Arab Israelis stage general strike over home demolitions

Arab Israelis stage general strike over home demolitions
Israeli Arab demonstrators take part in a Land Day rally in the northern village of Deir Hanna on March 30, 2015. Land Day commemorates the killing of six Arab citizens of Israel by security forces during protests in 1976 over government land confiscations.

JERUSALEM - Israel's Arab minority observed a general strike on Tuesday that was to climax with a rally in Tel Aviv to protest against a wave of demolitions of Arab homes.

In Arab towns in the north, schools, colleges, public institutions, banks and most shops were closed, Arab media outlets reported.

The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, which represents Arab communities in Israel, said the strike was a protest against growing racism as well as the acceleration of house demolitions.

"This strike is a response to the increased action by the Israeli authorities against Arab homes and the ongoing harsh policy of incitement to hatred against Arabs which was launched by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the elections," it said.

It was referring to an incident on March 17 when Netanyahu warned rightwing Jewish voters to turn out because Arab Israelis were going to the polls "in droves".

The remarks from Netanyahu - who won a surprise victory in the polls - drew a rebuke from US President Barack Obama and were widely criticised in Israel and abroad.

The decision to hold a rally in Tel Aviv rather than in one of the Arab cities was aimed at bringing the crisis to the attention of Jewish Israelis.

The demonstration was to take place in Rabin Square from 1400 GMT.

Both the strike and the rally were backed by the Joint List, which groups the main Arab political parties and came third in the election.

Arab Israelis are those Palestinians who remained on their land when the state of Israel was established in 1948. Today, along with their descendents, they number around 1.4 million.

Figures provided by the Central Bureau of Statistics indicate there are 1,730,000 million Arabs living in Israel.

But that number includes 310,000 Palestinians from annexed east Jerusalem who do not hold Israeli nationality and do not enjoy the same rights as Arab Israelis.

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 around 17 per cent of the population, only 4.6 per cent of new homes are built in Arab areas, figures provided by Arab rights group Adalah show.

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.

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