Striking schoolchildren hang out in their village of Al-Atrash in the Negev Desert. This Wednesday, January 12, they hesitate to cross a small field of olive trees which borders this agglomerate of sheet metal and cement, not recognized by the State, where some 9,000 Bedouins live. « Do you think we can go? We are going to be arrested … « Suddenly, behind the branches, a hundred Israeli police charge. Young adults from the village, hooded, flow back through the alleys.
On the open hill, police quads raise a cloud of dust. Four officers tight in their riot armor stand in the middle of a wild parking lot, mounted on heavy Andalusian horses. Funny plastic visors protect the eyes of animals. « They would need camels, it would be more suitable », judges a woman safe behind a fence. A stray donkey bows at the top of its lungs, under a hovering drone.
The clashes, which continued on Thursday, began on Monday. That day, Jewish National Fund (JNF) bulldozers began leveling nearby land to plant trees, which were supposed to circumscribe the village and prevent it from spreading. Riots ensued. On Tuesday, young Bedouin blocked the nearby road 31. Stones placed on rails near Beersheba brought a train to a standstill. About twenty young people were arrested. Then thirty Wednesday, and thirteen Thursday. The FNJ has developed 32 hectares, according to the village authorities, and planted half a dozen young trees.
Meanwhile, the crisis has crippled Parliament in Jerusalem, threatening to bring down the Israeli government for some eucalyptus trees. She revealed the fractures of the unprecedented coalition, in power since June. Among the eight parties, which range from left to far right, the United Arab List (LAU), a small Islamo-conservative formation (four deputies out of one hundred and twenty), draws a large share of its votes from the Negev. Its leader, Mansour Abbas, on Wednesday refused to vote any amendment in the Knesset, depriving the government of its majority.
Mr. Abbas had taken a historic step by joining him in June. He caused a stir again in December by claiming that Israel is and will remain a Jewish state. But the notables of the Negev reminded him of his promises: to legalize the unrecognized villages, recognize their rights to part of the land and put an end to the destruction of buildings by the State, which continues to the chagrin of Mr. Abbas.
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