Qalansawa, Israel - It hasn't been an easy start of the year for Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.
Making up for about 20 percent of the population in Israel, they are descendants of Palestinians who managed to stay after the 1948 Nakba. Since then, they have been denouncing the lack of public services provided to their communities as well as their stigmatisation.
The recent wave of controversies and protests was sparked by incidents in early January in an area known as the Triangle, in central Israel. This area, home to Palestinian cities and towns, is located between Haifa and Green Line – which separates Palestinians from inside Israel from their counterparts in the West Bank.
At the beginning of January, 11 houses were razed in Qalansawa, a city located in the southern part of the Triangle. Their owners said they were not given enough time between the demolition order and the actual demolition –in most cases, it happens over 2 days. The authorities claimed the houses were illegally built and that therefore they were entitled to demolish them. But residents say they're not able to apply for permits in the first place.
“This situation is unjust, the only reason why houses are being demolished is because Netanyahu wants to divert attention from the police investigating him. It’s a real life tragedy”, Abdelbasset Salama, the mayor of Qalansawa, told Palestine Monitor. Salama also explained that, for many years, he had been willing to legally develop and expand the village, but was never able to obtain the necessary authorizations. He resigned after the recent demolitions.
Thousands of people rallied in Qalansawa, showing their support for the community. A one-day general strike was declared.
Evictions and demolitions in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran (Negev) also sparked anger among Palestinians inside and outside of Israel. Solidarity protests took place in the West Bank and villagers from Umm al-Hiran got together to fight against the decision to evict and relocate residents to develop a Jewish town. But during an early morning demolition raid, things took a turn for the worse.
During the demolition operation, a local teacher was shot and killed while allegedly trying to run over a policeman. Police and activists who were present at the scene gave contrasting accounts of what happened, and human rights group Adalah asked that an investigation be opened on the incident. Chairman of the Joint List and Knesset member Ayman Odeh was also shot with a rubber bullet.
Palestinian members of the Knesset rallied in protest at the recent escalation and the long-standing discriminatory policies against Palestinian citizens of Israel.
On the same day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implied in a statement that Palestinians are guilty until proven innocent. Referring to the wildfires that engulfed the country in late 2016, he reminded the Israeli public that an investigation is still ongoing.
On the same day, President Rivlin met Palestinian mayors and regional authority heads to defuse the situation. Among participants were prominent Palestinian politicians in Israel as well as local figures such as the mayor of Qalansawa. “At this time, we must all come together in our efforts to lower the flames, and to move forward with finding solutions,” Rivlin told them. In return, Palestinians offered to set up a program for Palestinians to have better access to building permits. The President answered that “the State must act to ensure the rights of every citizen to build their home according to the law, and the citizens must respect the law, and build only and solely within the law.” Meanwhile, according to Adalah, Palestinians in Israel continue to suffer from a discriminatory planning regime.
On February 4, hundreds of people gathered in Tel Aviv to denounce house demolitions for Palestinians living in Israel, mostly from sections of the Joint List and the left-wing Zionist Meretz party. Some held signs accusing the Netanyahu government of targeting Palestinian homes in Israel to make up for the eviction of the settlers from the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona.
In this quagmire, Israeli provocations towards Palestinians kept coming: a bill aimed at legalizing 53 outposts and nearly 4 000 housing units in existing settlements was passed, another bill silencing the call for prayers from mosque also went back to the Knesset for further reading, and more demolition orders were issued. For instance, two house owners from Musheirifa (Haifa district) received an eviction letter and demolition orders. They say they won't be able to appeal.
According to Palestinian media, Israeli authorities cordoned off Umm Al-Hiran in order to demolish the mobile homes and the solidarity tent donated after the January demolitions.
A survey released by Haifa-based think tank 7amleh focusing on online practices found that every 46 seconds, Israelis write a racist post against Arabs, mostly on Facebook. And while recent events have been a reason for concern for the international community, they may also be the catalyst for Palestinians to raise their voices and ask for their rights.