Shock, anger and fear pervaded Kalansuwa, east of Kfar Saba, on Wednesday, a day after government bulldozers accompanied by large numbers of police destroyed 11 buildings in one of the biggest demolition operations in the Arab sector in recent years.
Arab citizens throughout the country shuttered shops, schools and offices in observance of a one-day general strike to protest the demolitions.
Owners of the demolished houses stood near their ruins, trying to absorb the fact that they had been rendered homeless.
“I have nothing left. They have left me without anything.
They have destroyed my children. They have destroyed me,” said Yusuf Makhlouf, standing near the rubble that until Tuesday had been the home for him, his wife and eight children.
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. The buildings were in various stages of construction and were all uninhabited, it said.
But Makhlouf, 58, who built swimming pools until he was forced to stop because of a heart condition, said he had lived in his house since it was completed two years ago. The house was built on his privately owned land. His brothers Zuheir, Salih, Abdullah, Mustafa and Hasouna also lived with their families in neighboring houses that were also demolished, he said. The rubble of them was clearly visible.
The demolitions come nearly a month after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quoted in media reports as calling for heightened demolitions of illegally built structures in Arab towns, apparently to counterbalance the expected demolition of the illegal Amona settlement outpost in the West Bank.
Netanyahu wrote on Facebook, “I am not deterred by the criticism and as I have directed, we are continuing to implement equal enforcement [of the law] in Israel.”
At a demonstration attended by hundreds at the main entrance to Kalansuwa, people voiced fear that their homes would be next. A protester held up a sign reading, “Today demolitions in Kalansuwa – tomorrow, where?” About 600 houses in Kalansuwa have been built without permits, among some 55,000 houses in the Arab sector that have been illegally built, according to Thabet Abu Rass, chief executive officer of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, who is also a town planner. Arab leaders say their constituents are forced to build illegally on their own land because in Arab localities there is a lack of government master and detailed plans that would enable the granting of permits for legal building.
In Kalansuwa, the municipality’s bid for approval of a detailed plan that would allow for more legal building has been held up for 14 years; the town’s population has doubled in that period, according to town councilor Issam Taya.
“It’s bureaucracy that simply doesn’t move,” Taya said. “We are citizens who just want to build on our land.”
MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) disputes that there is a bureaucratic or structural problem, saying that Arab towns have far more master plans than Jewish ones and that the building without permits reflects a “blatant disregard for the law” among Arab citizens.
Makhlouf said he had been waging a legal battle to get a permit for his house and had a court date set for June. But late on Monday, he was notified his house would be demolished, and the bulldozers came early on Tuesday, leaving no time to appeal to the court.
He said police dragged him and his family out of their home, injuring his pregnant daughter Maisa in the process. He said police kept their guns trained on him and his family “We didn’t resist, they would have shot at us as if we weren’t citizens of the country,” he said.
Police spokesman Ch.-Insp. Micky Rosenfeld said he had no knowledge of any disturbances during the demolitions and that if residents felt there was improper behavior by security forces, they should file a complaint.
Police had sealed off an area of Kalansuwa on Tuesday, conducted searches of houses, and found an AK-47 assault rifle in one. They arrested the house owner, he said. Rosenfeld said he did not know if the gun was found in a house that was later demolished.
Makhlouf said police kept them away so that they could not see the demolition as it happened. But two hours later, he saw the result.
“I saw my house. It was like Aleppo. They could have just bombed it from the air. All my life I worked to make that house, all my life,” he said.
At the demonstration, Kalansuwa resident Muhammad Odeh, who has a demolition order issued against his house, said he does not sleep at night for fear of the bulldozers.
He said he was forced to build on his own land without a permit because to buy a parcel in the permitted building zone would have cost him NIS 2 million. “I asked for a permit, they don’t give me one. I’ve built on my own land; there is no choice.”
Taya said that those whose homes are demolished are devastated financially.
“It’s not just that their money is gone, we are talking about people in debt. They are left without a house, without money and in debt. And then the state demands that they pay for the cost of the demolition.”
Smotrich praised the demolitions but said they did not go far enough.
“The actions that were taken are positive, but they are not even a drop in the ocean.
Construction violations in the Arab sector are like a disease and show a blatant disregard for the law.”
“I hope that [Public Security] Minister [Gilad] Erdan will take these positive actions forward to the establishment of the rule of law in the State of Israel.”Udi Shaham contributed to this report.