Organisers say about 20,000 people from across country, from all political parties, took to streets
Thousands of Palestinians on Friday took part in mass demonstrations to protest against house demolitions that were carried out by Israeli authorities earlier this week.
Eleven houses belonging to Palestinian citizens of Israel were demolished in the town of Qalansawa, in the Triangle area separating the country from the West Bank.
The demolition of the homes, which Israeli authorities said were built with unlicensed construction permits, has led to the displacement of dozens of family members who are now without shelter.
Organisers said about 20,000 people took to the streets from across the country and from all political parties, including political and national leaders.
The protesters regard the demolition of Palestinian homes in Israel as part of a long-standing policy by authorities to break up their communities and drive them from the region.
'They dealt brutally with people'
Israeli-Palestinian academic Yousef Jabareen, who specialises in urban planning, said there are almost 100,000 homes in Palestinian towns and villages within Israel and Jerusalem that are not licensed.
Obtaining building permits is often an impossible task, he said, which forces citizens to live in crowded ghettos.
Hassouna Makhlouf, whose house in Qalansawa was among those demolished, said: “Hundreds of police officers and special forces stormed the town accompanied by bulldozers and other demolition machines. They came in armed as if they were about to take over a country.”
'They came in armed as if they were about to take over a country'
- Hassouna Makhlouf, Qalansawa resident
In December, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the residents of the Israeli settlement of Amona that he would order the demolition of all unlicensed homes in the Israeli-Palestinian community.
Makhlouf said: “Netanyahu wants to avenge the Arabs to please the settlers in Amona, but I say to him that his time will end, he will soon be gone, and we will stay and we will build our houses again.”
Zuhair Makhlouf, whose house in Qalansawa was also demolished, said: “We were surprised when suddenly on Tuesday at around six o'clock thousands of special forces and police stormed the town like we were in a state of war.
“They closed all entrances to the village and attacked anyone who stood in their way. They dealt brutally with people and used violence; breaking the windows of some cars they came across.”
He continued: “I lived in this house with my sons and did not expect the demolition so abruptly. I have been working on getting a building permit, and we have been calling on the authorities for 15 years to remap the structural planning process so we can build. However, Netanyahu makes it clear he would prefer to deal with us discriminately and displace our families.”
Further protests planned
Mahasen Rabus, an activist and resident of Qalansawa who also took part in the protests, said: “The demolition of houses is an Israeli political strategy against Palestinians since 1948, and it is part of a policy to desist on Palestinians living in Israel.
"Israeli authorities did not allow us to build or expand, and the issuance of building permits has become an almost impossible task. In addition, they refused to extend the borders of Arab cities, so really we had no other option but to build.”
'Our people are united in their response towards Netanyahu’s policy of escalating racism against Arab citizens'
- Basel Ghattas, Knesset member
Rabus added: “If Netanyahu continues this policy towards us, then we will increase our resistance on the streets and in strategic areas, and I wouldn’t rule out the very possibility of an Intifada (uprising) erupting from Palestinian towns and villages in Israel.”
Commenting on the protests today, Knesset member Basel Ghattas of the Balad party said: “The massive protests and rallies near the demolished houses is an initial response from all our people to the crime of demolition.
“The wide participation of all Arab cities and towns indicate that our people are united in their response towards Netanyahu’s policy of escalating racism against Arab citizens."
Ghattas added that there would be a meeting on Saturday in Arara to decide on further steps to protest against demolitions.