Dirasat-commissioned research identifies and analyzes numerous obstacles to building and planning, specifically in relation to Arab communities. Tremendous impediments to legal construction have resulted in severe housing shortages which only accelerates the rate of illegal building. Findings identify constructive solutions while aiming to re-shape the discourse around this painful issue.
Press Release: September 12, 2010, Nazareth, Israel
On July 14th, a young, Jewish, Israeli, frustrated with rising housing prices, set up a tent on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. Her frustration resonated with wide swaths of citizens in Israel, thus launching Israelís largest social protest movement to date. While initially focusing on the cost of housing, today the July 14 movement has adopted a much broader social agenda. It includes deep introspection into all aspects of the cost of living and government functioning and the way in which this influences the lives of Israeli citizens under the slogan "The people demands social justice." Indeed, only by truly understanding the underlying mechanisms and dynamics related to the fulfillment of basic rights such as housing and living in dignity, can appropriate solutions be found.
Around the same time, Dirasat commissioned research on this issue of building and planning as it relates to the Arab-Palestinian community in Israel. Arguably, distress related to land and housing is most acute for this segment of the population. The reasons are complex and numerous and are often exclusive to the Arab-Palestinian minority. Dirasatís research maps and analyses the issue of housing, building and planning and points the way for constructive solutions appropriate to the specific issues plaguing the Arab community. This seminal policy paper is currently in the final stages of preparation for publication.
The research has garnered the attention of the government committee established in the wake of the public protests. On August 24th, researcher Kais Nasser - who serves as the head of the Planning Clinic in the Faculty of Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is a Legal Advisor for Arab municipalities - presented his findings to the Trachtenberg Committee on socioeconomic reform. His presentation was broadcast live and warmly received. Broadly speaking, he called for solutions which take into account the unique sources of distress faced by Arab-Palestinians while also calling for a broad-based social equality and social justice in Israel
Background on Land, Housing and Development in the Arab Community
Arab-Palestinians have consistently resided in three main geographical areas within Israel: the Galilee and Triangle regions in the north of the country and the Naqab in the south. Approximately 90% of the community lives in over 50 towns and villages which are entirely Arab while the remainder reside in several mixed Arab-Jewish cities, primary among them Haifa, Acre, al-Led, Ramleh and Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
Despite having grown in population roughly eight times since 1948, current land mass held by the community has been cut in half during the same period. This dramatic decrease is mainly due to widespread land confiscations by the central government. In fact, the total area of jurisdiction held by Arab local authorities is no more than 2.5% of the entire area of the State. While over 1,000 Jewish settlements have been established since 1948, the Arab sector has remained at an almost total standstill. Furthermore, due to discriminatory policy and practice, Arabs are effectively blocked from acquiring or leasing some 80% of Israelís land.
Primary Research Findings
Dirasat's research, entitled ďHousing Shortages and Unauthorized Building in the Arab Community: Current Challenges and Suggestions for ChangeĒ focused on the limited lands under the jurisdiction of Arab authorities. It identified the multiple reasons for housing shortages (including insufficient land) and the significant roadblocks and barriers to building legally. These roadblocks were divided into three categories as follows: institutional, planning and legal-bureaucratic.
Institutional Obstacles: These obstacles refer to the lack of building plans or deficient plans that plague a large number of Arab towns and settlements. Some 25 communities lack plans which would allow the issuing of building permits in the first place while 77 out of a total of about 100 Arab local authorities are subject to building plans which are at least 20 years old and are seriously outdated.
A second, and related issue, is the governmentís unwillingness to recognize the legality of certain existing Arab villages - particularly in the Negev. Because such towns are not acknowledged by law, they are not issued with building plans - let alone basic infrastructure such as water and electricity.
Another serious obstacle relates to the virtual non-existence of planning committees under the purview of Arab local councils. Only five municipalities have their own building and planning committees, a situation which makes advancing building and planning projects extremely difficult. This is in comparison to 55% of Jewish local authorities who are able to oversee their own building and planning committees. Accordingly, most councils are forced to turn to statutory planning bodies on the national and regional levels. Numbers of Arabs appointed to such committees are far lower than their percentage of population and appointed Ďrepresentativesí frequently do not represent the needs or the interests of the community.
Planning Obstacles: Planning obstacles refers to factors that that lead to rejection of building plans submitted by Arab towns. Arab authorities which submit building plans and zoning proposals face unreasonable delays in getting them approved, thus impeding the issuing of legal building permits. The rejection rate is high; justification for rejection tends to relate to national and district plans currently in place and Ministry of Interior policy which aims to inhibit Arab-Palestinian building and development. A related problem is the fact that the Planning and Building Law does not deal with the relatively common phenomenon of private ownership in Arab areas; on the contrary, it makes private ownership an obstacle to the approval of planning permits. In many cases, even private land owners are not permitted to build on their own property. Dirasatís research also indicates that Highway Six restricts the development of Arab towns which lie along its route.
Legal and Bureaucratic Obstacles: Even if updated and relevant plans have been approved and are in place, private citizens still face obstacles in getting their permits approved. For example, a certain level of infrastructure (such as roads and electricity) is a condition for the granting of building permits. Because such infrastructure is lacking in many Arab settlements, getting permits in these areas is impossible. Even the separation barrier prevents building; those villages which lie along its route are prevented by the state security apparatus from building within a distance of 120 meters from the barrier.
Dirasatís research predicts that even if recent planning programs which have already been submitted are approved, many more steps will still be required, on the institutional and individual level, in order to achieve final approval. Thus, in actual fact, the chance of being granted approval necessary for actual building is virtually nil.
In light of a lack of land and barriers to legal building, Arab localities are plagued by persistent and acute housing shortages. The lack of legal avenues to build, and problems finding housing outside of Arab areas, leaves Arab-Palestinian citizens with no choice but to build without permits. The government and the courts subsequently label such individuals lawbreakers and, in order to enforce the law, issue demolition orders. Indeed, in 2009, some 165 buildings in Arab towns and villages were destroyed while tens of thousands more face the threat of the bulldozer. This creates unnecessary social tension while not dealing with the source of the problem.
Flowing from the problem analysis, recommendations related to improving Arab representation on the national and local levels level while increasing the authority of individual local authorities, removing or easing bureaucratic obstacles, financial support intended to create the conditions for legal building and more.
Dirasat believes that the current national discourse on housing is incomplete without also addressing the interests of the Arab-Palestinian minority. In light of our findings, given renewed openness to exploring the issues nationally and cognizant of the centrality of this issue for the Arab-Palestinian community in its relations to the state, the time is right to re-engage in the issue. We invite decision-makers and the public to join us, in the spirit of openness and genuine dialogue, in the creation of fair, just, appropriate and workable solutions to issues of land, development, planning and housing.