Arab citizens of Israel have gone on a nationwide strike after Israeli authorities destroyed 11 Palestinian homes they said were illegal in the central town of Qalansawe.
“We condemn the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally for these crimes,” Mohammad Baraka, the head of the High Follow-Up Committee, a representative body for Palestinian citizens of Israel, said in a statement on Tuesday.
The committee called on Arab citizens of the Jewish state to stand together to repel “the new attack that the government has taken against us”.
Workers in both the public and private sectors were encouraged to participate in Wednesday’s symbolic one-day walk out. It is estimated that of Israel’s 1.5million Arab citizens, around 500,000 took part.
The dispute comes after buildings in the Arab-majority town of Qalansawe were demolished for allegedly being built without proper planning permits. The residents whose homes were destroyed said they had been denied permits several times, forcing them to build illegally.
Israel’s Finance Ministry released a statement on Wednesday saying that the buildings were not inhabited because they were still in varying stages of construction, and built on land outside the town’s approved borders.
Qalansawe’s mayor has resigned in protest.
“The Arab population at times builds in an unregulated manner because it hasn't been given the possibility of building,” Zionist Union politician Zuhair Bahloul said.
“Illegal Arab building is needed because the current policy is failed and discriminatory… It’s a provocation against... Arab citizens of Israel. [Prime Minister] Netanyahu is telling them, 'You don't belong to the state.'"
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the controversy with a statement on his Facebook page which said that: “We are continuing to implement equal enforcement in Israel... Home demolitions must be egalitarian.
“The same law which necessitates the evacuation of Amona, necessitates the evacuation of illegal construction elsewhere in our country... I will enforce Israeli law in the Negev, in Wadi Ara, in the Galilee, in the centre – all over the country.“
Amona, a wildcat outpost in the West Bank built without government permission, is currently being emptied of residents after a high court ruling last year deemed the settlement illegal.
More than 5,000 Arab homes in Israel have been destroyed in the last 20 years and Palestinians control of just 2.3 per cent of the state’s land, which activists say is indicative of their status as “second class citizens” of the country. Strikes are a common method of protest for Palestinian citizens.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently involved in a corruption investigation. Police are trying to determine whether he accepted lavish gifts from business leaders and allegedly attempted to curry favourable coverage in the Israeli media in exchange for a financial deal.
Critics have interpreted the demolitions as an attempt to deflect attention from the ongoing scandal.
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