Photo courtesy of A-jarmaq news agency
Adalah: The Jewish National Fund, together with the Israel Lands Authority, plants forests in the Naqab to displace Bedouins, viewed as ‘trespassers’, from their lands. This is racial discrimination, par excellence.
Last week, in the wake of Israeli police assaults on Palestinian Bedouin citizens of Israel and human rights activists demonstrating against the afforestation activities of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in the Bedouin village of Sa'wa in the Naqab (Negev) in the south, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel sent an urgent letter to the police commissioner Yaakov Shabtai, the commander of the Southern District Police, Peretz Amar, the police commander of the Negev region, Nachshon Nagler, and the Attorney General (AG) Avichai Mandelblit demanding that they immediately order Israeli police forces to halt the use of violent, illegal and life-threatening means to disperse protests and to allow protests to continue.
In the letter sent by Adalah Attorneys Adi Mansour and Rabea Eghbariah, Adalah argued that police forces dispersed the protest, which was authorized by the police and peaceful at that time, and began using excessive force, injuring many protesters some severely. Adalah further argued that the police exceeded its authority and endangered the lives of the demonstrators by using rubber bullets, rubber-coated steel bullets and drones that dropped tear gas grenades. Adalah stressed that the use of drones dropping tear gas grenades, which was not used previously against citizens of Israel, is extremely dangerous, disproportionate and unlawful.
CLICK HERE to view video footage of the drone dropping tear gas grenades
The 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 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. The plan's sole purpose is political: to stop the recognition and development of Bedouin villages and to displace Bedouin families while taking over disputed land. Environmental groups, such as the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel objected to the policy, arguing that tree planting in the Naqab has negative consequences on the natural habitat of the area.
The JNF holds 13% of all the land in Israel (the vast majority of JNF lands were transferred by the State of Israel to the JNF). The JNF’s aim, as stipulated in its Memorandum of Association, is the acquisition of land in any area within the jurisdiction of the Government of Israel “for the purpose of settling Jews on such lands and properties”. The petitioners in the 2004 Adalah v. The Israel Lands Administration, et al. case, argued that: “[the] JNF is not and cannot be loyal to the entire Israeli public. The JNF’s loyalty is reserved for the Jewish people alone - for whom it was established and for whom it acts.” The JNF expanded its land ownership in the Naqab in a 2009 agreement with Israel where Israel outsourced land in the Galilee and in the Naqab, where many Palestinian citizens of Israel reside, to the JNF.
In renewing the plantings in Sa’wa, JNF workers were guarded by hundreds of heavily militarized police. Bedouin residents immediately started protesting the JNF's activity; a protest tent was set up and demonstrations were held on Al-Atrash lands. The police employed violent and disproportionate measures to disperse the protests and arrested many protesters. At the end of last week, approximately 85 people were arrested, including many minors. As of today, around 50 people were still being held in detention.
On 10 January 2022, Israeli police forces set up roadblocks preventing vehicles in all three entrances to the village and therefore restricted residents’ access, including schoolchildren, to their homes. Similar restrictions were placed for three consecutive days during the previous week as well.
In response, on 11 January 2022, Adalah sent a letter to the police commissioner, the commander of the Southern District Police and the AG demanding that the roadblocks be immediately removed. In the letter, sent by Adalah Attorney Rabea Eghbariah, Adalah argued that the police lack the authority to impose sweeping restrictions on the freedom of movement of the residents of the entire village; those are drastic, disproportionate and unreasonable restrictions that infringe not only on freedom of movement but also severely infringe on the right to education, as children could not attend school, and right to health, especially during this new, serious wave of COVID-19.
As roadblocks in the entrances to Sa'wa were set on the following day as well (12 January). Adalah sent a follow-up letter and has yet to receive an answer.
On 12 January 2022, Adalah also sent a letter to the Police commissioner and AG concerning the demolition of a protest tent in the early morning of 11 January. The tent was set up on 10 January. In the letter sent by Adalah Attorney Adi Mansour, Adalah argued that the demolition of a protest tent severely infringes Bedouin citizens’ constitutional right to freedom of expression and protest. 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.
Related Press Releases on the JNF:
Adalah & NCF: Israel’s replies to UN body deny Bedouin indigeneity in Naqab, ignore discriminatory effects of policies 2 October 2019
Israeli Supreme Court rejects petition against JNF membership in ILA land council 22 June 2018
National Committee of Arab Local Authorities, human rights organizations petition High Court of Justice to annul JNF representation on Israel Land Council 28 June 2016
Without Making Principal Changes, Israel Allows Arab Citizens to Bid for Jewish National Fund-Controlled Land 1 February 2016
Adalah and ACRI call to cancel discriminatory land swap agreement between Israeli government and the JNF 7 January 2016
Cancel the Yatir Forest Plan in the Naqab 30 December 2011