Stores shuttered as Palestinians, Arab Israelis mark ‘Day of Rage’

Arab business owners worried over grassroots Jewish threat to identify the businesses they own, then boycott them during rest of the year

Illustrative: A closed shop is seen in the West Bank city of Ramallah on June 8, 2014. (Issam Rimawi/Flash 90)
Illustrative: A closed shop is seen in the West Bank city of Ramallah on June 8, 2014. (Issam Rimawi/Flash 90)

Palestinian groups and Arab Israelis in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and northern Israel have declared Tuesday a “Day of Rage,” urging mass demonstrations against the Israeli government and its policies, amid a series of daily terrorist attacks carried out against Israeli civilians across the region.

At the same time, leading Arab Israeli politicians called on municipalities and local authorities to participate in a general strike on Tuesday to protest changes it accuses Israel of planning to make to the status quo on the Temple Mount, home to the al-Aqsa Mosque — considered to be one of Islam’s holiest sites and the holiest site in Judaism.

The Israeli government has repeatedly denied that it intends to make any such changes. Jews are currently allowed to visit the Temple Mount but not to pray there.

All businesses and educational institutions in Arab communities across Israel shut down Tuesday, with lawmakers from the Joint (Arab) List set to lead a large demonstration in the northern Israel town of Sakhnin. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were also holding a parallel strike.

The decision to strike came at a meeting of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel umbrella organization on Sunday. The meeting, held in the Arab town of Kafr Qara in northern Israel, explored various forms of protest before calling the strike. The strike was to be launched over what the group called “the efforts by the Netanyahu government to separate Muslims from al-Aqsa Mosque.”

On Monday, Joint (Arab) List chairman MK Ayman Odeh said his party members will refrain from visiting al-Aqsa Mosque for the time being so as not to spark any additional unrest. Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu imposed a blanket ban on lawmakers’ visits to the compound due to the ongoing tensions. The Arab Israeli MKs had intended to visit the Temple Mount on Sunday despite the ban but later delayed the trip.

The decision to issue the Temple Mount ban was made in late September, but police only began implementing it last week. It originally only included Jewish lawmakers, but was extended to all MKs after protests from cabinet ministers.

Not all Arab Israelis expressed enthusiasm for the strike; Nazareth Mayor Ali Salem criticized the decision, Channel 2 reported, and called on the Joint List Knesset members to instead take action to calm the recent violence.

“I blame the leaders; they are destroying our future, they are destroying coexistence,” Salem told Army Radio on Sunday.

A representative of Arab business owners in the mixed city of Acre said the town’s Arab business owners “honor the decision of the High Follow Up Committee but do not decided for business owners whether to open or not. Each person decides as they think.”

The representative, Hanni Asadi, told Ynet that a grassroots Israeli countermeasure aimed at identifying which businesses are owned by Arabs and boycotting them after the strike ends was the effort of “inciters trying to destroy Jewish Arab relations.”

“Extremists are trying to ruin the good atmosphere. In this racist decision of theirs, they show how stupid they are. They will not deter us because we answer to no one but God. We all hope this wave will pass and tourism and security will return to what they were,” he said.

An Arab journalist from Haifa, Shahin Nassar, told Ynet many business owners in the city were taking the Jewish threats seriously: “Many of their clients are Jewish residents of the city. As in every time when tempers are flaring because of the security situation there are calls for sanctions against Arab citizens. Some business owners were threatened with sanctions if they close up shop and join the strike. This is pure racism. Every person has the right to their political opinions and such calls are a threat to Israel’s democracy. Business owners want the police to investigate who is behind the threat [of sanctions].”

The wave of attacks across the country began in Jerusalem last month ostensibly over what Israel repeatedly insists are unfounded Palestinian rumors that Israel was expanding its presence at the Temple Mount and the al-Aqsa Mosque.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Monday during a meeting with Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, who is visiting the region, that the attacks were “a result of the aggressive behavior of Israeli security forces and the settlers.”

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