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Palestinian home demolitions: Calls for general strike amid protests

Protests come after Israeli police killed Palestinian teacher during demonstrations over home demolitions in Umm al-Hiran village
Palestinians protesting against house demolitions on 13 January (MEE)

Thousands of Palestinians on Wednesday took part in a series of mass demonstrations that spread across Palestinian villages in Israel amid calls for a general strike. The protests came after a teacher was slain by Israeli forces during demonstrations over home demolitions in the south of the country.

"We took to the streets to protest and make the voice of the Palestinian people heard,” said Kholoud Abu Ahmed, a Palestinian-Israeli citizen from Haifa. “We will not accept being deported from our homes, marginalised and killed [by the Israeli authorities].”

Israeli officials allege Yacoub Abu al-Qiyan was shot dead as he drove his car at police officers in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert. Villagers, however, said al-Qiyan was simply driving to the scene to talk to authorities in an attempt to halt the demolitions.

READ: Palestinian man and Israeli officer killed in Bedouin village clash

Israeli police said an officer, Erez Levi, was killed in the alleged ramming, while prominent Palestinian Joint List MP Ayman Odeh, was also hurt after police shot him in the head with a sponge bullet.

Arab Israelis protest in Haifa against home demolitions by the Israeli authorities (MEE)

“We will continue to protest and stand against the demolition of our homes and the terrorism of this state,” Abu Ahmed told MEE. “When they make us leave our homes in Umm al-Hiran so that they can build an Israeli settlement, that is the epitome of terrorism,” she added.

“Israel must understand that the whole of the country will continue to protest until this terrorism against (Palestinians) comes to an end.”

General strike

The Arab Higher Monitoring Committee (AHMC), an independent political organisation that coordinates political action among various Palestinian groups in Israel, also announced the launch of a general strike across Palestinian villages and cities in Israel on Thursday.

Mohamed Baraka, head of the AHMC, called on the international community to protect Palestinian citizens of Israel against what he described as “the clear targeting of Palestinians by the Israeli state”.

“What we saw last week in Qalansawa followed the statements of Netanyahu, which led to the incitement of violence and crimes [against the Palestinian people]. This is being repeated today in Umm al-Hiran,” Baraka said.

Thousands of Palestinians protested on Friday against the demolition of 11 houses belonging to Palestinian citizens in the town of Qalansawa, in the Triangle area separating the country from the West Bank.

Arab Israelis protests in Haifa against the demolition of Palestinian homes (MEE)

The demolition of the homes, which Israeli authorities said were built without the necessary permits, led to the displacement of dozens of family members, who are now without shelter.

Israeli authorities regularly carry out demolitions of Bedouin homes they deem to have been built illegally. Building permits are almost impossible to obtain, according to residents and activists, who say Jewish Israelis are given preferential treatment in housing allotments.

Mahasen Rabus, an activist and resident of Qalansawa, told MEE last week: "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.”

Palestinian-Israeli 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.

‘Crime against citizens’

“In our eyes, this [the demolitions] is a crime against the citizens of the state,” Khalil Amour, a lawyer and human rights worker in the Negev area, told MEE on Wednesday. “The state has continued to deport and displace us from our lands since the 1950s for so-called ‘security reasons’.”

“Israel’s actions have created a spiral of violence. I have no more hope in this country as long as they [Israelis] deal with us as a hostile entity, as an enemy,” added Amour, who had previously represented residents of Umm al-Hiran in Israeli courts.

Commenting on today’s incident, Palestinian-Israeli MK Talib Abu Arar told MEE: "What happened today in the killing of Yaqub al-Qiyan is a heinous crime. We have a video proving that police opened fire on him which led to his car losing control and a policeman being killed. He did not deliberately run him over.”   

According to Abu Arar, Israeli authorities have recently begun building homes for Jewish citizens in the Umm al-Hiran village.

“The Israeli government wants to demolish the Arab village of Umm al-Hiran to build a settlement named Hiran for Jewish citizens. This is an apartheid at its best,” Abu Arar said.

“We call on the residents to adhere to the strike and to participate in all demonstrations against the killing of Arabs and the demolition of their homes," he added.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a message of condolence to the family of Israeli policemen Levi who was killed in Wednesday’s clashes, via his Facebook page.

“This incident is the second of its kind over the past few days; we are fighting a phenomenon,” Netanyahu wrote. 

“This incident does not scare us, it strengthens us and strengthens our insistence on enforcing the law unto everyone.”

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.