Thousands of Arabs and Jews demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening over government policy towards the Arab community, accusing the government of racism and incitement against minorities.
The estimated 5,000 protesters voiced their anger over recent home demolitions in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran and in the northern Arab village of Qalansawe.
They said the government’s handling of those incidents contrasted sharply with its treatment of settlers in the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona, which was evacuated this week.
Majed Abu Balal, an activist from the Jewish-Arab group “Standing Together,” said the demonstrators were protesting the “racism of this government, which demolishes Arab homes in Qalansawe and Umm al-Hiran, sending policemen there ready for war” while treating the Amona settlers “with kid gloves.”
MK Dov Khenin of the Joint (Arab) List accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “imitating the anti-Semites in Europe.”
“In Russia supporters of the czar would say, ‘Strike the Jews to save Russia.’ With our prime minister it’s ‘Strike the Arabs to save Netanyahu.’ We cannot let the model of incitement against minorities spread here with us,” Khenin said.
Speaking at the rally, the wife of a Bedouin man who ran over and killed a police officer during home demolitions in Umm al-Hiran on January 18 — before being shot dead himself — accused the current government of “unbridled racism” and called for an independent probe into the events that led to her husband’s death.
Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an’s vehicle plowed into a group of cops during the Umm al-Hiran demolitions, killing officer Erez Levi, in what government ministers and police claim was a deliberate act of terrorism. Witnesses and relatives insist that Abu Al-Qia’an lost control of his car after being hit by police gunfire or while trying to flee the bullets.
An initial autopsy showed Abu Al-Qia’an may have lost control of his vehicle after he was shot in the knee, causing him to slam into the officer. Further findings have thus far been inconclusive.
On Saturday Abu Al-Qia’an’s wife, Amal Abu Sa’id, called for an end to “incitement, separation and racism” and urged a future of equality and coexistence.
She accused the government of “declaring war on its citizens” at Umm al-Hiran and said Netanyahu was cynically using Arab home demolitions to mollify settlers angered by the court-ordered evacuation of Amona.
“The choice to treat Bedouin citizens as enemies cost my dear husband his life as well as the life of officer Erez Levi…who in their unnecessary deaths paid for your reckless and irresponsible choices.”
She called for the establishment of an independent investigative committee into the events in Umm al-Hiran.
Abu Sa’id called the large and diverse crowd “proof Arab and Jews want to live together.”
“Members of our government are proud to establish alternative facts,” Meretz MK Michal Rozin told the demonstrators.
“They do this not from ignorance,” she added. “They are building a narrative of fear, racism and hatred of the other in a deliberate and sinister fashion which serves their political ends.”
In a December video address, Netanyahu linked the order to dismantle Amona with a fresh offensive on unapproved Arab construction in Israel.
“The law must be equitable; the same law which obliges vacating Amona also obliges removing illegal construction in other parts of our country,” he said.
“Therefore I have given orders to speed up demolition of illegal construction… in all parts of the country and we shall do that in the coming days.”
The protesters descended on Tel Aviv from across the country. Without funding, Arab citizens bused into Tel Aviv from the north and south, including Umm al-Hiran and Qalansawe.
Protesters shouted “Housing for everyone. Enough of the demolitions, enough blood.”
Many called for Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to step down, blasting them for incitement against the Arab-Israeli community.
Anton Goodman, director of development for the coexistence organization The Abraham Fund called the demonstration “an outpouring of emotion from those who know from deep practical experience that better Jewish and Arab relations are attainable.”
Fellow protester David Lasry said that the demolitions were an attempt by the prime minister to distract from his own police investigations for suspected corruption.
“What happened in Umm al-Hiran is connected to the investigations into Netanyahu,” he said. “The Bedouin and the officer killed are the victims of his aggressiveness, and Erdan is his partner.”
Saturday’s rally was the latest in a series of protests that have been held throughout the country in recent weeks following the events in Umm al-Hiran.
AFP contributed to this report