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Israeli forces assault Palestinians during protest over home demolitions in Israel

March 14, 2017 6:57 P.M. (Updated: March 15, 2017 11:15 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Dozens of Palestinians in Jerusalem protested outside Israel's Ministry of Finance on Tuesday against the “Kaminitz” draft bill being considered for legislation in the Israeli Knesset -- expected to intensify Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in Israel and occupied East Jerusalem -- while clashes erupted between Palestinians and Israeli police forces.

The protest was called by the Committee of Heads of Arab Local Authorities in coordination with several other committees and organizations.

The committee said that the protesters chanted slogans condemning the demolition of Palestinian homes, while calling the Israeli government “racist.”

Israeli special forces suppressed the demonstration, while assaulting protesters when they attempted to close the street leading to the Ministry of Finance. Those assaulted by Israeli forces included Palestinian Members of Knesset Yousif Jabarin and Taleb Abu Arar -- both members of the Joint List, representing parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Knesset -- and Musawa Center head Jaafar Farah.

Jabarin said that the assault "confirms the real face of the Israeli police that treats Arabs as enemies and not as citizens with equal rights.”

Jabarin also described the assault on protesters as “despicable,” adding that “it is our right to raise our voices and protest, especially when (Israeli policies) harm our basic right to shelter.” He highlighted that he would not attempt to prevent Palestinians from continuing their "popular resistance" until demolition plans in Palestinian communities were halted.

Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld told Ma’an that “the incident did not happen,” and that there were no reports of any demonstration held around the issue of home demolitions. However, a video was released documenting the event and the suppression by Israeli forces which included attempting to beat protesters.

According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Israel’s Kaminitz bill is aimed at increasing the power of “administrative entities, especially national planning entities,” in their “enforcement of planning laws,” and their handling of construction without Israeli-issued building permits.

If adopted into Israeli legislation, the bill would “increase the amount of fines and lengthen prison terms for construction offenses, as well as expand the circle of penalization for these offenses,” according to ACRI.

The committee added that the law would also enforce penalties on Palestinian local leaders if they refused to “take an effective role” in home demolitions in their communities.

While the legislation would be applied to all communities in Israel, it will have a disproportionate impact on Palestinian citizens who have faced an increase in property demolitions in recent months, due to what rights groups have attributed to discriminatory zoning policies in Israel which have excluded many Palestinian-Israeli communities, notably Bedouins, from being included in the regional and municipal development plans.

According to ACRI, since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 not a single Palestinian, or “Arab,” town or village has been built, while the area of these villages have been reduced, now making up less than 3 percent of the area in Israel.

Some 90 percent of Palestinian citizens of Israel, making up 20 percent of the general population, live in these towns and villages. The rising population in Palestinian towns, coupled with the reduction of their jurisdictional area, has caused a severe housing shortage in the communities, forcing many to build without permits.

ACRI has also noted that Palestinians in Israel require 13,000 new housing units a year to keep up with population rates. However, Israel has only permitted some 7,000 to be built each year.

“The significance is that each year a shortfall of 6,000 residential units is recorded, in addition to the accumulation of decades of shortages the scope of which has not yet been assessed,” the group said.

Meanwhile, ACRI referenced data from the Knesset Research and Information Center, that shows 97 percent of demolition orders in Israel between 2012 and 2014 were issued in the “Arab sector.”

Rights groups have highlighted that the bill does not address the systemic crisis of Israel’s discriminatory building policies in Palestinian communities in Israel, but rather penalizes Palestinians faced with no other option except to build illegally.

The bill would fast-track demolitions in these areas at a time when Palestinian communities have erupted into outrage since the start of the year after the demolitions in the town of Qalansawe and the deadly demolition raid in Umm al-Hiran in January.

On Sunday, dozens of Palestinian citizens of Israel protested in the town of Tayibe in central Israel against home demolitions, saying that Israel's demolition policies were aimed at displacing Palestinians from their villages.

In December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a video to address settlers of the Amona outpost, assuring them that he would commit to “enforcing laws” on “illegal construction” in Israel, referring primarily to Palestinian communities.

Right groups have argued that the aim of home demolitions is to forcibly displace Palestinians from the region, regardless of their status as residents of the occupied West Bank or East Jerusalem, or as citizens of Israel -- despite the varying legal justifications used by Israel in each instance.
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