Deliberate Obstacles, Not Failures: Adalah's response to the State Comptroller's Report on the housing crisis in Israel
The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel declared a general strike on Tuesday, 28 April 2015, to protest against home demolitions by the Israeli government. Businesses and schools in the Palestinian Arab community plan to strike, and plans have been made for protests against this governmental policy.
Today, Adalah is issuing its response to the State Comptroller's Report on the Housing Crisis, which was released in February 2015. Adalah's report, written by Adalah Legal Apprentice Mohammed Bassam and Attorney Mysanna Morany, argues that the housing shortage in Arab communities is not the result of the "failures" or "deficiencies" that the Comptroller identifies with respect to the housing crisis in Jewish Israeli communities, but rather is the result of deliberate, consistent, and systematic government policy that places obstacles before Arab citizens. The response details a number of areas in which Israeli state policy directly affects the possibility of development in Arab towns:
- Discriminatory policy in the marketing of state lands: Institutionalized discrimination is one of the major impediments blocking the development of Arab towns. For example, in 2014, the Israel Land Authority (ILA) published tenders for construction of 38,261 housing units in Jewish communities (not including mixed-population cities), compared with only 1,844 such tenders issued for housing in Arab communities. In other words, although Palestinian Arab citizens make up approximately 20% of Israel's population, they have access only to 4.6% of new housing units.
- Master Plans: The Comptroller's report discusses the failures in the implementation of National Master Plan 35 (“TAMA 35”), which was designed to meet the construction needs for Israel as a whole, but ignores the fact that, under this Plan, most Arab communities are marked as areas "for preservation". This designation limits their development options considerably. Moreover, the Comptroller’s report refers to the need to update district and local master plans. This problem is far more acute in Arab towns: of 139 Arab localities, only 41 have up to date master plans.
- Areas of jurisdiction: The areas of jurisdiction of these 139 Arab towns comprise only 2.5% of the territory of the state. Despite natural population growth, the state has not established a single new Arab community since 1948 (outside of the Naqab (Negev)), nor has it expanded the existing communities' jurisdictional areas. This situation has led to an 11-fold increase in the population density of Arab localities and significantly contributed to the housing shortage. But although this data is widely available, the State Comptroller does not address this issue at all in his report.
- Problems relating to local authorities: Local authorities play an important role in the planning and development of a town but only five Arab local authorities act as local planning and building committees. Currently, regional committees, made up of several different communities, do most planning for Arab towns. This system prevents Arab communities from having development plans designed to address the unique needs of their residents.
- Government plans for affordable housing overlook Arab localities: The Israeli government is promoting affordable housing programs while ignoring the needs of Palestinian Arab citizens. For example, under the "Target Price" plan, which began in 2014, 66,000 new housing units will be marketed between 2015 and 2019, at significantly discounted prices. Yet not one Arab locality is included in the 30 communities where this plan will be implemented.
In conclusion, Adalah contends that it is "… barriers resulting from deliberate, consistent, and systematic policy giving preference to the settlement of the Jewish population at the expense of the development of Arab communities [that] stand in the way of the progress of Arab towns and the resolution of their housing shortage. … As long as the State's policy under which 'one hand confiscates and destroys and the other hand builds' persists, and as long as the State views the Arab minority's interest as conflicting head-on with the interest of the Jewish majority, the State Comptroller's recommendations will not be able to solve the housing crisis in Arab society in Israel."