October 1, 2018 / 1:30 PM / 15 days ago

Palestinians strike in support of Israel's Arab minority

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinians across the occupied West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem held a general strike on Monday in support of an Israeli-Arab protest against Israel’s new Nation State Law.

A lock is seen on a door of a shop during a general strike in support of an Israeli-Arab protest against Israel's Nation State Law, in Jerusalem's Old City October 1, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Passed by Israel’s parliament in July, the Nation State Law declares that only Jews have the right of self-determination in Israel and downgrades Arabic from its status as an official state language.

The legislation has come under fierce criticism at home and abroad. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defended the law, saying it is necessary in order to fend off Palestinian challenges to Jewish self-determination.

A Palestinian man walks past a closed bank during a general strike in support of an Israeli-Arab protest against Israel's Nation State Law, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip October 1, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Across the Palestinian territories on Monday, Palestinian schools, universities, government offices and shops were closed in solidarity with the Israeli Arab minority which shut down its private sector.

“It is the minimum we can do for our people against the racist nation-state law,” said Abu Jabir al-Iraqi, a resident of the Israeli Arab town Taybeh.

Many of Israel’s Arab citizens also identify as Palestinian. They make up a fifth of Israel’s 9 million citizens. Israeli law grants them full equal rights, but many say they face discrimination and are treated as second-class citizens.

Some Palestinians, however, questioned whether the strike was effective.

Slideshow (5 Images)

“I don’t know if the strike we are holding in the West Bank is affecting the Jews or not, or whether it is merely shutting down all the services for nothing,” said Diaa Rayan, 34, as he drove his car through the Palestinian city of Ramallah.

“This strike will make no change,” said Ismail al-Saidi, a butcher from Gaza. “To make a change we need weapons to fight the enemy.”

In his address to the UN General Assembly on Thursday, Netanyahu said condemnations of the law were “outlandish attacks.”

“When Israel is called racist for making Hebrew its official language and the Star of David its national flag, when Israel is labeled an apartheid state for declaring itself the nation state of the Jewish people, this is downright preposterous,” he said.

Reporting by Saed Hawri and Ismail Khader; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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