Arab Israelis strike over house demolitions
JERUSALEM - Arabs across Israel closed businesses and schools on Wednesday in a one-day strike to protest against the demolition of Arab homes built without the required, but hard-to-get, permits.
On Tuesday, authorities tore down 11 homes in the Arab town of Qalansuwa, in northern Israel.
Arab Israelis say discrimination by the Jewish state that makes it impossible for them to obtain planning permission to expand their communities.
The result is that many families resort to building homes without permission, leaving them liable to demolition.
Mohammad Barakeh, the head of an Arab Israeli umbrella organisation and a former lawmaker, said observance of Wednesday's strike "exceeded expectations."
"There was an excellent response in all Arab villages and towns," he said.
The Joint List, a coalition of predominantly Arab parties, condemned Tuesday's demolitions.
"The act of demolishing 11 houses, whose owners built on their private lands in Qalansuwa, is an unprecedented crime and a declaration of war against the residents of Qalansuwa and against the Arab community in Israel," it said.
The Joint List is the third largest bloc in the Israeli parliament.
Arab Israelis make up some 17.5 percent of the country's population, and are descended from Palestinians who remained on their land after the creation of Israel in 1948.
Israeli public radio said the strike was widely observed in Nazareth and Umm al-Fahm, the country's largest Arab cities, and in the mixed-population city of Haifa.
Israeli daily Haaretz said Qalansuwa mayor Abed al-Bassat Salameh resigned in the wake of Tuesday's demolitions after years of trying in vain to win official approval for an updated town plan.
It quoted Mustafa Mahlouf, one of the owners of the destroyed properties, as saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Gilad Erdan "want to talk about enforcement to satisfy the settlers and decided that Qalansuwa would be the first victim."
Netanyahu is facing settlers angry at a court order to evict Israelis from an unapproved settlement outpost in the occupied West Bank found to have been built on private Palestinian land.
In a video address last month as the court-imposed deadline to vacate the Amona outpost approached, Netanyahu linked the rogue outpost and Arab construction in Israel.
"The law must be equitable; the same law which obliges vacating Amona also obliges removing illegal construction in other parts of our country," he said.
"Therefore I have given orders to speed up demolition of illegal construction... in all parts of the country and we shall do that in the coming days."
The court later extended the deadline to evacuate the Amona outpost to February 8.