Thousands Protest Against Demolition Orders in Druze Towns and Villages

Demonstrators carried Druze flags and protest signs; at the end of the march, the protesters, including Jews and Muslims as well, gathered in the northern village of Maghar.

People demonstrate against demolition orders in northern village of Maghar, January 24, 2017.
Gil Eliahu

Thousands of people marched Tuesday in the Druze village of Maghar, protesting threats of home demolitions in Druze towns and villages as well as in the Arab community.

Demonstrators carried Druze flags and protest signs; at the end of the march, the protesters, including Jews and Muslims as well, gathered in the town’s soccer field.

Maghar Mayor Ziad Dagash said an agreement had been reached under which demolition orders issued four months ago would be frozen for six months, though the attorney general did not confirm this.

According to Dagash, the agreement includes all Druze towns where demolition orders have been issued – Isfiya, Rameh, Hurfeish and Maghar.

According to the Finance Ministry, which is in charge of the enforcement unit, “efforts are being made to speed up the planning process, and within this framework many meetings have been held with mayors and community leaders in the Druze community.”

People demonstrate against demolition orders in the northern village of Maghar, January 24, 2017.
Gil Eliahu

The community has been pulled into the conflict between the Arab community and the government over the recent spate of house demolitions; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeks to increase enforcement against illegal construction in Arab towns and villages.

Illegal construction is common among the Druze as well. Some of the families that have received demolition orders have lost sons in the army and other security agencies.

The affair has raised tensions between the Druze and the government; there have been warnings that the demolition of homes in Druze towns will lead to violence.

“It’s unfortunate that they don’t give a master plan that will allow young people to build, and because of this everybody builds illegally,” said Faiz Faiz, who took part in Tuesday’s demonstration. He said he had no choice but to build a house for his son without a permit.

According to another protester, Sami Dagash of Maghar, “My son is 31, an army veteran. He wants to build a house but we have no land, only 500 meters up to the blue line” – the boundaries currently planned.

MK Ayman Odeh (Joint List) at the protest against demolition orders in the northern village of Maghar, January 24, 2017.
Gil Eliahu
Maghar Mayor Ziad Dagash at the protest against demolition orders in the northern village of Maghar, January 24, 2017.
Gil Eliahu

According to Dagash, two of the families whose houses are slated for demolition lost sons in the army. “Sending Brigade 299 [the Druze brigade] into some village in Lebanon, that’s fine, but giving building permits isn't?”

Labib Hamed received a demolition order two months ago. He is raising his brother’s son after his brother, Maj. Kiyan Salman Hamed, was killed in Lebanon in 1994 and Hamed married his brother’s widow. “How does the State of Israel issue a demolition order against a family that paid such a high price?”

MK Ayman Odeh (Joint List), who also took part in the protest, added: “Netanyahu has said he wants to destroy Arab houses when he destroys Amona. When the houses in Kalansua were destroyed, Netanyahu said ‘our forces’ destroyed a house. ‘Our forces,’ that’s the attitude.”

Odeh was referring to 11 houses demolished in the Arab city of Kalansua in central Israel on January 10, on the grounds that they were built illegally.

Labib Hamed holds a photograph of his bother, Maj. Kiyan Salman Hamed, who was killed in Lebanon in 1994.
Gil Eliahu

“Netanyahu has a clear strategy. There’s no Iranian threat, he’s looking for an enemy,” Odeh said, adding that Netanyahu was inciting against the Arab community to distract attention from the police investigations against him.

According to Odeh, since the founding of Israel in 1948, no communities have been built for Arabs. “There are 940 communities that I can’t live in because of acceptance committees,” Odeh said. “I can’t claim there’s apartheid because I’m an MK and there are [Arab] doctors and lawyers, but in planning and building there’s apartheid.”

Odeh said his party had submitted a proposal to the government that there would be no more illegal construction and no more demolitions. According to Odeh, Interior Minister Arye Dery and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon agreed, but Netanyahu did not.