Planting Trees Set Bedouin on Fire

Does Israel actually have sovereignty over its southern Negev region? This week’s events called that into question

| Topics: Negev, Bedouin
Bedouin face off with Israeli police officers over the planting of trees on public land in the Negev region. Photo: Atia Mohammed/Flash90

The Bedouins in Israel’s south are said to rioting at present over their objection to the latest tree-planting campaign of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). But do they really hate trees planted on public lands? The word “riots” does not even begin to explain the reasons behind this violent Bedouin “protest.”

The burning of cars, the stone throwing, the attempt to derail a train, all of this and more is just one skirmish in a broader Bedouin “war of independence,” which is itself part of the larger Palestinian war of independence, commonly referred to as Palestinian terrorism.

To better understand what’s going on, one must understand the importance of the Jewish National Fund and what it symbolizes. The JNF that was founded in 1901, which marked the moment that Zionism transitioned from speeches to action. The JNF’s goal was the reclamation of land in Israel by Jewish money and on behalf of the Jewish people. As such the JNF is associated with Zionism more than any other organization. Every Jew from around the world would have been familiar with the “Blue Box.”

“For decades,” explains the JNF website, “the Blue Box was a common fixture in Jewish homes and institutions around the world. As an embodiment of the Zionist vision of self determination for Jews in their ancestral homeland, the simple collection box became a unifying symbol of hope. While the Blue Box has largely given way to online donations, it remains a Jewish cultural icon still today.”

Planting trees is one of the JNF’s hallmarks. Israel Today members are familiar with the JNF “plant a tree” project. In Israel, every school child looks forward to the JNF’s tree-planting campaign on Tu Bishvat, the Jewish “new year of the trees,” the local equivalent of Arbor Day. Since its foundation, the JNF has planted more than 240 million trees in Israel in an ongoing effort to protect the land, prevent soil erosion, green the landscape and preserve vital ecosystems. The JNF’s success at planting trees in Israel has resulted in naturally expanded forests and reclaimed deserts.

The emphasis on tree-planting was in keeping with Isaiah’s vision of “the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice even with joy and singing” (Isaiah 35:1-2).

And it is precisely this that sets the Bedouins on fire. Some label the Bedouin reaction as a mundane land grab, extortion, theft, etc. In other words, a criminal act. But this is all wrong. The real reason goes much deeper.

Take this week’s tweet by former Islamic Movement leader and Member of Knesset Ibrahim Abdallah Sarsour (which he removed shortly after posting, but not before a screenshot was taken):

“After the forces of extermination returned today, Monday, to the Arab Negev, the members of the United Arab List (Ra’am) decided that instead of being present at the Knesset they will go to the Negev until the attack on the Arab citizens of the Negev ceases.”

In other words, and as far as Sarsour and his Arab colleagues are concerned, Israel’s south is occupied territory. As such, the current Bedouin violence is a campaign to liberate the Negev from Zionist occupation, which is manifest in JNF efforts to reforest this arid land.

And head of the Ra’am party, Mansour Abbas, did not lag behind. In an interview with Channel 12 News on Tuesday he stated: “I can no longer tolerate it (the JNF planting project) … I can’t hold on when they shoot me in the chest. The Negev is Ra’am (a Muslim territory). I demand they cease the planting … until that happens, we will not vote with the coalition.” This threat means that if the government does not end the planting, it will fall, since without Ra’am it does not have a parliamentary majority.

For now the planting project continues despite the violence. But Foreign Minister and alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid has already said that he wants to “reassess the situation,” meaning stopping the planting, while Prime Minister Naftali Bennett isn’t saying anything. Given the nature of this anti-Zionist government, it is only a question of time until the JNF is instructed to leave the Bedouin alone and go plant trees in Tel Aviv or some other place.


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