Before Demolishing – Let People Build Legally!

You would not know it from reading the headlines, but last week the Arab community in Israel held a general strike throughout the entire country in response to the dramatic and unprecedented move by Israeli authorities to demolish 11 homes built without permits in Qalansuwa, located in the “Triangle” region in northern Israel. Last Friday thousands protested in the city against house demolitions.

These house demolitions, which when considered alongside statements made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent weeks about the need to “ramp up demolitions” in Arab communities, reek of political motives and are baseless and unjustified.

In most of cases, construction without a permit in Arab communities is done for lack of any other alternative and as a direct result of the severe crisis in housing and planning.

Arab communities throughout Israel are characterized by deficient planning, high-density housing, an absence of public housing and solutions for industry, and a very low level of services. This has led to the phenomenon of construction without permits in Arab communities over the course of many years.

Poor planning is the direct result of institutional neglect and discrimination, which the government, courts, investigators and other public institution have all recognized as problematic. It is rooted in the State of Israel’s land and property policies, which have systematically ignored the Arab population in providing housing, land and services. The Israeli government has demonstrated a clear prioritization of Jewish rights over Arab rights when it comes to access to public spaces, allocation of public land and construction. This discriminatory treatment has manifested in various ways over the years.

The increasingly rigid demolition policy, like that carried out in Qalansuwa last week, is the driving force behind the Kaminitz Bill, “Amendment 109 to the Planning and Development Law,” which passed its first reading and will be discussed in the Knesset in the coming weeks. It contravenes fundamental principles of justice and Israel’s Human Dignity and Liberty Law, which anchors the right to a roof over one’s head as a basic right.

The Kaminitz Bill follows government Decision 1559 and seeks to intensify enforcement and penalization for building offenses. It authorizes various government entities – both political and professional – to take various steps, among them through legislative amendments, to “increase the enforcement of planning and construction laws, and dealing with violations and incursions of public land,” across the country and in particular in Arab communities. It does not take into account the government’s responsibility for planning failures, which have pushed many citizens into a corner, and treats Arab citizens, who have no other choice but to build without permit, as criminals.

The objective of the proposed law is to increase the enforcement and punishment for building offenses. To realize this goal the current government seeks to limit the discretion of the courts and its involvement in enforcement proceedings for building offenses and to increase the discretion and powers of the relevant administrative bodies, primarily the national planning and enforcement bodies, regarding homes built without permits. It also seeks to increase the fines and periods of imprisonment for building offenses and will extend the scope of penalization for such offenses.

Amendments proposed within the framework of this bill have ramifications for the enforcement of planning laws across the entire country. However, one cannot ignore the particular far-reaching consequences it would have on Arab citizens, especially considering the way government Decision 1559 has been framed: “Government efforts to find housing solutions for the Arab sector.”

In addition, government Decision 1559 also related to Decision 922, which was adopted last year in order to focus on “government actions towards economic development in minority populations between 2016-2020. It determines a series of critical decisions for allocating government resources and budgets for the development of Arab communities and to narrow the long-standing gaps and discrimination they have suffered in all areas of life – especially in planning and housing. However, Decision 922 has yet to be implemented in full, and aspects of its implementation have been stipulated – as part of Decision 1559 – on the allocation of budgets for implementing the directives of the Kaminitz Bill. This may turn the bill, if passed into law, into another obstacle to the full implementation of 922 and significantly damage the advancement of equal rights for the Arab community in Israel.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel recognizes the importance of a strong enforcement system as an integral part of the rule of law, and consequentially, the importance of anchoring suitable and diverse means for enforcement in law.

At the same time, ACRI is extremely concerned about a situation in which means of enforcement are implemented with a disregard for the existing planning conditions – including planning failures and the government’s ultimate responsibility of the planning system itself and for the current situation. Many communities, chief among them the Arab citizens of Israel, are trapped in a Catch 22 situation in which they would prefer to build lawfully and have no desire to become involved in building offenses, but are forced to build their homes without permits. They then find themselves exposed to administrative and criminal proceedings instigated by the authorities, for which they pay a heavy price. Since it is obvious the public prefers to build legally and has no interest in getting entangled in building offenses, the widespread phenomenon of building without permits illustrates the planning system’s failure. This must be taken into account when discussing how to enforce the law on these matters.

ACRI demands the government put a stop the home demolitions in Arab communities and cease promoting the Kaminitz bill as this will only exacerbate harmful policies. Instead the government must open a channel of communication with representatives of the Arab public that leads to the authorization of master plans and outlines regulations for construction in Arab communities – including the option of authorizing existing construction.



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Categories: Arab Minority Rights, Democracy and Civil Liberties, Housing Rights, Land Distribution and Planning Rights, The Right to Equality


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