Hundreds of Palestinian residents of Israel rallied Thursday afternoon against Israel’s Prawer Plan which could displace thousands of Bedouin residents of the Negev from their land.
The protestors gathered near al-Arakib village where Israeli forces have demolished tents and tin-roofed houses more than 50 times.
A Ma’an reporter in the Negev said Israeli police deployed heavily in the area trying to prevent demonstrators from reaching the main road.
Protestors chanted slogans against “the racist plan” as they waved Palestinian flags.
The reporter added that hundreds of displaced Bedouins started to return to their villages early Thursday morning.
Former Arab member of Knesset Talab al-Sani said Israeli police behaved in a provocative way and prevented demonstrators from accessing the village. Solidarity activists, locals and internationals, have helped residents of al-Arakib rebuild their tents and movable houses every time Israeli forces demolished the village.
A lawyer who joined the rally, Shihdeh Ben Berry, told Ma’an there was only one goal behind the protest and similar protests -- to thwart the Prawer Plan. “The people of Israel suffered in the past by the Nazis, and today they are mirroring their suffering against Palestinian minorities causing them to suffer the same and even more.”
He highlighted that the Prawer Plan had not been approved yet, “and in case of approval, a group of Palestinian human rights supporters and legal experts will complain to the High Court of Justice.”
The so-called Prawer-Begin Bill calls for the relocation of 30,000-40,000 Bedouin, the demolition of about 40 villages and the confiscation of more than 700,000 dunums of land in the Negev.
It was approved by the Israeli government in January and by parliament in a first reading in June, and two more votes on it are expected.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay slammed the bill last week, urging the Israeli government to reconsider its plans.
"If this bill becomes law, it will accelerate the demolition of entire Bedouin communities, forcing them to give up their homes, denying them their rights to land ownership, and decimating their traditional cultural and social life in the name of development," Pillay said.
There are about 260,000 Bedouin in Israel, mostly living in and around the Negev in the arid south. More than half live in unrecognized villages without utilities and many also live in extreme poverty.
The government has said it would "as much as possible" grant legal status to Negev villages that are currently unrecognized by the authorities if they met a minimum population criteria. But those criteria have never been stated.
A cabinet statement has said "most" residents -- who do not currently receive government or municipal services -- would be able to continue living in their homes after the villages are granted legal status.
AFP contributed to this report.