Thousands picket Netanyahu’s office against attack on Bedouin rights

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severaL thousand people demonstrated on Sunday outside Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem, protesting over a plan they say will displace tens of thousands of people from their land.

The demonstrators came from Bedouin communities across Israel, gathering outside Netanyahu’s office holding signs reading ‘We are staying here’ and ‘No to the Praver Plan.’

Palestinian citizens of Israel closed schools and businesses for the day on Sunday, in a strike to protest the Praver plan approved by the government in September.

Israel says the plan will address the problem of unrecognised Bedouin villages in the Negev desert of southern Israel, helping Bedouin better integrate into Israeli society.

But the proposal was formulated without any consultation with the community, with rights groups slamming it as a major blow to Bedouin rights and warning it would forcefully uproot tens of thousands from their land.

In October, several thousand Bedouin joined a similar demonstration in Beersheba, with Bedouin villages and towns observing a general strike.

The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, which represents Arab communities in Israel, has described the so-called Praver initiative as a ‘disaster’ which would have ‘dangerous’ consequences.

There are around 160,000 Bedouin in Israel, most of whom live in and around the Negev desert, largely the descendants of Palestinians that managed to remain during the 1948 war that established the state of Israel.

More than half of them live in unrecognised villages without municipal services like water and electricity, and much of the rest also live in extreme poverty.

In a separate development, Israeli forces clashed with youth in Shufat refugee camp near Jerusalem on Sunday, residents and security officials said.

Shufat residents were protesting against the construction of a new Israeli military checkpoint at the entrance of the camp, which they say will cut the 45,000-string community from the rest of the city and control their movements.

Israeli border police dispersed protesters with water canons, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Youth threw stones at the forces, causing damage to their vehicles, and ‘two or three’ people were detained, he added. No injuries were reported.

Meanwhile, leading US Republican White House contender Newt Gingrich has stood by remarks that Palestinians are an ‘invented’ people, which have sparked outrage as he seemed to call into question long-held US policy on statehood.

‘Is what I said factually correct? Yes. Is it historically true? Yes,’ Gingrich said during a thorny moment in the latest debate among the Republicans vying to challenge President Barack Obama in the November 2012 election.

In a sign he could abandon the US position on a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians, Gingrich said the Jewish people had the right to a state, but did not confirm if Palestinians should have the same privilege.

‘Remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire,’ Gingrich told The Jewish Channel in an interview released last Friday.

‘We’ve had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community,’ he said.

‘They had a chance to go many places. And for a variety of political reasons, we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and I think it’s tragic,’ the candidate said.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said that statements by Gingrich in which he said that the Palestinian people were ‘invented’ were ‘cheap and disgraceful’.

He said during a conference marking the 63rd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that ‘the Palestinian people inhibited this land since the dawn of history, and they intend to remain on it until the end of time.’

‘People like Gingrich should study history because it seems that all what he knows about the region is the history of the Ottoman era.’

Fayyad condemned the latest Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip in which two Palestinians, a father and his son, were killed.

He also condemned Israeli soldiers killing of Mustafa Tamimi, a 27-year-old protester in Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah, when he was hit by a tear gas canister in his face during the weekly Friday non-violent protests in the village.

He said Tamimi was killed after Israeli soldiers intentionally shot him in the face with a tear gas canister.

‘How is this acceptable? And for how long will the world overlook the Israeli army’s violations,’ said Fayyad.

‘The Palestinian people are determined to live and survive despite of the Israeli army’s violent and terrorist measures,’ he said.

Dozens of Palestinians held a symbolic funeral for Tamimi in the centre of Ramallah on Saturday afternoon. The actual funeral was held on Sunday.

The British Consul-General in Jerusalem, Vincent Fean, deplored the death of Mustafa Tamimi.

Fean said: ‘On behalf of the Government of the United Kingdom, I express our deepest regret at the tragic death of Mustafa Tamimi of Nabi Salih, killed by a tear gas canister during the weekly demonstration against systematic attempts by settlers from the illegal settlement of Halmiss to expropriate the water spring belonging to the villagers of Nabi Salih.’

He added: ‘Our condolences and prayers go to Mustafa’s family.

‘The British government strongly supports the right to peaceful protest anywhere in the world, including the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

‘We deprecate the disproportionate use of force under any circumstances.

‘We ask that protest demonstrators eschew violence, and that such demonstrations be policed un-provocatively and with a sense of responsibility, on the basis of mutual respect for human dignity, whether in London, or Tel Aviv, or Nabi Salih, or Bil’in.’

The release said that Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Minister Alistair Burt, with responsibility for the Middle East and North Africa, visited the village of Nabi Salih in early July, 2011 and met the Tamimi family.

He also visited the spring which the settlers seek to expropriate.

The purpose of his visit was to reiterate the support of the British Government for the right to peaceful demonstrations.

Mustafa Tamimi, 27, was participating in the peaceful weekly demonstration in Nabi Salih, north of Ramallah, when he was shot in the face at close range by a tear gas canister fired by an Israeli soldier on Friday.

He was transferred to Belinson hospital in Israel after he was critically injured, but doctors were not able to save his life; he died on Saturday morning.