Israel faces crisis over tree-planting, protests in Negev

Publish Date : 2022-01-12


Israel faces crisis over tree-planting, protests in Negev

Israel’s fragile governing coalition moved to resolve a crisis on Wednesday after Arab Bedouin staged protests against tree-planting by nationalists on disputed land in the Negev desert.

Some protesters on Tuesday evening hurled stones at vehicles on a highway near Beersheba, blocked the railway line and torched a vehicle. Police said two officers were wounded in the violence and local media reported at least 18 people arrested.

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The government announced a compromise in which it would complete the day’s planting and launch negotiations on Thursday. Authorities withdrew heavy machinery from the area as the tensions appeared to ease.

The Bedouin view the forestry project as part of a larger attempt by authorities to confiscate grazing lands and force them into planned communities, a perceived assault on their traditional lifestyle. Israel says they need to move into planned towns so it can provide public services.

The latest flare-up of the dispute, which goes back decades, risks dividing Israel’s fragile coalition government, the first to include an Arab party whose main base of support is in the Negev.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid had called for halting the planting and reassessing the situation while the Islamist Ra’am party had threatened to withhold its votes in parliament in protest. Both are members of the fragile eight-party coalition that runs the government.

Ra’am, the Islamist party, secured four seats in the 120-member Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in last year’s elections, with strong support among Bedouin citizens of Israel. Party leader Mansour Abbas wrote on Twitter that “a tree is not more important than a person.”

More hawkish members of the diverse governing coalition had pledged to press on, undeterred. Regavim, a nationalist group that is opposed to normalizing the status of Bedouin villages, accused the government of capitulating to “political pressure, strongarm tactics and violence.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett heads an unwieldy coalition of eight parties that joined forces in June to form a government and end Israel’s protracted political deadlock. They range from the small Islamist and liberal parties to ultranationalists, and were united only in their opposition to longtime leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Bedouin are part of Israel’s Arab minority, which makes up some 20% of the country’s population. They have citizenship, including the right to vote, but face discrimination. Arab citizens of Israel have close family ties to the Palestinians and largely identify with their cause.

Authorities in Germany say they have rescued 65 children from their abusers over the past two years as part of an investigating into a large-scale sexual abuse network.

Police in Cologne said at a news conference Wednesday that the victims ranged from three months to 17 years.

Investigators identified the children as part of their probe into a large cache of abuse pictures and videos found 2019 in the western town of Bergisch Gladbach. Authorities said more than 30,000 pseudonyms were used by those in the network, but many of those couldn’t be traced to real people.

So far, investigators have been able to identify 439 suspects and secure numerous convictions, including of the man in whose premises the material was originally found.

The German government toughened laws against child sex abuse and those making or distributing child abuse images as a result of the case.

“A vaccine mandate means a debate mandate,” he added.

Steinmeier, whose role is largely ceremonial, said he wouldn’t take sides in the debate but urged those involved to have “respect for other positions, but also respect for facts and reason, that must be and remain our common currency.”

He dismissed as “complete nonsense claims that the coronavirus pandemic has turned Germany into a dictatorship.”

“Among friends, at work, in schools, in daycare centers, in clinics and nursing homes, in city halls, health offices and parliaments, people everywhere are trying to figure out together what needs to be done” to fight the pandemic, Steinmeier said. “And that’s exactly what this democratic struggle is about.”

Among the people debating was a nurse from Cologne and the head of a nursing home in Berlin, who both stressed how essential it is to be vaccinated so that especially the most vulnerable of society — those who are ill and old — can be protected from the virus.

A professor for health communication pointed out that a lot of the people who refuse to get vaccinated are simply afraid of the vaccines. Cornelia Betsch criticized authorities for initially missing many opportunities to better explain how safe and important the vaccines are.

“Many people are simply afraid of getting vaccinated and a mandate can create counter feelings,” she said, encouraging efforts to reach out to talk to those who are hesitant about vaccinations.

Around 72.2% of Germans are considered fully vaccinated, while at least 44.2 % have received an additional booster shot.

Germany’s disease control agency reported 80,430 new cases of COVID-19 in one day, a pandemic record, and 384 additional deaths.

Among those who oppose a vaccine mandate are some members of the Free Democrats, who are part of Germany’s ruling coalition, and Germany’s former health minister, who pledged last summer not to introduce a general vaccine mandate. Political leaders have agreed to let lawmakers vote according to their own conscience on the issue.

The looming mandate has been a rallying point for vocal anti-vaccine activists. Some recent demonstrations have turned violent in Germany, with protesters attacking police officers after being ordered to disperse.



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