Israeli police attack anti-Prawer protests with tear gas, water cannons

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Israeli occupation forces attack a Palestinian protester after a demonstration against the so-called Prawer plan at the gate of the Beit El settlement, near Ramallah, on November 30, 2013. (Photo: AFP - Abbas Momani)

Published Saturday, November 30, 2013

Israeli police on Saturday attacked thousands of protesters in the coastal city of Haifa and the desert village of Houra demonstrating against a draft law aimed at evicting Bedouin residents from the southern Negev.

Protests against the so-called Prawer bill – which would forcibly evict up to 40,000 Bedouins, demolish about 40 villages and confiscate more than 700,000 dunams of Negev land – also took place in the West Bank, Gaza and across at least 14 other countries.

The draft legislation of the bill was adopted by Israel's parliament in a first reading in June but it has to pass two more readings before it becomes law.

Haifa was brought to a standstill as police fired stun grenades and water cannons at hundreds of youths who blocked a main thoroughfare and chanted: "With our souls and blood we will defend you, Palestine!"

Over 1,000 demonstrated in Houra in the Negev desert where police attacked protesters with tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons.

Police fire water cannons at protesters in Haifa on November 30, 2013. (Photo: AFP - Ahmad Gharabli)

Witnesses said several demonstrators had been injured. An Israeli police spokesman said at least 28 people had been arrested in Haifa and Houra.

Protesters said they have appealed plans by Israel to evict them from their homes.

"People who have no land do not exist. We have been living here since before the creation of the state of Israel (1948)," said 70-year-old demonstrator Maqbul Saraya in Houra.

"We have submitted a complaint to the court but we feel that democracy and justice in Israel do not apply to us," he said.

"We were here before Israel. What they're doing in the Negev is what they've done to us all along," Haneen Zoabi, an Arab member of parliament, told Reuters at the Haifa protest.

"It may pass a vote, but the youth here and in the Negev will resist democratically in any way possible, and stop them," she added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the protests.

"The attempts of a boisterous and violent minority to deny a better future for a large population are grave. We will continue to promote this law for the better future that it will provide for all the Negev's citizens," Netanyahu said.

Israel says it will compensate many of the Bedouins with a combination of land and cash, and "bring them into the 21st century" by significantly improving their standard of living, according to a government-sponsored report on the draft.

The government agency in charge of the Prawer Plan, based in the prime minister's office, also condemned the protests which were organized by "extremists."

"Extremists, many of whom are not Bedouin, chose to divert the open debate about a purely social and humanitarian cause into a confrontation, falsely linked to the Palestinian issue," it said in a statement.

But Medhat Diab, a young Arab activist from a town outside Haifa wearing the traditional Palestinian scarf, said the Bedouin and Palestinian causes were linked.

"Our ID says we're Israeli but our identity is Palestinian," he said. "My generation sees that there's no justice or equality for Arabs, just taking more and more of our land."

(AFP, Reuters, Ma'an)

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