In JNF forests, Bedouin see ‘soft expulsion,’ environmentalists see a key ecological interest, and right-wing politicians see a weapon against ‘illegal squatters’
The slender saplings, placed into soil churned up by tractors, seem far too innocuous to spark a coalition crisis. But where and how they’re planted turns out to matter on a national scale.
The Jewish National Fund, a quasi-governmental body that oversees 13 percent of Israel’s land, began several days of planting trees on disputed land in the Negev on Sunday. The response was immediate: protests by Bedouin residents that escalated into clashes.
Many Negev Bedouin live in unrecognized townships scattered across Israel’s southern desert. The government has sought to relocate them into planned, recognized cities, but most Bedouin have refused, insisting on the right to stay where they are.
Bedouin leaders have called the forestation work the beginning of an attempt to expel some of those living in the unrecognized villages and take over disputed land. Although this week’s planting has been limited to a small area of farmland, they see it as part of a larger plan to depopulate the area of Bedouins.