Several thousand people, mostly Arab citizens, gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin square on Tuesday afternoon to protest housing shortages and the policy of house demolitions in Arab communities across the country, from ‘the triangle’ in central Israel to the Negev, the Galilee and in mixed cities. The protest was held under the slogan “Fighting for our homes.”
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MK Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint Arab List, said that this is one of the most crucial issues confronting the Arab public in Israel.
“A family which loses its home, built on its own private land, is shattered,” Odeh said. He accused the government of not responding to initiatives taken by heads of Arab local councils, who have been trying to resolve the issue of master plans for many years.
“Holding a protest in Tel Aviv is a call to the Jewish public to stand together with the Arab one against the destructive and inciting policies of the Netanyahu government, which is trying to foment a confrontation,” the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, which organized the rally, said in a statement.
“The committee emphasizes that the right to a roof over one’s head is an elementary right of every citizen, which must be respected and met by the state and its institutions.”
The committee maintains that the dire housing situation in the Arab sector is due to housing shortages, the confiscation of land and the non-approval of master plans or plans to expand areas of jurisdiction.
The rally was attended by representatives of all the constituent parts of the Monitoring Committee, including the two branches of the Islamic Movement and Knesset members from the Joint Arab List in the Knesset, which includes Hadash, Balad and Ta’al political parties. Local councils heads, social activists and popular committees and Jewish and Arab intellectuals also participated.
Participants carried Palestinian flags and placards protesting demolitions and calling for expanding the jurisdiction of Arab towns. Other placards called for the recognition of unrecognized villages in the Negev and in Dahamesh, near Ramle, whose inhabitants are contesting demolition orders.
In an effort to mobilize more participants, rally organizers declared a general strike in all Arab communities, including the shutting of schools. The response to the call for a strike was regarded as being relatively good, in contrast to previous calls issued by the committee.
The location of the rally, in the heart of Tel Aviv, reflected a new approach by the political leaders of Israel’s Arabs population. If the majority of Israelis ignores the minority and refuses to listen to it, then the minority must come to them, the thinking goes.
This approach sends a clear message to the political establishment and Israeli society as a whole, The country’s Arab population isn’t giving up on its citizenship. It aspires to be an integral part of a just, egalitarian society – a society that sees it as a partner, rather than a fifth column, and that understands its problems and respects its national identity.