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Palestinians in Israel stage general strike over home demolitions

April 28, 2015 7:10 P.M. (Updated: April 29, 2015 9:00 P.M.)
(AFP/Jack Guez)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Palestinian citizens of Israel observed a general strike on Tuesday that was to climax with a rally in Tel Aviv to protest against a wave of demolitions of Palestinian homes.

In Palestinian towns in the north of Israel, schools, colleges, public institutions, banks and most shops were closed, media outlets reported.

The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, which represents Palestinian communities in Israel, said the strike was a protest against growing racism as well as the acceleration of house demolitions.

"This strike is a response to the increased action by the Israeli authorities against Arab homes and the ongoing harsh policy of incitement to hatred against Arabs which was launched by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the elections," it said.

It was referring to an incident on March 17 when Netanyahu warned right-wing Jewish voters to turn out because Palestinian citizens of Israel were going to the polls "in droves."

The remarks from Netanyahu -- who won a surprise victory in the polls -- drew a rebuke from US President Barack Obama and were widely criticized in Israel and abroad.

The decision to hold a rally in Tel Aviv rather than in one of the Palestinian cities was aimed at bringing the crisis to the attention of Jewish Israelis.

The demonstration was to take place in Rabin Square from 1400 GMT.

Both the strike and the rally were backed by the Joint List, which groups the main Arab political parties and came third in the election.

Israel's Palestinian community, which makes up some 20 percent of the population, are the descendants of the 160,000 Palestinians who remained on their land after the majority of the Palestinian population was forcibly displaced by Jewish militias during the creation of Israel in 1948.

They complain of routine discrimination, particularly in housing, land access and employment.

There has been a string of demolitions of Palestinian homes in northern and central Israel, as well as in the southern Negev desert.

Campaigners say tens of thousands more have demolition orders against them.

Although Palestinians make up around 17 percent of the Israeli population, only 4.6 percent of new homes are built in Palestinian areas, figures provided by rights group Adalah show.

In a February report, Adalah blamed the housing crisis on a "deliberate, consistent, and systematic government policy" that gives preference to development in Jewish areas over Palestinian ones.

In 2014, the Israel Land Authority published tenders for construction of 38,261 housing units in Jewish communities compared with only 1,844 in Palestinian communities, the report said.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
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