Arab Israelis angry at house demolitions
Qalansawe - Palestinian citizens of Israel are angry after 11 homes in Qalansawe, an Arab town in central Israel, were demolished.
Abu Khaled, standing on the ruins of one of his son’s houses, complained that, in spite of years of applying, he was refused a building permit, so he built without one. He was served with demolition orders and the next day, the bulldozers came.
A demonstration attended by thousands and a general strike by Palestinians around Israel had no effect.
The government bulldozers arrived again eight days later, this time at Umm al-Hiran. A years-old plan to demolish the Bedouin village was realised when hundreds of police entered the village and destroyed eight homes and seven agricultural buildings.
The predicament of Umm al-Hiran is unique. In 1956, the government removed the residents from Khirbet Zubaleh, where they had lived for generations, and relocated them to Umm al-Hiran. However, the village remained unrecognised — without infrastructure, water, electricity or any municipal services.
In 2015, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that Umm al-Hiran could be demolished so a Jewish-Israeli town called Hiran could be built on its ruins.
Prior to the demolition, Yaqoub Abu al-Qiyan, whom witnesses said was leaving the village in his car, was killed by Israeli police. Accusations by police that he was attempting to attack them were proved false upon examination of a video the police released. It showed that Abu al-Qiyan’s car veered in the direction of the police — killing one — after shots were fired at him.
Not only have the demolitions angered Palestinians but the body of Abu al-Qiyan has been held since his death, further inflaming tensions.
A second demonstration by thousands took place in the Arab village of Arara. Parliamentarian Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Arab Joint List, told those gathered that there were 50,000 houses built without licences because of the country’s planning policies.
“This means that demolitions will not stop and can happen to your homes and in your cities,” he said, adding that the gathering is a “cry of people who want to live in their homeland in dignity”.
A convoy of 200 vehicles inched towards Jerusalem at 20kph to protest in front of the parliament and demand the release of Abu al-Qiyan’s body.
That evening, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled the body must be returned to the family.
The demolitions came after Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel media reported, told officials to “work to issue demolition orders for the illegal structures located in Arab towns in northern and southern Israel, as well as in eastern Jerusalem”.
Many say Netanyahu is trying to appease Israeli settlers who are being removed from the illegal West Bank settlement of Amona. They compare illegal building by Arab citizens of Israel to the illegal building of outposts and settlements on Palestinian land.
The Arab population of Israel, numbering 1.7 million, is facing a severe housing crisis. A January 16th letter sent to Netanyahu by lawyers from Adalah — the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel — said the housing problems “stem from years of discrimination in state zoning regulations and land distribution policy”.
The letter continued: “This discrimination has been expressed via massive state land expropriations from Arab citizens, the shrinking of jurisdictional boundaries of Arab municipalities, lack of distribution of state land for the purposes of development, budgeting earmarked for Judaisation of the landscape, as well as discrimination in the state budgeting of Arab municipal authorities.”
Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, no new Arab towns have been built, while 600 new Jewish municipalities have been. Arab towns occupy around 2.5% of the land and overcrowding is becoming a serious problem with the increase in the Arab population.
As of 2012, only 41 of 119 Arab communities have master zoning plans that have been approved by the state. Another 44 communities have outdated zoning plans and 34 have plans in various stages of development.
In 2015, 38,095 tenders were issued by the state for the construction of housing units in Jewish communities and only 1,835 housing units in the Arab ones, which translates to 4.6% of new construction tenders approved for Arab applicants.
Shuaa Mansour, the mayor of Taibeh, the second largest Arab city in Israel, said after the demolition in nearby Qalansawe: “We are not enemies. We are the sons of this land. Every minority has rights.
“Demolitions are like the destruction of humanity. It is the last weapon that the government is using against us.”
He said he worried that if the demolitions orders were not frozen, anger among Arab citizens would grow and the leaders would not be able to control the people.
Data collected by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs indicate that 2016 showed the highest number of demolitions in the West Bank in seven years.