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Israel faces crisis as tree-planting in Negev desert sparks Bedouin protests

Police said two officers were injured in the violence and local media reported that at least 18 people had been arrested.

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Israeli security forces detain a Bedouin youth during a protest against tree-planting by the Jewish National Fund on disputed land near beduin village of al-Atrash at the Negev desert, southern Israel, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. The conflict in southern Israel, which is home to Bedouin villages unrecognized by the state, has divided the Israeli government with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid calling for halting the tree-planting while the Islamist Ra’am party has threatened to withhold its votes in parliament in protest. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Israeli security forces detain a Bedouin youth during a protest against tree-planting by the Jewish National Fund on disputed land near beduin village of al-Atrash at the Negev desert, southern Israel, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. The conflict in southern Israel, which is home to Bedouin villages unrecognized by the state, has divided the Israeli government with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid calling for halting the tree-planting while the Islamist Ra’am party has threatened to withhold its votes in parliament in protest. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Israeli security forces detain a Bedouin youth during a protest against tree-planting by the Jewish National Fund on disputed land near beduin village of al-Atrash at the Negev desert, southern Israel, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. The conflict in southern Israel, which is home to Bedouin villages unrecognized by the state, has divided the Israeli government with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid calling for halting the tree-planting while the Islamist Ra’am party has threatened to withhold its votes in parliament in protest. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Israel’s fragile governing coalition faced a crisis on Wednesday after Bedouins staged protests against tree-planting by nationalists on disputed land in the Negev desert.

Some protesters hurled stones at vehicles on a highway near Beersheba on Tuesday evening, blocked the railway line, and torched a vehicle.

Police said two officers were injured in the violence and local media reported that at least 18 people had been arrested.

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Israeli security forces advance during the protest (Mahmoud Illean/AP)

Israeli security forces advance during the protest (Mahmoud Illean/AP)

AP/PA Images

Israeli security forces advance during the protest (Mahmoud Illean/AP)

The conflict over planting trees in the Negev in southern Israel – home to Bedouin villages unrecognised by the state – has divided the government.

Foreign minister Yair Lapid called for a halt to the planting and a reassessment of the situation, while the Islamist Ra’am party has threatened to withhold its votes in parliament in protest. Both are members of the fragile eight-party coalition that runs the government.

Ra’am secured four seats in the 120-member Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in last year’s elections, with strong support among Bedouin citizens of Israel. Party leader Mansour Abbas wrote on Twitter that “a tree is not more important than a person”.

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The scene near the village of al-Atrash (Mahmoud Illean/AP)

The scene near the village of al-Atrash (Mahmoud Illean/AP)

AP/PA Images

The scene near the village of al-Atrash (Mahmoud Illean/AP)

More hawkish members of the diverse governing coalition have pledged to press on, undeterred.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett heads an unwieldy coalition of eight parties that joined forces in June to form a government and end Israel’s protracted political deadlock.

They range from the small Islamist and liberal parties to ultranationalists, and were united only in their opposition to longtime leader Benjamin Netanyahu.


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