Adalah Submits Amended Supreme Court Petition Demanding Cancellation of “Admission Committees” for Illegally Excluding Arab Citizens of Israel from Communities Built on State-Controlled Land

In May 2010, Adalah submitted an amended petition to the Supreme Court of Israel demanding the cancellation of regional “admissions committees”, which select their residents from among candidates who wish to live in “community towns” in Israel. The petition argued that the operation of admission committees is illegal and contradicts the right of a citizen to choose his or her place of residence. In practice, the petitioners argued, these committees exclude certain groups, including Arab citizens, from community towns.

The ILA instituted “admissions committees” in order to bypass the landmark Supreme Court decision in Qa'adan in 2000 (HCJ 6698/95, Adel Qa'dan v, Israel Land Administration). In that case, the Supreme Court held that discrimination between Jewish and Arab citizens of the state in the use and allocation of state-controlled land is impermissible.

Admissions committees now operate in almost 700 agricultural and community towns, which account for 68.5% of the total towns in Israel, and around 85% of the total number of villages. Around 5.2% of the total population of the state (around 371,700 individuals) lives in these community towns. These towns fall within the jurisdiction of 53 regional councils, which are distributed throughout the country and exercise control over around 81% of the total land-space in the state.

The amended petition was filed after the Israel Land Administration (ILA) announced new changes in March 2010 to the arrangements that govern the operation of admissions committees.  The new amendments came in response to a petition filed to the Supreme Court by Adalah in September 2007. The court asked Adalah to file the amended petition in response to these developments. Adalah Attorney Suhad Bishara submitted these cases to the Supreme Court.

In the amended petition, Adalah argued that the new ILA arrangement is not substantially different from the previous one, which was based on ILA Administrative Committee Decision 1015. Both are based on the same mechanism – admission committees – the operation of which severely violates fundamental constitutional rights, and contradicts the limitation clause in the Mandatory Tenders Law – 1982. Like the previous decision, the new decision is not anchored in primary legislation. Furthermore, the new arrangement stipulates the same criteria for accepting candidates to community towns as in the previous one, including the arbitrary criterion of “suitability”, which was challenged in the original petition.

The petition was filed on behalf of Ms. Fatina Ebriq Zubeidat and Mr. Ahmed Zubeidat, a married couple, Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, who wished to build a home in the Rakefet community town, located within the jurisdiction of the Misgav Regional Council in the Galilee. The admission committee that operates in the area rejected their request on the humiliating ground of their “social unsuitability”. Mr. and Mrs. Zubeidat are both architects having graduated from top universities in Israel.  

The other NGO petitioners include Alternative Voice in the Galilee (Kol Aher BaGalil), the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow (HaKeshet), Bimkom: Planners for Planning Rights, the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, the Arab Center for Alternative Planning, and Adalah.

Adalah argued in the petition that community towns are not designed exclusively for any particular social groups, such as religious communities, and are built on state-controlled lands. However, by sanctioning the operation of admissions committees, in practice the ILA is granting a small group of people very wide scope to decide who is fit to live in these communities.

The petition further argues that the criterion of “social suitability” is vague, over-broad and arbitrary and not based on specific provisions of Israeli law. This criterion in particular accounts for the small number of Arab families living in community towns and the exclusion of other socially-marginalized groups, including Ethiopian Jews, Mizrakhi (Eastern) Jews, single-parent families, gays and unmarried people.
“The right to choose the place of residence is derived from the right of the individual to personal autonomy, and any harm to this freedom harms also the individual's liberty, dignity and equality, in contradiction to the Basic Law: Human Liberty and Dignity,” argued the petitioners. Moreover, the refusal to accept the Zubeidats' application to live in Rakefet based on their “social unsuitability” harms their rights to dignity, equality and liberty.

Case Citation: HCJ 8036/07, Fatina Ebriq Zubeidat, et al. v. The Israel Land Administration, et al. (case pending)