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Rights group: Israel must halt life-threatening crackdown on protests in Negev

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Israeli forces stand in front of Palestinian demonstrators in the Negev desert in this file photo.

A rights group has urged Israel to stop its life-threatening crackdown on protest rallies in the Negev (Naqab) desert, as the Palestinian residents of the region, including children, face forced eviction by the occupying entity.

In a statement, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) said it had sent a letter to Israeli officials, demanding that they immediately order Israeli police forces to halt the use of violent, illegal, and life-threatening means to disperse rallies and to allow protests to continue.

According to the statement, carried by Palestine’s official Wafa news agency on Monday, the letter was sent last week to three Israeli commanders, including the one in charge of the Negev region, and the attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit.

Tensions grew in the Negev early last week after diggers and bulldozers of the so-called Jewish National Fund (JNF) razed some Bedouin farming lands as part of a controversial tree planting program or afforestation. The provocative move triggered large rallies, which met with faced brutal crackdown and mass arrests.

The rights group argued in the letter that Israeli police forces broke up a protest rally, which was authorized by the police and was peaceful at that time, and began using excessive force, injuring many protesters, some severely.

It said Israeli police exceeded its authority and endangered the lives of protesters by using rubber-coated bullets, tear gas, stun grenades, as well as skunk water. Adalah further said Israeli police also used drones to drop tear gas grenades, condemning such use of drones as “extremely dangerous, disproportionate and unlawful.”

“The [Israeli] police used an array of violent and disproportionate means to muzzle the protesters since the Jewish National Fund (JNF) restarted its tree plantings (afforestation) on the lands of the al-Atrash Bedouin tribe near Sa'wa on 10 January 2022,” the letter said.

It added that the so-called Israel Lands Authority (ILA) "allocated the lands to the JNF for purposes of afforestation, for the purpose of preserving the land, despite registered claims of ownership over this land and use for agriculture by Bedouin residents.”

Adalah stressed that the afforestation plan is politically-motivated and aimed at stopping the recognition and development of Bedouin villages and to displace Bedouin families while taking over disputed land. It emphasized that the JNF’s sole goal, as stipulated in its Memorandum of Association, is the acquisition of land in any area across the occupied Palestinian territories.

“The destruction of the protest tent by a bulldozer without warning is an unreasonable and manifestly disproportionate measure. According to eyewitnesses and documentation from the scene, it is apparent that the demolition was executed by a JNF bulldozer. Adalah stressed in its letter that this type of enforcement, especially by the JNF that has no competence to act in this manner, is illegal” the rights group added in its statement.

Israeli authorities have been carrying out forced evacuations against Bedouins since 1949. The demolition of Bedouin homes is part of the regime’s massive land-grab policy, which will forcefully displace thousands of people.

Tel Aviv has so far refused to recognize the rights of Palestinian Bedouins and denies them access to basic services.

More than 600,000 Israelis live in over 230 settlements built since the 1967 occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank. All the settlements are illegal under international law. The United Nations Security Council has condemned the settlement activities in several resolutions.

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