Large protests over a plan to resettle nomadic Bedouin Arabs in Israel’s southern Negev desert caused injuries on Saturday and led to some arrests, as well as condemnation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Protests focused on a bill that would move thousands of Bedouins into government-recognized villages.
Opponents charge the plan would confiscate Bedouin land and affect their nomadic way of life, but Israel says the moves are necessary to provide basic services that many Bedouins lack and would benefit their community, while preserving their traditions.
The bill is set for a vote in parliament before the end of the year.
More than a thousand people protested in a Negev village in southern Israel on Saturday. The demonstration turned violent when some protesters threw rocks and fire bombs at police and burned tires.
Police, some on horseback, responded with water cannon, tear gas and stun grenades, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
Hundreds more took to the streets at protests held in Jerusalem, Haifa and elsewhere. Police made more than 40 arrests and 15 officers were injured, Rosenfeld said.
Netanyahu issued a strong statement condemning the violence.
“We will treat offenders to the fullest extent of the law and will not tolerate such disturbances. We have — and will have — no tolerance for those who break the law,” Netanyahu said.
“Attempts by a loud and violent minority to deny a better future to a large and broad population are grave. We will continue to advance the law for a better future for all residents of the Negev,” he said.
Bedouins are a small group within the Arab minority. Traditionally, they have identified more closely with Israel than their Arab brethren, but their complaints against the resettlement program, known as the Prawer Plan, echo broader sentiments among other Arab Israelis.
The government body dealing with the plan said it calls for the vast majority of Bedouin to live where they are.
It said it is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in housing, health, public services and education for the Bedouin.
Officials said in a statement that the body is planning “a variety of rural and urban living options which will allow the Bedouin population to integrate into the fabric of a modern state while preserving their traditions.”
It blamed Saturday’s violence on “extremists, many of whom are not Bedouin” for using the protests to further their own agenda.
Additional reporting by Reuters