Thousands of protesters are expected to demonstrate during a Day of Rage against an Israeli government plan that would evict up to 40,000 Bedouin citizens from their homes and force them into impoverished townships.
The Israeli government’s Prawer-Begin plan, officially known as the Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev, will move the Bedouin from so-called unrecognised villages into government-planned towns, where poverty is high and services are few.
The main protest was to be held near the Bedouin township of Hura on Saturday afternoon, while other demonstrations were planned in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and in several cities across Europe, North America and the Middle East.
“The government is trying to present the plan as ‘in the best interest of the Bedouin’, while with one hand it is acting to destroy Bedouin villages… and with the other it is building new Jewish localities in the Negev, some of these in the very same places where the [Bedouin] villages stand today,” Huda Abu-Obeid, a Bedouin activist, said in a statement.
About 200,000 Bedouin currently live in the country’s southern Negev desert.
Half of those live in seven crowded Israeli townships, while the other half live in 35 villages, which lack basic services such as running water, electricity, paved roads or schools.
Israel says these villages are illegal, accusing the Bedouin of a conducting a land grab in the Negev.
The government says its proposal aims to modernise the Bedouin, and improve their quality of life. It says it has earmarked $340m – to be spread over the next five years – to support the community’s development.
“The idea is to … better integrate Jews and Bedouins; to bring many more Bedouins to our work force; to employ and educate many more women for employment; and to build new communities; and to expand some of the current communities and make them modern,” Doron Almog, a retired Israeli army general charged with implementing the government’s plan, told Al Jazeera in August.
But critics say the plan fails to recognise Bedouin land claims and ignores the community’s needs.
“You cannot uproot an entire population and urbanise it without consultation – and that is precisely what the government is doing,” said Fadi El-Obra, a resident of Rahat, the largest government-planned Bedouin town in the Negev.
The plan has been condemned internationally.
A group of 50 public figures in Britain signed a letter, published in the UK’s Guardian newspaper on Friday, opposing the plan as a means of “systematic discrimination and separation”.
Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in July that she was “alarmed” by the proposal.
She said it would “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”.
The Prawer-Begin bill passed a first reading in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, in June 2013, and is currently being discussed in the government’s Interior Affairs and Environment Committee.
The bill is expected to be brought up for second and third readings in the Knesset before becoming law by the end of the year.
The demonstrations on Saturday are the third in a series of coordinated, one-day actions against the plan.
“We, the Palestinians in Israel, are taking responsibility of our rights, our future and our self-determination… not by the Israeli institutions but in the streets, not as Israeli citizens but as a united people beside [Palestinians in the] West Bank and Gaza,” Majd Kayyal, a Palestian activist from Haifa who organised protests on Saturday, told Al Jazeera.
“The confiscation of 50 percent of the lands that we own inside Israel is a war declaration,” he said.