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Hamas Prevents Mass Pro-Bedouin Protest in Gaza

Hamas internal police dispersed a large protest opposing Israel’s Brawer-Begin Bill, which will displace thousands of Palestinian Bedouins currently residing in Israel.
A member of Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas rides in a pickup truck as he patrols the border area between Egypt and southern Gaza Strip July 1, 2013. Egyptian soldiers and members of Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas are on alert to guard the border area after massive protests in Egypt, Hamas officials said. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS) - RTX118IN

The Israeli Knesset’s approval of the Brawer Bill in late June 2013 has been widely opposed by the Bedouin Arab community inside Israel and has prompted a strong response from Palestinians and their political leadership inside the Palestinian territories.

The Israeli plan which passed its first reading in the Israeli Knesset on June 24 intends to displace tens of thousands of the Bedouin inhabitants in the Naqab (Negev), who constitute part of the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel, from their homes and lands in the Naqab in southern Israel.

In the Gaza Strip, the Brawer-Begin Bill has generated a public outcry as protests against the Israeli plan were planned in Gaza’s Central Square on Monday, July 15. The Israeli bill, moreover, has been similarly and strongly denounced by Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip.

The protests in Gaza, which were called for via a Facebook page  and succeeded in attracting thousands, did not actually come to fruition.  The protest lasted for only fifteen minutes before protesters were asked to leave by Hamas security. No sooner had tens of protesters started gathering in Gaza’s main square El-Jundi El-Majhool (the Unknown Soldier’s Square), than Hamas internal security personnel arrived at the scene and ordered the protesters to disperse for “failing to license the protest by the Ministry of Interior.”

The Islamist movement Hamas, which is in control of the Gaza Strip, called the Brawer-Begin Bill “a dangerous displacement plan that targets the very existence of the Palestinians on this land ... and should therefore be opposed and confronted by all means,” Hamas’ spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement.

The Hamas spokesman called on the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah to “completely halt all forms of negotiations with Israel and to unleash the hand of resistance in order to defend the Palestinians, their land and holy sites.”

According to Adalah Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, around 95,000 residents lived in the Naqab in 1947 prior to the establishment of the state of Israel. However, 88% of them were forcibly displaced from their homes outside Israel. Currently, there are 200,000 Arab Bedouin who live in the Naqab making up almost 32% of its population.

Senior Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib warned that the Israeli government is using the deeply volatile situation in neighbouring Arab countries and the Palestinian position weakened by the political schism between Hamas and Fatah in order to pass the Brawer-Begin Bill. Israel, Habib said, has unabatedly carried out its discriminatory policies against the Palestinians, displacing them from their homes and seizing more and more of their lands.

Speaking to Ma’an, the Islamic Jihad leader added that the Brawer-Begin plan reveals the “true and aggressive nature” of the Israeli government. “It is essentially racist,” Habib stated, “as it is primarily based on the dislocation of the Palestinians from their land to evacuate it only to be repopulated with Israeli Jewish settlers.”

Seventy percent of the Bedouin communities in the Naqab live in 35 villages which Israel refuses to recognize, many of which predate the establishment of the state of Israel.

According to Adalah, Israel “considers those who remain in their historic villages “trespassers on State land” and deliberately denies them access to basic services and state infrastructure, including water, electricity, sewerage, education, healthcare and roads, to pressure them to abandon their land.”

Interviewed by Al-Monitor, Kayed El-Ghoul, senior Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) official stated that the protests in Gaza mainly express the Palestinians’ rejection of Israel’s racist policies in the Naqab, which are designed to uproot and dispossess the Palestinians from their homes in the Naqab.

The Brawer-Begin Bill, he added, constitute part of Israel’s ceaseless dispossession policies and practices directed against the Palestinians in general and which haven’t stopped since its establishment in 1948.

“Today, we tell the world that the Palestinian people will continue to resist Israel’s Zionist and racist policies. We protest to say that we’ll never give legitimacy to the occupier and that we’ll never abandon our rights. We’ll resist the occupation by all means until all its plans to ensure the Jewishness of their state at the expense of our most basic rights are aborted,” the senior PFLP official stated. 

However, commenting on the public sentiment that prompted the protests and the urge behind it, Gaza-based political analyst Akram Atallah said that the protests first and foremost demonstrate the “close linkage” between Palestinians inside Gaza, the West Bank including East Jerusalem and inside Israel.

According to Atallah, Palestinians everywhere on this land are victims of the Israeli government’s policies and practices, and regardless of where they are, all Palestinians are viewed in the same way by the Israeli government: they are an enemy, a threat.

“The protests’ main message to me,” Atallah told Al-Monitor, “is that we are one people. It is telling to have Palestinians everywhere mobilizing collectively in solidarity with the Arab Bedouins in the Naqab. They are mainly telling this to Israel: Despite being apart at the top level, we’re united as a people, and we’ll fight against your displacement plan as one people.”

This sentiment was in fact expressed by one protester Issam Hamouda. “We have decided to protest to show Israel and the whole world that in Gaza, in the West Bank and everywhere on this land are one people. The Bedouins’ distress is ours and all the Palestinians’,” 28-year Hamouda told Al-Monitor.

Another protester Saed El-Ramlawi, 42, said that he participated in the protests to assure the Arab Bedouin communities in the Naqab that “the Palestinians in Gaza will wholeheartedly stand by them and never sit idly and watch while Israel dispossess them for the second or even third time,”

General strikes meanwhile have been called on Monday in Arab communities inside Israel to protest the Brawer-Begin plan. There are around 1.6 million Palestinian Arabs inside Israel who make up approximately 20% of Israel’s population.

Mohammed Suliman is a Gaza-based writer and human rights worker. His writings have appeared in various online publications, including Al Jazeera English, openDemocracy, the Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss. On Twitter: @imPalestine

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