For First Time in Years, Israeli Authorities Raze House in Galilee Arab Town

Calls mount for Arab general strike after illegally built home in Kafr Kana is demolished.

Gil Eliahu

State authorities demolished an illegally built home in Kafr Kana late Sunday night, marking the first time in years a demolition order in a Galilee Arab town has been carried out. A call for a nationwide Arab general strike starting Tuesday was issued in an emergency meeting of the Kafr Kana local council and the town’s residents committee, and echoed by local councils in the Wadi Ara region.

Arab communities in the north fear the demolition could mark the beginning of a new wave of such actions by the state. The Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, the main Israeli Arab leadership body, was expected to meet on Monday night to decide what steps to take.

The demolished house belonged to Tarak Khatib, and was located inside his family’s olive grove, Khatib said. Shortly after midnight on Sunday, hundreds of police arrived unannounced and surrounded the house. They blocked roads leading to the house, removed the family and some of their belongings, then destroyed the house, said Khatib.

Hundreds of local residents came to the site that night, with police using tear gas to keep them away from the house. After removing the debris, the residents started rebuilding the house with the local council’s support.

Khatib admitted to Haaretz that his house was built illegally, without permits, two years ago, and lay outside the residential zone in the town’s master plan. But he pointed out that the government’s refusal to expand this zone in Kafr Kana’s master plan left him with no choice but to build his home illegally.

“I need a roof over the heads of my five children and I had nowhere to build,” he said. “For two years I’ve been in a battle to prevent the demolition and to start the process of getting a permit, but the government insisted on demolishing.”

The head of the local council, Majhad Awawdeh, said: “It is private property, which is the natural continuation of the houses in the neighborhood.” The house is a few hundred meters from the neighboring homes.

The local council has filed expansion plans for Kafr Kana (pop. 21,000) and repeatedly asked the Interior Ministry and regional planning committee to approve the town’s expansion, which would have allowed construction on the Khatib family’s land, said Awawdeh. The last time the town was expanded was in 1999. But the council head said they have run into bureaucratic foot-dragging and rejection from the government and Interior Ministry, who, he said, “need to decide whether we are citizens of this country.”

Demolition sends a message

Because it has been years since a Galilee Arab home was demolished, this one appears to be a message to Israeli Arabs of a change of policy in the wake of the recent Knesset election, said Arfan Khatib, a local council member and a relative of Tarak Khatib. The house that was demolished was “easy pickings” because it is at the very edge of the town, meaning police didn’t have to go inside Kafr Kana, he said.

“There are another 26 houses that were built without permits in the community,” Councilman Khatib noted. “If you think about the natural [population] growth in the town it is possible to understand the distress it is in. ... Some of the neighborhoods look like refugee camps.”

The lack of housing in the Arab community has been steadily worsening. On the eve of Land Day two weeks ago, Haaretz reported that some 100,000 housing units would have to be built in Israeli Arab communities over the next decade to meet the demand. Arabs own only some 5 percent of Israel’s land, and freeing up state land for housing construction requires a bureaucratic process that can take up to a decade. The result is massive construction without permits and thousands of demolition orders.

The Interior Ministry had yet to respond by press time.