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Palestinians in no hurry to join housing protests

Aug. 13, 2011 2:50 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 14, 2011 2:47 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Palestinian citizens of Israel "will not put their eggs in the same basket" with demonstrations sweeping Israel, a senior trade union official said Saturday.

Muhammad Zeidan said the Arab community in Israel's struggle was something quite different than the predominantly Jewish-Israeli movement calling for social equality and affordable rent.

Israel has been gripped since mid-July by a rapidly growing protest movement demanding cheaper housing, education and health care. Last Saturday, more than 300,000 people demonstrated across the country.

The leaders of the social protest movement have called for more rallies this weekend, but Zeidan says most Palestinians are unlikely to join.

The protests are widely supported in Israel but this is partly because they have all but avoided addressing divisive issues like racial discrimination and the occupation of the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza.

“We do not want to ride the wave of the Jews’ protests because we have our own struggles which started in 1976, Land Day, when six Arab citizens were killed and hundreds were injured,” he explained.

"Since then we haven’t missed a beat," said Zeidan, during a visit to Ma'an in Bethlehem.

The labor leader said the Palestinian community in Israel had reacted "unlimitedly" to the revolutions sweeping the Arab world, insisting that Israeli media outlets deliberately played down the Arabs' struggle.

He says it is this movement which has a much deeper meaning than the demonstrations against high real estate prices that have been criticized for downplaying the occupation.

Still, Zeidan said the housing demonstrations, which began in July, took him by surprise.

While some segments of the protest movement have encouraged Palestinians to participate, Zeidan said their concerns were not the priority.

For instance when Netanyahu, under pressure from the protests, appointed a committee of 17 dignitaries, the list did not include a single Arab citizen. The Arabs in Israel are marginalized, he said.

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