Thousands of people took to the streets of Kalansua on Friday to protest against house demolitions in the Arab city, which is located in central Israel.
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Eleven buildings in the city were demolished by treasury officials and police on Tuesday, on the ground that they were erected without the appropriate permits.
The four local families who owned the buildings said they had been notified of the demolitions only two days before they were carried out and were not given sufficient time to respond through legal channels. The structures were built on land designated for farming.
Kalansua Mayor Abdel Bassat Salameh announced his resignation in the wake of the demolitions. He said he had fought for years to expand Kalansua’s master plan, but bureaucratic obstacles left the residents with no choice but to build on land zoned for agriculture.
The owners of the buildings, some of which were in the final stages of construction, said they were building on their own private land. Abu Khaled Arar, whose sons owned some of the demolished buildings, told Haaretz that he had moved from the Negev after his land there was expropriated for construction of an airfield. He then bought land in the Kalansua area.
The protesters included Knesset members, local authority heads and the heads of the Israeli Arab community's monitoring committee.
Hussam Mahlouf, who owned one of the demolished buildings, addressed the crowd in the name of all the owners. "We will remain here, on our land, and no one will move us from here," he said. "They can demolish the buildings but they can't demolish our souls."
Friday's protest began in the early afternoon with a march than began in the center of the city and ended at the site where three of the buildings were demolished. A municipality initiative to establish a special fund for the rebuilding of the houses was announced during Friday prayers at mosques throughout the country.
Mayor Salameh told the protesters that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have ordered the demolitions, but he unwillingly assisted in unifying the Arab population of Israel.
Mohammad Barakeh, Chairman of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, said the rally was "a message to the government that the Arab public will not remain apathetic while it destroys homes. I suspect that the government wants to create not only a spectacle of ruins, but a spectacle of blood, as well. I call on it not to force the deterioration of the situation due to its whims and despair. We will fight for our homes, for our very existence, and we will rebuild the homes."
Taibe Mayor Shua Mansour, speaking on behalf of the Arab local authorities, said: "There is a law that it not written in the law books of Israel and that is the law of shame. The prime minister should be ashamed of what he is doing. We want to live in peace and as good neighbors, but such behavior only destroys coexistence."