Thousands gather in Arab-Israeli town to protest home demolitions
Joint Arab List spokesperson
Thousands of people gathered in the Arab majority town of Qalansuwa to protest home demolitions that took place earlier this week.
On Tuesday Israeli authorities demolished 11 homes in the town town in the center of the country, claiming that they had been built illegally without permits on agricultural land not zoned for buildings.
Members of the Arab community argued that the buildings were constructed on privately owned land and that the government had no right to demolish them.
Joining the demonstrators were Arab MKs, including Chairman of the Joint Arab List Ayman Odeh, members of the Islamic Movement, heads of the Monitoring Committee of Israeli Arabs and municipal leaders.
Arabic media reported that some 10,000 people joined the demonstration.
Protesters carried signs with slogans such as "no to the demolition of houses!" and "you will not be able to stop our dreams!"
Mohammed Barakeh, Chairman of the Monitoring Committee told the crowd: 'I do not remember a scene like this, where 11 houses once stood, since the catastrophe of 1948."
"Here 68 years after the Nakba, Israel continues the criminal process of demolitions and we stand on the ruins," he continued. Palestinians marked the 1948 creation of Israel as the "nakba" -- catastrophe in Arabic. Nakba day, which is held every year on May 15, marks the displacement of more than 760,000 Palestinians from their homes during the 1948 war.
"Soon we will stand before homes built again, God willing," Barakeh added.
Immediately after the demolitions, Qalansuwa Mayor Abdel-Basset Salameh announced that he intendeds to resign and leaders of Israel's Arab community called for a country-wide strike the following day.
Tuesday's demolitions come after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in December vowed to crack down on illegal building "in the Negev, Wadi Ara, in Galilee, in the center - throughout the country," areas which boast high Arab-Israeli populations.
Odeh on Wednesday claimed that the government was not treating its citizens equally, saying that "the prime minister talks about equal law enforcement on the one hand but on the other he legalizes Amona, a settlement built on stolen land and demolishes Arab houses built on residents' private land in an area that is going through planning regulation."
Joint List MK Dr Yousef Jabareen said that lack of action from the government is creating an environment that forces Arab citizens to build without permits.
“House construction without a permit in Arab community is an inevitable outcome of numerous historical failures across the political arena, planning committees, and bureaucratic agencies in developing the Arab towns and villages in Israel," he claimed. "The state of Israel shies away from promoting proper urban planning solutions for Arab citizens; therefore it is illegal and immoral to implement enforcement and punishment against Arab citizens".
"The source of this issue lies in the institutional, planning, and legal barriers forcing the Arab citizens to build without a permit as a last resort to ensure a basic right of shelter," Jabareen continued, adding that "It is inhuman and immoral to push the Arab citizens into choosing between two worst decisions: either remain homeless or build without a formal permit.”
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