Arab MK vows to disrupt Israeli tree planting on state land, siding with Bedouin protesters

Arab lawmaker vows to sabotage planting of trees as Bedouins protest KKL-JNF forestation plan aimed at protecting state land from illegal construction.

By World Israel News Staff

An Arab-Israeli lawmaker led a protest Sunday against coalition MKs visiting the Yatir forest in the Negev, presaging Bedouin protests expected as a forestation plan for the area gained final approval.

MK Walid al-Huashla (United Arab List) attempted to block MKs Hanoch Milwidsky (Likud) and Almog Cohen (Otzma Yehudit) from visiting the area, and threatened to sabotage plans to plant trees on state land.

“We are at the entrance to Yatir,” al-Huashla said. “The Netanyahu government and the extreme Right are trying to plant trees here. We came here today to prevent members of the Knesset from the extreme Right and all the movements and parties that are trying to take control of the Arab Negev.”

On Sunday, the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael- Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) announced that it will move forward with plans to plant trees in Nahal Yatir, near the existing Yatir forest.

KKL-JNF chairwoman Ifat Ovadia-Luski vowed to carry out the forestation plan “without any delays,” but did not offer a timeframe for the tree planting.

A report by Walla News Sunday claimed the planting is slated to begin next Sunday.

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The trees will be planted on state-owned land, in an area often targeted by Bedouin land grabs.

Ovadia-Luski said the forestation plan is designed to “protect against incursions, environmental harm, illegal construction and trespassing — all common phenomena in the desert region.”

The KKL-JNF is “at the forefront of protecting, developing and building the country,” Ovadia-Luski added, saying that “holding onto and protecting the land, and planting trees were core values of JNF-KKL from the early days of the Zionist movement and we’re proud to be leading these fields today as well.”

Minister of Development of the Periphery, the Negev and the Galilee Yitzhak Wasserlauf (Otzma Yehudit) said his office had pressed the KKL-JNF not to back down from the plan.

Previous attempts to plant trees in the Negev have sparked violent protests by Bedouin residents.

Last year, the Bennett government halted the tree planting, amid political pressure from the Islamist United Arab List (Ra’am), which represents the Bedouin sector.