Arab citizens kicked off a general strike Wednesday morning in protest of Tuesday’s demolition of 11 illegal structures in Qalansawe, an Arab town in the Triangle region of central Israel.
Following the buildings’ destruction, Qalansawe’s Mayor Abed el Basat Salame resigned in anger and Israel’s Arab leadership announced the one-day strike, which extended to schools, local authorities and businesses.
In response to the call from Arab leaders and the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, an umbrella organization representing Arab Israelis at a national level, schools and municipalities were shuddered, with no public services being provided.
On Tuesday, the Joint (Arab) List faction, which also supported the general strike, harshly condemned the demolitions, calling them “an unprecedented crime and a declaration of war against the residents of Qalansawe and the Arab public.”
“The houses were in the process of receiving planning permission, the government has hastened to act in order to make a point,” the faction said in a statement.
The Joint List also claimed that the demolitions came in response to the impending evacuation of the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona, and to divert attention from the ongoing police investigations into alleged misdeeds by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“There is no doubt that the home demolitions in the Arab community are due to the theft of land in Amona,” the statement said, “and because of the crisis of the prime minister and the right wing. As the investigation [against Netanyahu] grows so the number of demolitions grows.”
The party also claimed that there was a systemic failure of government ministries to consider the Arab community, leading to a lack of building permits in Arab villages, with its MK Youssef Jabareen saying in a statement that “the source of this issue lies in the institutional, planning, and legal barriers forcing the Arab citizens to build without a permit as a last resort to ensure a basic right of shelter.”
Jabareen added, “It is inhuman and immoral to push the Arab citizens into choosing between two worst decisions: either remain homeless or build without a formal permit.”
The Finance Ministry, which approved the demolitions, said in a statement that the buildings were built on land that was outside the approved city plan for Qalansawe, in an area zoned for agriculture. “The buildings were at various stages of construction,” it said. “None were inhabited.”
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan praised the demolition action. “I commend the police forces for destroying the illegal buildings,” he tweeted. “The Qalansawe operation shows equal implementation of law enforcement as it should be.”
Tuesday’s demolition followed Netanyahu’s instructions in December to Erdan to step up enforcement measures against illegal construction among Israeli Arabs.
The prime minister’s call to crack down on illegal construction was made in light of the planned demolition of Amona, the illegal West Bank outpost, which had been slated to be evacuated on December 25, but after a court approved extension must now be cleared by February 8.
In a Facebook video in Hebrew addressed to Amona’s residents, Netanyahu vowed that home demolitions “must be egalitarian. The same law that necessitates the evacuation of Amona, necessitates the evacuation of illegal construction elsewhere in our country,” he said.
Netanyahu emphasized he would enforce laws on illegal construction “in the Negev, in Wadi Ara, in the Galilee, in the center – all over the country.” He was apparently primarily referring to Israel’s Arabs and Bedouins, in whose communities construction laws aren’t consistently enforced.