Israel. The reaction shows that this is true.”
“The Bedouin claim ownership of a mind-boggling stretch of land. They claim that if they ever grazed their sheep on a piece of land, the land now belongs to them. There is nowhere in the world, not even in Arab countries, that this claim would be taken seriously. Yet the Israeli government has gone to great lengths to provide them with alternative land and communities. But even this is not enough. One hundred years ago, the Ottoman Empire invited the Negev Bedouins to register the land they were using. But the Bedouin didn’t want to pay taxes or be subjects to the government. They are Israeli citizens and receive all the civil liberties and benefits. Yet they refuse to acknowledge the most basic rule of law.”
It is tragically ironic that while the government is vacillating over the issue of illegal Bedouin construction, the government is preparing to destroy the yeshiva in Homesh on Thursday. Yehuda Dimentman, who was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist 30 days ago learned at the yeshiva. The Israeli government destroyed the Homesh settlement as part of the disengagement plan. The site has been the scene of clashes between Jews and police in recent weeks.