ACRI’s Position Paper on Israel’s JNF Lands Policy

This document outlines ACRI’s position regarding a draft bill institutionalizing the State’s discriminatory management of lands owned by the Jewish National Fund

To: MK Gilad Erdan
Chairman, Knesset Economic Affairs Committee

Re: Bill of Israel Lands Administration (Amendment – The Management of the Jewish National Fund’s Lands for the Benefit of the Jewish People), 2007 – Position Paper Prepared by ACRI for the Discussion in the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee of the Proposed Legislation

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) views with grave concern the attempt to enshrine in law a clear and detailed directive permitting the State of Israel to act in a racist and discriminatory manner, on the basis of national origin, in the distribution and administration of land resources under its management. That is, essentially, the significance of the legislative proposal at hand.

The designation of lands managed by the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) for Jews only, to the exclusion of Arabs on the basis of their national belonging, is a flagrant violation of the constitutional rights of Arab citizens to dignity and equality, and severely deviates from the ILA’s obligations as dictated by public law. In fact, the ILA-in all of its actions and communications-is subject to the norms of public conduct. First and foremost, it is obliged to act in an equitable manner as a leaser of lands, a role granted to it by law as a public trustee.

In the matter of Ka’adan (HCJ 6698/95 Ka’adan v. Israel Lands Administration et al., P.D. 54(1) 258), the High Court of Justice (HCJ) made it patently clear that the government of Israel must demonstrate unequivocal equality in all of its actions, and that this obligation extends to the distribution of land by the ILA. It follows that the ILA is prohibited from making discriminatory use of its governmental authority and from adopting policies that favor Jews over Arabs in the administration any land for which it is responsible, including Jewish National Fund (JNF) land. The ILA’s commitment to equality precedes any consideration and/or obligation related to the JFN.

Apart from repudiating the government’s basic obligation to honor the human rights of Arab citizens, the proposed legislation also contradicts the Attorney General’s position, communicated to the HCJ in May 2007, stating that “the Israel Lands Administration is obliged to uphold the principle of equality, and it is prohibited from discriminating on the basis of national affiliation, in its capacity as administrator of JNF-owned land as well.” This position was brought before the Court in response to petitions filed by ACRI and others regarding the Administration’s unlawful policy of preventing Arabs from bidding on tenders for plots of JNF land that, by law, the ILA administers and markets. These petitions to the HCJ have been pending and undecided for the past three years. (HCJ 7452/04 Fuad Abu Raya, et al. v. The Israel Lands Administration, et. al., HCJ 9010/04 The Arab Center for Alternative Planning, et. al. v. The Israel Lands Administration, et. al.; HCJ 9205/04; Adalah, et. al. v. The Israel Lands Administration, et. al.)

All of these petitions claim that the ILA policy discriminates on the basis of nationality and violates the basic rights of Arab citizens. One glaring example of this discrimination is the proposed legislation (the target of the petitions) that would grant this unjustifiable policy legal backing. Even if anchored in law, however, the policy would not be immune from court review. Any provision of law allowing the government to discriminate on the basis of nationality in the administration of land for which it is responsible is invalid since it contradicts the Basic Law protecting human dignity and freedom.

ACRI cautions that the unfortunate result of legally sanctioning the ILA policy will be government-sanctioned residential segregation based on nationality. This could take the form of entire residential areas officially designated for Jews only, with Arabs legally barred from living there. This scenario, characteristic of Apartheid regimes, would be a mortal blow to Israel’s democratic and constitutional government and the values on which it is based.

The proposed legislation can also be viewed as an additional layer in the wall of discrimination that denies Arab citizens equal rights to land. This injustice also takes the form of policies that sanction expropriating Arab land (and transferring it, essentially, to Jews for their use only), scale down the established jurisdictions of Arab communities and restrict the size of planned areas, and limit or prevent the future expansion of existing communities.

The shortage of land reserves in Arab communities has given rise to severe distress in the Arab population, particularly with regard to housing, employment, and public services. The inevitable result is densely crowded neighborhoods, inadequate infrastructure, a lack of public and industrial facilities, imposed limitations on the use of land within the jurisdictional areas of Arab communities, and the clearly sub-standard level of public services.

The acute shortage of available land in Arab communities is plainly evident in the following data:
· The jurisdictional area of all Arab local authorities combined amounts to 2.5% of Israeli land, while Arab citizens constitute approximately 20% of the country’s population.
· Despite the rapid growth of the Israeli Arab population (now seven times larger than in 1948), the land reserves available to this sector have been reduced by about half since the establishment of the state.
· No new Arab community has been built since Israel’s establishment (apart from communities in the Negev that concentrated the Bedouin population and freed land for other purposes), while hundreds of Jewish communities have been created.
· As the jurisdictional area of Arab communities diminishes, overcrowding becomes more severe: these areas are 11 times more crowded today than at the time of the state’s establishment.

The history of discrimination with regard to land and the drastic reduction in the jurisdictional areas of Arab communities were highlighted and detailed in the Or Commission report, published in August 2003. The Commission described the severity of the land and housing problem in the Arab sector, as well as the systematic implementation of policies designed to limit the development and expansion of Arab communities. The Commission recommended that the government take action to allocate land to the Arab population according to the principles of equality and distributional justice.

In light of all of the above, we call on the Chairman and members of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee to refrain from supporting the proposed legislation.

Atty. Auni Banna
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)

  • Print
  • email
  • RSS
  • Tumblr
  • Reddit
  • Twitter
  • Facebook

Categories: Arab Citizens of Israel, Land Distribution and Planning Rights, The Right to Equality

Tags: |

Comments are closed.