The Israeli Arab community launched a nationwide general strike on Thursday in protest of the home demolitions the state carried out in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran a day earlier.
The move followed the deadly outcome of clashes surrounding the demolition, after a resident of the village ran his car into police, killing officer Erez Levi, 34, and wounding another before being shot dead by other officers.
Police charged that the driver, identified as local schoolteacher Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qia’an, carried out a deliberate terror attack, while residents insisted he was not in control of his vehicle when it accelerated into Levi.
Arab businesses and municipalities were closed across the country, but schools still opened for three hours in order to facilitate discussions among students about the demolitions, the Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel announced.
Arab Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman said the committee declared the day-long strike during an emergency meeting in the Negev village Wednesday afternoon.
“We decided that tomorrow will be a strike day, and will also be a day that we raise black flags [as a symbol of mourning] in our homes and in our businesses,” Touma-Sliman told The Times of Israel.
“There is no normal life when our homes are being demolished,” she said.
In addition, hundreds of people took to the streets in Tel Aviv and other locations across Israel on Wednesday to protest the government-ordered demolition. In Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jaffa, Nazareth and Qalansawe hundreds of protesters gathered to demonstrate against “the bloodshed and the destruction of homes in the Negev.”
Israeli officials were quick to call Wednesday’s deadly car-ramming a terror attack and pointed to evidence that Abu al-Qia’an had Islamist ties.
Videos from the scene did not definitively resolve questions over whether Abu al-Qia’an was in control of the vehicle when he ran into Levi.
The Follow-up Committee has also announced a three-day mourning period for Abu al-Qia’an, committee chair Mohammad Barakeh told Army Radio Thursday morning.
Local residents and activists insisted that Abu al-Qia’an was shot by police before his car slammed into the offices and he was not in control of the vehicle at the time.
Barakeh said Abu al-Qia’an had signed the deal to leave peacefully and had “no reason whatsoever to oppose this.”
Drone footage of the incident released later in the day appeared to show at least one policeman opening fire on the vehicle before it accelerates into a group of police officers.
Israel’s Arab minority has long maintained that state-sponsored discrimination makes it impossible for them to obtain planning permission to expand their communities. The result is that many families resort to building homes without permission, leaving them liable to demolition. Arab MKs have proposed a law freezing home demolitions for 10 years, during which zoning and other issues would be resolved.
There has been a string of demolitions of Arab homes in northern and central Israel, most recently in the town of Qalansawe in central Israel. After 11 illegal structures were demolished there last week, the Joint List party branded the demolitions “an unprecedented crime and a declaration of war against the residents of Qalansawe and the Arab public.”
The Arab Knesset faction further claimed 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 Joint List statement said, “and because of the crisis of the prime minister and the right wing. As the investigation [into Netanyahu] grows so the number of demolitions grows.”
The demolitions in Qalansawe and Umm al-Hiran followed Netanyahu’s instructions in December to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to step up enforcement measures against illegal construction among Israeli Arabs.
The prime minister’s call to crack down on illegal construction followed the planned demolition of Amona, an illegal West Bank outpost that had been slated to be evacuated on December 25, but after a court-approved extension must now be cleared by February 8.
Tamar Pileggi contributed to this report.