Children playing in Kalansuwa.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Thousands of Arab citizens turned out Friday in Kalansuwa near Kfar Saba to protest Wednesday’s destruction by government bulldozers of 11 buildings in the town, one of the largest demolition operations in the Arab sector in recent years.
“Destruction of houses equals destruction of dignity” read signs in the crowd that gathered in and near the rubble of demolished houses. Rand, a 15-year-old girl from Kalansuwa, stood on the rubble waving a Palestinian flag.
“I’m so proud of the people who came here and I’m really disappointed at the destruction of the houses,” she said. “It is depressing the hearts of Kalansuwa’s people.”
MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) said that the demonstration “sends a clear message to [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and the ministers that our community will not sit aside when they are planning more demolitions. As a marginalized and discriminated against community, our power is with the masses coming out and protesting and I hope this will be a beginning for more plans, including a demonstration in Jerusalem.”
The demolitions came nearly a month after Netanyahu was quoted in media reports as calling for heightened destruction of illegal structures in Arab towns, apparently to counterbalance the expected demolition of the illegal Amona settlement outpost in the West Bank.
Netanyahu wrote on Facebook after the demolitions, “I am not deterred by the criticism and as I have directed we are continuing to implement equal enforcement in Israel.” Arab leaders say their constituents are forced to build illegally because of discriminatory planning practices that deny them permits to build on their own land.
The Finance Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that the structures had been destroyed because they were built without permits on agricultural land outside the planning area zoned for building. It said the buildings were in various stages of construction and that they were all uninhabited.
But Kalansuwa resident Yousef Makhlouf said he had been living with his family in their house for two years before it was demolished Tuesday and Kalansuwa Mayor Abdal-Basat Salameh also said that some of the demolished houses had been inhabited.
The demolitions have added a new layer of bitterness to the already acrimonious relations between Arab citizens and the Netanyahu government. People at the demonstration said there is no comparison between illegal Arab building and the Amona settlement outpost, stressing that the Arab citizens built on their own land, while Amona construction amounted to taking the private property of Palestinians.
“It’s a racist policy not to give permits to Arabs,” said Rashid Baransi, an electrician from the nearby town of Taibe. “In Amona they stole and got a million shekels each in compensation. Here we have people who invested their souls and they demolish their homes. It is the politics of Netanyahu to pour his hatred onto innocent Arabs.”
His sister, Doha, a student, added: “What they are doing is destroying the lives of the people. They should respect the people. They don’t respect us as Arabs and as citizens. If they wanted to respect us they wouldn’t destroy.”
Amnesty International’s Israel branch on Thursday sharply criticized the demolitions in Kalansuwa, saying that police behaved violently and that the operation was prompted by “flawed political motives.”
Police did not directly respond to the allegation, while a government official denied there was any motive other than law enforcement.