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Thousands protest Israel Bedouin relocation plan

Dec. 11, 2011 5:48 A.M. (Updated: Dec. 13, 2011 10:19 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Several thousand people demonstrated on Sunday outside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office, 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 Jerusalem 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, Israeli news site Ynet reported.

Israel says the plan will address the problem of unrecognized 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 unrecognized villages without municipal services like water and electricity, and much of the rest also live in extreme poverty.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report
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