Thousands of Israeli Arabs gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Tuesday evening to protest against the government’s policies for demolishing unauthorized buildings in Arab towns, capping a day in which Arab shops, schools and businesses observed a general strike.
The protests, organized under the slogan “Campaign for our homes,” were meant to agitate against a wave of demolitions of homes that they say are the only option left to residents amid bureaucratic red tape that hinders above-board residential projects in Arab towns.
The protesters gathered at the central Rabin Square, waving Palestinian flags and wearing headscarves as police officers stood by in case of disturbances.
At the rally, a small number of Jewish Israelis could be seen holding up Israeli flags, jeering at the Arab protesters, but there was no confrontation.
The Higher Arab Follow-up Committee, which represents Arab communities in Israel, said it chose the Tel Aviv locale to send “a message to the Jewish community to stand together with the Arab community against the destructive and provocative policies of the Netanyahu government, that is trying to bring about confrontation,” the Hebrew-language Haaretz website reported.
“The right to a roof is an elementary right for every citizen, that the state and its institutes must respect and regulate,” the committee declared.
Ayman Odeh, who heads the Arab Joint List party, said in a statement shortly before attending the rally that the issue was “one of the most painful issues for the Arab public.”
“For a family that loses its home that was built on private land, its whole world is destroyed.”
Fellow party parliamentarians, representatives from the Islamic Movement, and some Jewish supporters of the demonstration’s cause also attended the rally, chanting slogans against house demolitions and in demanded an increasing in areas of jurisdiction for construction in Arab communities.
The crowds also called for recognizing unauthorized communities in the Negev that are predominately populated with Bedouins and have also been a cause of friction with authorities.
Earlier the committee called a general strike in Arab towns also in protest of demolition policies.
The committee said that the general strike was called to “raise the cry of the Arab citizens who are suffering from a severe housing crisis, from house demolitions, from land seizures, an absence of jurisdiction expansion, and from the non-approval of master plans.”
According to the follow-up committee, there are some 50,000 Arab homes facing demolition.
“The government is waging a war on Arabs,” Jeryes Matar, the follow-up committee’s secretary general, said at the demonstration.
“The battle to save these houses is the battle to save our existence.”
There has been a string of demolitions of Arab homes in northern and central Israel, as well as in the southern Negev desert. Campaigners say tens of thousands more have demolition orders against them.
Arab Israelis complain that discrimination by the state 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.
Although Arab Israelis make up some 17 percent of the population, only 4.6 percent of new homes are built in Arab areas, according to Arab rights group Adalah.
In a February report, Adalah blamed the housing crisis on a “deliberate, consistent, and systematic government policy” that gives preference to development in Jewish areas over Arab ones.
In 2014, the Israel Land Authority published tenders for construction of 38,261 housing units in Jewish communities compared with only 1,844 in Arab communities, the report said.