Palestinians in Israel strike over home demolitions

Protesters decry Israel’s “policy of interior colonisation”, which has intensified in recent months.

palestinians in israel protest home demolitions
'The anger is growing here and we won't be quiet,' said one political representative from Kafr Kanna [Patrick Strickland/Al Jazeera]

Haifa – When Israeli police and border patrol arrived in the Galilee region village of Kafr Kanna around 1:30am on April 13, they wasted no time getting to work. Their bulldozers rolled through local resident Tareq al-Khatib’s home within a matter of minutes, leaving him and his family without shelter.

Waseem Abbas, secretary of Kafr Kanna’s branch of the Balad political party, said he and other locals were in a nearby mosque when the police arrived. “It happened suddenly,” he told Al Jazeera. “They entered the village from a back path and went straight to the house.”

As the news spread, locals showed up at the scene and confronted police. “We were trying to negotiate with them to let the family at least [take out] their belongings,” he said. “They responded very violently and surrounded us.”

Although police did not make any arrests, clashes quickly broke out and six protesters sustained minor injuries. The municipality and local political factions staged a general strike in the village the following day. An Israeli police spokesperson did not reply to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

“People here are very upset. The anger is growing here and we won’t be quiet,” Abbas said, noting Israeli police also shot and killed a 22-year-old from Kafr Kanna last November.

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Though Israel justified the recent demolition by pointing out that the house was built without the proper permits, Abbas argued that local residents have been repeatedly denied building permits.

Another demolition was carried out overnight just two days later in Dahmash, a Palestinian village slated for demolition in central Israel. Eighteen members of the Assaf family were left displaced, according to the Arabs48 news website.

Palestinians in Israel have responded by staging protests across the country, while the Higher Follow-up Committee, a political body that represents the 1.7 million Palestinian minority in Israel, has called for a nationwide general strike on Tuesday.


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decision to demolish homes is a political decision at the end of the day.”]

In Wadi Ara, a Galilee village, dozens of demonstrators gathered over the weekend to decry Israel’s home demolitions. In Qalansawe, another Palestinian village in the Triangle region of central Israel, protesters gathered on Saturday and called on Israel to halt its demolitions of homes in Arab communities.

Locals flooded the streets of nearby Taybeh, where Israeli authorities plan to confiscate some 2,000 dunams (nearly 202 hectares) of agricultural land, and called on the government to halt home demolitions and land confiscations.

Palestinians with Israeli citizenship live in cities, towns, and villages across the country and suffer from dozens of discriminatory laws that limit their access to state resources – including land – and stifle their political freedoms, according to Adalah, a Haifa-based legal centre.

Majd Kayyal, Adalah’s media coordinator, explained that “hundreds and hundreds of homes” have pending demolition orders. “In many Arab villages, the government often doesn’t approve master plans,” he told Al Jazeera, “and without master plans, local residents cannot obtain building permits.

“Palestinians are given no option but to build illegally because these communities suffer from overcrowding,” Kayyal added. “The decision to demolish homes is a political decision at the end of the day. The solution for the housing crisis is very clear. There is plenty of land, but there is no clear planning policy for Arab villages and preference for land is given to Jewish Israelis.”

Kayyal added that only four percent of building in 2014 took place in Arab villages, despite the Palestinian minority comprising an estimated 20 percent of the population.

Nadim Nashif, director of Baladna, a Haifa-based Arab advocacy organisation, argues that Israel is implementing “a policy of interior colonisation” by pushing Palestinian citizens out of their communities.

“It is the policy that [Israel] uses in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank,” he told Al Jazeera. “It isn’t new here [in Israel], but they are intensifying it right now, particularly with the new right-wing government.”

In March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish Likud party triumphed over the centre-left Zionist Union party, and is now building a coalition for the next Knesset. “We expect a very bad immediate future with the upcoming government,” Nashif added, “and the housing crisis could be a spark for an uprising among Palestinians in Israel.”

Jerusalem tense amid house demolitions

Though home demolitions occur across the country, they have become regular practice in the Negev region of southern Israel, home to tens of thousands of indigenous Bedouin residents. Last week, Israeli bulldozers ploughed through the Negev village of al-Araqib for the 83rd time since 2010.

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Despite their citizenship, more than 50,000 Palestinian Bedouins live in the Negev in more than 40 “unrecognised villages” that face the threat of demolition. Under pressure as protests gripped the country, Israel in December 2013 formally shelved the Prawer Plan, legislation designed to relocate Bedouin residents of unrecognised villages to planned townships.

Yousef Jabareen, a Knesset member from the left-wing Hadash party, one of four parties in the Joint Arab List, said the decision to strike was taken after the second home demolition in Dahmash. In correspondence with the general strike, a protest will be held in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night.

“We want to tell the new government that we demand our basic rights for housing,” Jabareen told Al Jazeera, “and we want our voice to be heard in the Jewish community.”

Most Palestinians in Israel are likely to shut down their shops and abstain from going to work, and schools will be closed for the day, Jabareen predicted. “We want the government to find a substantial resolution of this issue by broadening the jurisdiction of Arab localities and providing housing options that meet the needs of the Arab communities, especially young people,” he said.

“It looks like the right-wing coalition will be formed soon,” he added. “The strike is a message to the government: We will not accept being treated as second- or third-class citizens. The new coalition will be a big challenge and we expect to confront more racist legislation and the continued incitement against our community.”

Follow Patrick Strickland on Twitter: @P_Strickland_

Source: Al Jazeera