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Bedouin community fear Galilee conservation plan is part of a bid to ‘uproot’ them.

Nature and Parks Authority faces opposition to planned wildlife corridor near Haifa, which environmentalists say is an important part of efforts to protect endangered animals

AP — Ayoub Rumeihat opened his palms to the sky in prayer as he stood among tombstones for Bedouins killed in action while serving the State of Israel.
 

Finishing the holy words, he gazed at the distant Mediterranean Sea across a valley full of olive and oak trees where his community has grazed goats for generations.

Rumeihat says the Bedouins, celebrated by the Israeli military for their knowledge of the land, fear the government now seeks to sever their ties to that same piece of earth.

Rumeihat and his fellow Bedouins see a plan to turn their land into a wildlife corridor as an affront to their service to the country. They say it’s in line with steps taken by nationalist governments against the Arab minority in recent years that have deepened a sense of estrangement and tested the community’s already brittle ties to the state.

The plan has sparked rare protests from Bedouins in the northern Galilee region — some of the few native Palestinians to embrace early Jewish settlers before Independence in 1948. Many have since served in the police and military, often fighting against fellow Palestinians.

“We were with you from the beginning,” said Rumeihat, standing next to a tombstone engraved with a Star of David in honor of a Bedouin tracker likely killed by a Palestinian. “We are like the lemon and the olive trees. How can you uproot us?”

Goats gaze on a hillside where Bedouins have grazed their animals for generations near Rumihat in the Galilee region, Aug. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
 

Arab citizens make up 20 percent of Israel’s 9 million people. They have citizenship and can vote, and some reach the highest echelons of government and business. But they have long faced discrimination in housing, jobs and public services and face neglect at the hands of the state. Many Jewish citizens see them as a fifth column for their solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

Within that same minority are subgroups, like the Bedouins, who have become more embedded in Israeli society through their service in the security forces.