RAMLE (AFP) — “Where will we go,” asks eight-year-old Tiba Qeren, saying goodbye to the family home that, like those of many other Palestinian citizens of Israel, is condemned to demolition for failing to meet planning rules.
“I’m afraid,” she tells AFP. “I know that they are going to destroy our home as they have others in Ramle,” the mixed Palestinian and Jewish town where they live, about 18 kilometres (11 miles) from Tel Aviv.
“I’m annoyed because I tell myself: who gives them the right to destroy our house,” she says, her young voice shaking with anger.
“The land is not theirs, it belongs to my family and the house is not theirs because it is my family who built it!”
The Ramle community still exists today as rooted from the 160,000 Palestinians who stayed on their land after the creation of Israel in 1948.
During the establishment of the state, an estimated 700-800 thousand Palestinians were forcibly removed from their homes or fled, many of whom still live in refugee camps throughout Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Today, those who remained on their land in 1948 and their descendants number over 1.3 million.
While Israeli law guarantees Palestinians the same equality as other citizens, in practice there are claims of discrimination in government funding and a raft of other issues.
Israeli Palestinian rights group Adalah says only 4.6 percent of new homes built in Israel are in Palestinian towns and villages, despite the fact that Palestinians make up over 20 percent of the population.
Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, who number around 580,000, receive four times as many housing units as Palestinian citizens Israel, the group’s website says.
On Wednesday, five apartments in the Palestinian village of Dahmash, between Ramle and Lod, were demolished for having been built without construction permits, a villager told AFP.
On Monday, a home in the Galilee village of Kfar Kana was razed for the same reason.
In Ramle, 11 families last week received demolition notices.
Palestinian community leaders Wednesday called for a general strike in protest
Across the country the potential threat is huge, Palestinian former MP Hana Sweid said.
“About 25,000 Arab homes fall under the scope of demolition orders,” he told AFP.
“Police came a week ago and told us that he must leave the house quietly, without resistance,” said Tiba’s father, Yusef Qeren, 49.
“I told them, there are 12 people living here.”
He said that four times he submitted applications for building permits and four time he was rejected.
His son Abdelrahman, 14, does not believe his home could soon be rubble.
“If they destroy it, we shall rebuild it!” he vows.
‘The law only applied to Arabs’
Yusef Qeren is convinced that the local authorities are anti-Arab in their policy on planning permission.
“In Ramle the law only applied to Arabs,” he said.
A local committee opposing the planned demolitions has set up a protest tent, with a large banner in Arabic and Hebrew.
“They are destroying Arab homes and building houses for settlers,” it reads.
The difficulty for Palestinians in Israel to obtain building permits forces Palestinians to expand or build homes and structures without permits.
33 percent of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem lack Israeli-issued building permits, potentially placing at least 93,100 residents at risk of displacement, the UN reported in December 2012.
Figures from Israeli NGO Bimkom show that 95 percent of Palestinian applications for a building permit are rejected.
Members of the international community have verbally condemned Israel’s systematic destruction of Palestinian homes. The UN slammed the practice as illegal and unfair in January 2015.
The condemnation had come after 77 Palestinians were made homeless in three days due to home demolitions throughout the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Previous international criticism has not notably impacted Israel’s forcible demolition of Palestinian homes, 2014 witnessing record numbers of demolitions according to UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“In 2014 … Israeli authorities destroyed 590 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C and East Jerusalem, displacing 1,177 people — the highest level of displacement in the West Bank since OCHA began systematically monitoring the issue in 2008,” the organization said in a statement.
The last Israeli elections marked the first time parties representing Palestinian citizens in Israel have joined forces, raising hopes for some the higher representation might have higher sway on Israel’s discriminatory policies towards Palestinian citizens.
Members of the Joint List– formed by four Arab parties–won 13 seats in the Israeli parliament in March.
Despite this, re-elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to build thousands of homes for Jewish settlers in occupied East Jerusalem, in order to prevent any territorial concessions that would lead to the establishment there of a Palestinian capital.
Ma’an staff contributed to this report.