Arab citizens of Israel living in the Negev say that the state is trying to take even more of their land. Local media have reported that the Jewish National Fund (JNF) has started to plant trees in the desert in a project worth $48 million. Local residents protesting about the project say that it is a prelude to the confiscation of their land by Israel.
"The current stage of the project targets the land belonging to six Arab villages," Jomaa Zabarqeh of the Supreme Arab Guidance Committee in the Negev told Anadolu. "People live on their land and in their homes, but the JNF is afforesting the land around them. This is unacceptable." Such attempts to confiscate the land are not new, he added, but have increased sharply recently.
Israeli occupation forces met the protests with violence, detaining dozens of protesters between Sunday and Wednesday, when the government decided to suspend the project. The Israeli police claimed that two officers had been wounded by the "rioters".
The project triggered a coalition crisis in Israel as the head and members of the Ra'am Party in the Knesset threatened to quit the coalition if the project goes ahead. Ra'am MK Mazen Ghanaim took to Facebook to declare that he opposes the government.
"No one will stop the planting of trees in the Land of Israel," tweeted former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in response. "I give full backing to the security forces and demand [that his successor Naftali] Bennett immediately condemn the incitement by Ra'am."
However, under pressure of Ra'am's four MKs, the government decided to suspend the project despite the claim by Housing and Land Minister Zeev Elkin that the planting would continue with its full backing.