Arab Israelis strike in protest over house demolitions

Bedouin women react to destruction of their homes

JERUSALEM - Arab communities in Israel began a one-day general strike Thursday over the death of a Bedouin man and house demolitions in the southern Negev desert a day before.
Two Arab parliamentarians announced they would table a bill calling for a freeze on demolitions in Arab neighbourhoods, a day after a police raid in a Bedouin town led to the deaths of an officer and a local resident in disputed circumstances.
Firas Al Omari, from the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee which represents Arab communities in Israel, said there would be a one-day general strike as well as three days of mourning for the Bedouin man killed.
He said that a major demonstration was planned for Saturday, while schools in the Negev would be closed.
"Schools in towns other than in the Negev will focus during the first two periods today on the attacks against our homes and villages," he said.
The Arab town of Qalansuwa was almost completely closed, an AFP journalist on the ground said, with shops and restaurants shuttered, while Israeli media reported most of Nazareth -- the largest Arab city in Israel -- was also closed.
A similar strike was held on January 11 after Israeli authorities tore down 11 homes in the Arab town of Qalansuwa.
Arab Israeli parliamentarian Ahmed Tibi said the new strike was to "demonstrate against what happened (on Wednesday) -- the demolition and the killing. There will be more steps."
Wednesday's incident involved the death of Yacoub Abu al-Qiyan, 47, when police raided the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in order to demolish several homes.
Police said he had deliberately driven at forces entering the town, killing 34-year-old policeman Erez Levi, but residents and activists said he was shot before losing control of the car.
Arab Israelis are descendants of Palestinians who remained after the creation of Israel in 1948 and who now make up around 17.5 percent of the population.
Israeli officials say they only demolish homes that do not have the necessary permits, but Arab representatives say they are almost impossible to get.
Tibi and another MP will propose a bill Sunday calling for a 10-year freeze on demolitions in Arab towns and villages, in exchange for more rigorous enforcement of planning rules by Arab officials.
"Planning, housing, land and demolition of houses are the most critical problems between the state and its Arab minority," Tibi said.
He admitted the bill was unlikely to pass as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposed it.