Photo Credit: Hillel Maeir/TPS
Khan al Ahmar, July 4, 2018

Bedouin clans and organizations in the Negev are preparing for an escalation and a prolonged protest while expressing opposition to the leadership of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement.

The local Bedouin leadership has denied rumors about a compromise agreed upon with the government to stop the KKL-JNF planting in the Negev, and is therefore preparing for further protests and a possible escalation. The first big event will take place on Thursday afternoon, with the support of the more militant Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement.

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In previous nights, rioters have attacked Israeli motorists with rocks, set fire to cars, blocked rods with burning tires, attacked police, and attempted to derail a train. 21 rioters were arrested on Wednesday night.

Dozens of activists from various organizations are calling for a mass protest that will operate continuously.

TPS has learned that representatives of organizations that are forming in the Negev into action groups have met with the Arab families living in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem and with Muna El-Kurd, who has become a symbol of the struggle on behalf of the Arab families living there illegally.

El Kurd told the activists that they must act in all languages, collect visual materials, launch an extensive campaign on social networks, and also appeal to public opinion and the international arena. She further recommended that they mobilize the masses of Israeli Arabs and hold a prolonged protest.

“You must see your struggle as an existential struggle and not an explanatory campaign,” El-Kurd told the Bedouin activists.

A number of organizations are calling on lawyers among Israeli Arabs to protect them and those arrested in the recent violent clashes, pro bono.

Another organization involved is a student organization that has recently worked for the release of Islamic Jihad prisoner Hasham Abu Hawash who was released from Israeli custody after a 141-day hunger strike. The organization is very active at Be’er Sheva University and many of its members are Bedouin students from the Negev.

In recent days, there has been accelerated activity on social networks under the hashtag “Save the Negev.” Dozens of new tweeters have joined the networks and a number of WhatsApp groups have been opened to coordinate the Bedouin struggle in the Negev. Factors affiliated with Hamas in Gaza, including journalists and propaganda activists, are also participating in the Bedouin’s efforts on social media.

Elements in the Bedouin society say that “the struggle is about being or ceasing to be.”

The Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, which has been active in the Negev for decades, is also helping to organize the protest in the Negev, among other things with the political goal of tarnishing Mansour Abbas’ image, the Southern Branch’s senior representative in the Knesset with the Ra’am party.

Sources in the Negev, including council leaders and village leaders, recently criticized Abbas for his absence from the Negev and his inability to stop JNF activities altogether.

One of the heads of the Bedouin public said that “Abbas has become a tool in the hands of the Bennett government and is the knife that cuts the flesh of the Bedouins for the money promised to him.”

Sources in the Southern Branch, who understand that a protest is developing against them in their own political strongholds, told TPS that messages have been sent to the leadership that if the protest lasts for at least a week, it will threaten the stability of the coalition in the Knesset and overthrow the government.

Activists in the movement conveyed messages to the leadership that “it turns out that the Bennett government is continuing the Netanyahu government’s policy and is working to rob the land from its original owners.” They warned that if the protest expands, the Islamist Ra’am party and the Southern Branch will not be able to remain indifferent to the situation.

Hamas, which continues to prevent an escalation in the Gaza Strip, has called on the Negev to escalate the struggle in Israel to “prevent the Judaization of the Negev and the damage to its Palestinian Arab identity.”

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem condemned on Monday “the occupation’s attempts to Judaize the Negev” and expressed appreciation for the “mass protest” of Israeli Arabs.

Arab left-wing organizations in Israel are also taking advantage of the events of the Negev. Louis Khatib, a member of the political bureau of the Bnei HaKfar movement, said Wednesday that “what is happening in the Negev could be the spark that ignited the fuse of the struggle in Israel. The question of the struggle in the government is a matter of time and that seems to have arrived.”

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Baruch reports on Arab affairs for TPS.