(photo credit: REUTERS)
Government bulldozers destroyed eleven structures in the Arab town of Qalanswe in central Israel Tuesday in one of the biggest demolition operations in the Arab sector in recent years, prompting its mayor to resign and triggering a call for a one day protest strike by the country's top Arab leadership body.
The strike called by the Higher Follow up Committee will see stores, municipalities and schools shuttered Wednesday.
The finance ministry said in a statement that its unit for enforcing planning and building laws had carried out the demolitions with police accompaniment and that the structures had been built without permits on agricultural land outside the planningi area zoned for buildings. It said the buildings were in various stages of construction and were uninhabited. The structures were for residential use, according to mayor Abdal-Basat Salameh. He said that some of them were inhabited.
"People had only 72 hours warning, there wasn't enough time for them to object. It was rape in the middle of the day." He said. Salameh said that there is a great shortage of housing in Qalansweh and that for years he has tried to get the permitted building area expanded, but to no avail. He attributes this to bureaucracy. "What is the alternative?People are forced to build illegally. I know people who have tried for twenty years to get permits to build on their own land. Now they are left without money, without life."
Yasser Makhlouf, whose family reportedly had five buildings destroyed Tuesday, told Arab48 website."My son is getting married and that house cost him an enormous amount. These vengeful orders of the government target all Arabs and these actions incite to violence. This is a clear declaration of war against the Arab society."
The demolitions come nearly a month after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quoted in media reports as calling for heightened demolitions in Arab towns, apparently to counterbalance the expected demolition of the illegal Amona settlement outpost in the West Bank.
Joint List leader Ayman Odeh said Tuesday that "the prime minister talks about equal law enforcement on the one hand but on the other he legalizes Amona, a settlement built on stolen land and demolishes Arab houses built on residents' private land in an area that is going through planning regulation."
Netanyahu wrote on Facebook "I am not deterred by the criticism and as I have directed we are continuing to implement equal enforcement in Israel."
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan wrote "I praise the police force that conducted the demolition operation of illegal houses in Qalansweh. The difficult operation indicates that law enforcement is as it should be."
Arab 48 quoted Qalanswe residents as saying large forces of police, including special forces, had entered the town along with many bulldozers to carry out the demolitions.
Salameh said he resigned because authorities had "humiliated" him with the demolitions."The moment you humiliate a mayor, what standing does he have. What good is a mayor who can't defend his citizens?Why be mayor?"
Aida Touma-Sliman, an MK for the Joint List, said that with the exception of repeated demolitions of the entire unrecognized Beduin village of al-Arakib in the Negev, Tuesday's demolition in Qalanswa, can be considered to be the largest demolition operation in the Arab sector in recent years.
MK Zuheir Bahloul (Zionist Union) condemned the demolitions, saying "the state is once again betraying the Arab population and continuing its sins against the Arab population which at times builds in an unregulated manner because it hasn't been given the possibility of building as is needed due to a failed and discriminatory policy. I think this is a stain on Arab-Jewish relations. It's a provocation against one and a half million Arab citizens of Israel to whom Netanyahu is saying 'you don't belong to the state.'"
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