Following the state’s demolition of homes in the Arab-Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev on Wednesday, January 18, the Arab community in Israel announced three days of mourning and a one day general strike on Thursday, January 19. This is the second general strike in the Arab community in Israel in as many weeks, the first was held last Wednesday, following the demolition, the day before, of 11 houses in the Arab city of Qalansawe in central Israel.
The chairman of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee and former Hadash MK, Mohammed Barakeh, called on the Arab public to attend the funeral of the Umm al-Hiran resident, Yacoub Mousa Abu al-Qee’an, 47, shot dead during clashes with police, allegedly while trying to run over officers. A police officer was also killed in the incident and Hadash MK Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List, was injured. On Saturday, January 21, a mass demonstration will be held in Wadi A’ra against the government’s racist policy of house demolitions targeting the Arab community in general, and specifically the destruction of Arab-Bedouin villages in the Negev.
Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman said the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee declared the day-long general strike during an emergency meeting in Umm al-Hiran on Wednesday afternoon. The decision followed a day of intense clashes and heightened tensions over the demolitions and an alleged car-ramming in which a resident of the town ran his car into policeman Erez Levi, killing him. The driver, Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qia’an, was killed by police fire, with a video appearing to show officers firing at him before his car accelerated into Levi.
“We decided that tomorrow there will be a general strike in our communities, as well as a day when we raise black flags in our homes and businesses,” Touma-Sliman told the Times of Israel. “There is no normal life when our homes are being demolished,” she said. Arab businesses and municipalities were closed yesterday, Thursday, January 19, across the country, but children went to school for three hours to learn about the demolitions.
Rallies were held on Wednesday across Israel, including in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem (in front of the Prime Minister’s residence), Jaffa, Lod, Sakhnin, Nazareth, Umm el-Fahem, Qalansawe, Acco (Acre), Kufr Yassif, Shefamr (Shfaram) and at the universities of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Beer-Sheva and Haifa. In Haifa, hundreds protesters waved Palestinian flags and hoisted banners reading “Umm al-Hiran isn’t alone,” and “extrajudicial executions = state terrorism.” The death of Yakub Abu al-Kiyan was a “declaration of war,” Raja Za’atra, the Chairman of Hadash in Haifa, told Haaretz.
In Tel Aviv, protesters began their demonstration outside the governing far-right Likud party’s headquarters. The demonstration was held under the slogan, “Emergency protest! Stop the killing of civilians and the demolition of homes!” Several hundred Jewish and Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel attended the protests in Tel Aviv, Jaffa and Jerusalem. The demonstrations were organized by Hadash and the Communist Party of Israel (CPI) together with peace and civil rights groups including Standing Together, the Negev Coexistence and Civil Equality Forum, the Coalition of Women for Peace and the Recognition Forum. In Tel Aviv, MK Dov Khenin (Hadash – Joint List) and MK Esawi Frej (Meretz) addressed the crowd. Khenin accused Netanyahu of deliberately instigating unrest in the Arab community because of the police investigations against him. “Netanyahu has marked the Arab citizens as an easy target,” he said.
Dr. Yeela Raanan of the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages also addressed the crowd. She was at the scene in Umm al-Hiran on Wednesday morning from before the police arrived. “They came with a will to harm,” she told The Jerusalem Post, still feeling the effects of the pepper gas that was sprayed at her. Abu Kiyan was not a terrorist, but ran over police after they had already killed him, Raanan said. “I know this man… he was a gentleman, gentle and smart.”
Describing horrible scenes of the demolition of houses that morning, she accused the government of acting against its own citizens and the Hebrew media of incorrectly calling a man killed on his way to work, a terrorist. “I don’t understand why the media repeated these lies, Raanan, a CPI activist, said “I am so full of pain from what they are doing in Umm al-Hiran and for the feelings of my friends who are told they are not good enough to stay there.”
Haia Noach, director of the Negev Coexistence Forum and one of the organizers of the event, told i24news that the protest came in response to clashes earlier in the day. Another organizer, Alon-Lee Green, a leading member of Standing Together and the Central Committee of the CPI, said in Tel Aviv that co-existence is the message. “We need to fight the Israeli government’s attempts at characterizing Arabs as enemies. We need to stand together, Jews and Arabs, so we can actually picture a better society.” The turnout for the rally is good, considering the short planning, Green said.
On Wednesday evening representatives of the Joint List, headed by Hadash MK Yousef Jabareen, met with the EU’s ambassador in Israel, Lars Fauborg-Andersen, and with Michael Kohler, in charge of Mideast matter at the European Council, to urge them to intervene.
Interview with Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman at scene of demolitions at Umm al-Hiran: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xIqAo-nQco