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Israeli Arabs Protest Demolition

April 6, 1998

SHFARAM, Israel (AP) _ Thousands of Israeli Arabs marched in protest today after authorities demolished three homes in an Arab village and clubbed protesters who tried to rebuild them. Schools, offices and shops were closed by a strike.

Legislator Salah Salim said the marchers were protesting the demolitions, ``but also years of discrimination and inequality.″

``They are treating us like an occupation government, not as citizens,″ he said. ``That is what we are working to change.″

After the march, dozens of volunteers began rebuilding the cement block homes in Suweij, a Bedouin village in Israel’s northern Galilee. Israeli police watched but did not interfere.

``If they come back and destroy it, we will rebuild it again,″ said Hani Gidari, 25. ``We were here before they were. They don’t give us permits to build _ they never will. So we need to build.″

Salim said the government had agreed not to take action before reviewing the problem of unlicensed buildings next month.

Police demolished the houses Thursday, saying had been put up without permits. On Saturday, hundreds of police arrived to stop villagers and supporters from rebuilding.

About two dozen Israeli Arabs and an equal number of police were injured in the ensuing clashes, the worst involving Israeli Arabs in decades. Eighteen protesters were arrested.

The demolitions provoked an outcry from Israel’s 1 million Arab citizens, who have long complained of discrimination by the Israeli government.

Israeli Arabs, who make up nearly one-fifth of Israel’s population, have rarely engaged in violent protests like those in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

But as the Israeli-Arab peace process founders, and with it the prospects of resolving their alienation within the Jewish state, their politicization has grown.

Moti Zaken, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s adviser on Arab affairs, criticized the decision to demolish the homes just before the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, which begins Tuesday. ``The timing was not right,″ he said.

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