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Israel Demolishes Buildings in Arab Town, Citing Lack of Permits

Israeli Arabs say increased enforcement of construction laws stems from political pressure tied to pending evacuation of West Bank settlement.

by Jack Khouri   10 January 2017      Haaretz
Israeli officials demolished 11 buildings put up without proper permits in the Israeli Arab city of Kalansua. January 10, 2017.
Israeli officials demolished 11 buildings put up without proper permits in the Israeli Arab city of Kalansua. January 10, 2017. Moti Milrod
Israeli officials demolished Tuesday 11 buildings put up without proper permits in the Israeli Arab city of Kalansua, stirring political tensions regarding law enforcement and housing in Israel's Arab communities.
Their owners, four local families, said they only received notice two days ago and were not given proper time to respond through legal channels. The structures were built on land designated for farming.
Members of the Joint List of Arab partoes said the evacuation of the illegal West Bank outpost Amona and the investigation into the prime minister were linked to the demolitions in Kalansua. This is the first such extensive demolition in an Arab community in central or northern Israel in several years.
The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee and the Joint List held an emergency meeting in the Kalansua municipality, calling for a one-day general strike and a protest vigil at one of the demolition sites.
The demolitions, done by the police and the Finance Ministry department that enforces construction laws, took place in three different parts of town and were met with little opposition, though the mayor resigned in protest.
In an unusual step, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan issued a statement “praising the police for providing security for the demolition of the illegal buildings in Kalansua.” Erdan added that “the complex operation expresses the equal application of law enforcement in Israel, as enforcement should be.”
The Finance Ministry unit said the buildings, in various stages of construction, had been put up in an area zoned for agriculture. The construction breached both regional and national master plans, the ministry said.
Kalansua Mayor Abdel Bassat Salameh announced his resignation after the demolitions. He said he had fought for years to expand Kalansua’s master plan, and bureaucratic slowdowns were choking the residents, who build because they have no choice.
The houses, some of which were in the final stages of construction, were owned by four Kalansua families, who said they were building on their own private land. Abu Khaled Arar, whose four sons own the houses that were demolished, told Haaretz that he had moved from the Negev after his land there was expropriated for construction of an airfield. He then bought land in the Kalansua area.
“We’re a clan of 150 people and the young people grow up and want to build and get married and live in their own homes,” he said. “We don’t have anywhere to go and we realize there’s no chance we’ll get a building permit in the coming years, so we have no choice but to build.”
Family members said they received notice of the demolitions only two days before they took place and had no time to go to court.
“We all put all our money into this so we’d have a roof over our heads, and some of us took out loans of hundreds of thousands of shekels, or payments over many months ahead. And it was all destroyed before our eyes in a few minutes,” Mustafa Mahlouf, one of the owners, told Haaretz.
As he put it, Erdan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “want to talk about enforcement to satisfy the settlers and decided that Kalansua would be the first victim.”
A member of the Joint List added: “The demolition of 11 buildings that people built on their own private land is an unprecedented crime and a declaration of war against the residents of Kalansua and the Arab community.”
Some 50,000 structures have been built without permits in Arab towns and villages, 99 percent of which are on land owned by the residents, usually zoned for agriculture or defined as nature reserves.
Jack Khoury
Haaretz Correspondent
Netanyahu Pushes for Demolition of Israeli Arab Homes to Appease Rightists Over Amona

'There will be no double standards regarding construction,' prime minister tells officials, source says, ahead of expected evacuation of West Bank outpost. MK Odeh: No comparison between Israeli Arabs and settlers.

by Barak Ravid     Dec 15  2016    Haaretz
 A view from the illegal Israeli outpost of Amona.
A view from the illegal Israeli outpost of Amona. Olivier Fitoussi
In an attempt to appease the right for the expected evacuation of the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to push in the next few days for the demolition of homes belonging to Israeli Arabs that were built illegally, as well as the homes of Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
A senior Israeli source said that during talks led by Netanyahu in the last two weeks with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, the prime minister instructed that demolition orders be enforced over the next few days in Arab towns in southern and northern Israel as well as East Jerusalem.
"There will be no double standards regarding construction," Netanyahu said in the talks, according to the source. "Israel will have equal enforcement of the law between Jews and Arabs."
Netanyahu's decision was made public a day after the settlers living in the illegal outpost of Amona decided to reject a government offer that would have seen the peaceful evacuation of the outpost.
MK Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint List, blasted Netanyahu for pushing to demolish Israeli Arabs' homes.
"All this prime minister knows is incitement and hate. How dare he say there won't be a double standard, and compare the Amona settlers, who robbed and stole land from people living with no civilian rights, to Israeli Arab citizens who build on their land, but are forced to do so without permits because Israel won't approve master plans," Odeh said.
He said that for months Netanyahu's government has been preoccupied with nothing but finding a way to "legalize" the status of 40 families in Amona, who stole private Palestinian lands, "but 40 unrecognized villages in the Negev, which have been there from before Israel was established, Netanyahu didn't even think of legalizing."
”We'll oppose any populist attempt to attack the Arab population like some kind of malicious rightist retribution for the evacuation of Amona," he said.
Barak Ravid
Haaretz Correspondent
Israeli Arabs Cry Foul on Move to Tie State Funding to Demolition of Illegal Construction

Community vows not to cooperate with new government move, tied to budget pledge, to destroy widespread illegal construction in their own locales.

by  Jack Khoury     26 July 2016       Haaretz
Joint List party leader MK Ayman Odeh at the 2015 Israel Conference on Peace.
Joint List party leader MK Ayman Odeh. David Bachar
The Israeli cabinet resolved Sunday to establish an entity to supervise planning and construction in the Arab sector, but it conditioned funding to Arab towns on demolition of illegal structures. Outraged, representatives of those locales vowed not to cooperate with efforts to make them part of the enforcement mechanism against illegal construction.
Population growth has not been accompanied by a commensurate expansion of Arab towns, or of permits to build new housing, which has resulted in widespread illegal construction there. The resolution would crack down on such building, which has been rampant in the Arab towns and cities, on several fronts.
First proposed in January, legislation mandating creation of the new body technically transfers the power of enforcing construction-related regulations from regional councils to local, town committees in the case of locales numbering over 10,000 residents.
One possible upshot of the resolution could be the demolition en masse of illegal structures erected over decades, including in Druze towns, Arab sources point out. They reiterated that they will not be “the government’s wrecking ball in Arab towns.”
The cabinet’s decision to set up an enforcement mechanism removes an obstacle to implementation of a five-year, billion-shekel scheme aimed at strengthening Israeli Arab society, say sources at the Finance Ministry and Social Equality Ministry. Representatives of the Committee of Arab Local Governments, who met Sunday with staff from those ministries, argue, however, that much of this vaunted plan still remains murky.
Sunday's approval of the plan to create the new entity was based on recommendations by a team of ministerial directors general, headed by the deputy attorney general, Erez Kaminitz.
Under the scheme, a national enforcement unit for planning and construction will monitor the local planning committees in Arab towns. If the latter committees fail to enforce demolitions ־ which among other things means to raze illegally built houses – the national enforcement unit will take over. The state will allocate 22 million shekels a year (about $5.7 million) to strengthening the national enforcement body, which will also be allotted a one-time subsidy of 5 million shekels this year. The money will enable dozens more inspectors, prosecutors and others to be hired.
In tandem, the planning and construction laws will undergo review and amendment. Among other things, the courts’ power to postpone the execution of demolition orders will be confined to so-called irregular cases as defined by law. Fines for individuals found guilty of illegal building offenses in criminal proceedings will be increased.
The existing law governing administrative offenses will also be tweaked, to increase fines for violation of planning and construction regulations, thereby reducing any financial incentive to build illegally.
The powers of construction and planning supervisors will be beefed up, enabling them to confiscate heavy machinery used in what is deemed to be illegal construction, and to use reasonable force to gain access to land in order to fulfill a demolition order.
The move is not being welcomed in Israeli Arab circles. “We will not demolish one stone in the Arab towns,” Mazen Ganaim, mayor of Sakhnin and chairman of the National Council of Arab Municipalities, told Haaretz. “Construction without permits is the result of years of discrimination with respect to planning and approval of master plans, and to expanding areas of jurisdiction and allocation of resources and housing solutions to Arab towns.”
The solution has to start with legitimizing the illegal houses retroactively, Ganaim adds, and finding solutions for housing in the Arab locales.
Among those who have spearheaded the 5-year plan to benefit those locales is Israeli Arab politician Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint List, who also assailed the cabinet resolution on Sunday.
“This is the face of the extreme right government led by [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” he declared. “At one meeting they decide to pass a million-shekel budget to deepen the occupation and the settlements at the expense of the rest of the people. At another they approve a shocking plan that clearly sets it sights on the Arab public."
The entire decision about a new enforcement entity is based on a warped mind-set, Odeh continued: “The plan steps up home demolitions instead of finding housing solutions. It tries to create pressure, of borderline legality, to make local governments hurt their own people.”
Jack Khoury
Haaretz Correspondent
For Israeli Arabs, There Is No Choice but to Build Illegally

Blame the lack of land and bank credit, blame weak local governments and the lack 
of planning autonomy — and hope that a new state initiative can be part of the solution.

by Meirav Arlosoroff      22  Feb  2016        Haaretz
This home, of an Arab family in Lod, was demolished in 2014 because it was built illegally. In the picture, two children stand on the rubble of a house.
This home, of an Arab family in Lod, was demolished in 2014 because it was built illegally. Yuval Tebol
It’s very easy for Israel’s Jewish majority to blame the Arab minority for its poverty. Three main claims are used to support the argument that the Israeli Arab poor are to blame for their poverty: that they don’t pay taxes, that the local governments of the Arab communities are corrupt and in the hands of clans and that Arabs build illegally, without permits.
There is some truth to these arguments. Tax collection rates are lower in Arab communities. They are rising, however, especially when it comes to the local property tax. Local government is indeed weak, their elections clan-based, though there has been some improvement here as well. And yes, Israeli Arabs build illegally.
How many illegal houses are there in the Arab towns? No one knows. A committee was appointed a year ago to study the issue, headed by Deputy Attorney General for Civil Law Erez Kaminitz. In January the panel issued recommendations for ways to combat the problem, but it did not try to quantify it. All we have is the number of demolition orders issued, which presumably is only a fraction of the number of buildings built illegally.
Whatever the real number, it’s clear there’s a lot of illegal construction. The problem is actually worse in Druze communities, due to lousy local management and a sense that the state is less likely to demolish illegally built homes in their towns because it “owes” the Druze, who serve in the army and support the state.
Nor is there any dispute that the illegal construction hurts mainly the Arabs themselves. The Kaminitz report states as much too. “Illegal construction is usually dense, fails to meet basic planning standards, ignores the needs of the public and proper systems for infrastructure and does not undergo licensing processes to assure construction safety and stability.”
In fact, illegal construction is one of the main reasons for the poor quality of infrastructure in Arab towns. Much of the land slated for roads, schools, parks and even water and sewage systems is instead used for illegal construction.
Absurdly, sometimes the mere publication of a plan for use of a public space leads to somebody building on it illegally. A regional council may announce that it’s expropriating land to build a road, and presto, a house pops up on it, creating a fact on the ground. It’s so bad that some regional councils have stopped publishing their plans.
There is also no dispute that the Arabs are not solely to blame for this disorder. The main reason they build illegally is the near-impossibility of building legally. The Arab towns have very little land available, their local governments are too weak to draw up and implement development plans and, above all, there is no master plan to enable building in accordance with the law.
No planning

A report issued last year by the government-appointed 120-Day Team established to study the issue homed in on the obstacles: Only four Arab towns have their own zoning boards. The remainder are subject to the decisions of the district planning and building committees. Community leaders lack authority and responsibility for building in their towns. In addition, the towns don’t have the money to maintain building and engineering departments capable of proper planning and development, let alone enforcement.
Before 2000, there was no master plan for any Arab town. Since then many have been published, but they do not always meet requirements and many communities are still without.
In any case, in order to implement a master plan the local government must publish a detailed local plan. Few Arab towns are capable of doing so, due to the weakness of their planning bodies.
Also, land in Arab towns is privately owned, so it’s almost impossible to plan public areas. Registration is also a huge problem. Towns have no government-owned land on which public institutions can be erected, or roads built. Nor is there any development of such land, because of the paucity of resources and planning ability.
Finally, it is very hard to obtain credit for construction: Try being an Arab applying for a mortgage from a “Jewish” bank, for a mortgage to build a house, let alone on unregistered land.
In short, Israel’s Arabs build illegally mainly because they live in poor, crowded towns with no land for development, no master plan, no orderly registration of land ownership, where the local authorities are inept at planning, developing and enforcement.
But the main blame must go to the rich Jewish majority that enabled the Arab towns to deteriorate for years.
Finally the Jewish majority has woken up and realized it can’t just keep blaming the poor. The 120-Day Team was the first real step; for the first time, the government took responsibility to make more land available and to help with planning and development.
Reset and start over

Just as importantly, the 120-Day Team acknowledged the problem of illegal construction and suggested a sort of reset. Much existing illegal construction erected on land designated for housing would be retroactively legitimized.
The five-year plan was the second unprecedented step to help the Arab sector, in which the state took responsibility for crass budgetary discrimination and promised to at least reduce it. A key part of reducing discrimination touched on planning and construction — completing the master plan and detailed plans for the Arab towns, helping develop the land and build public institutions and establishing 22 local planning and building committees. All this should cost about a billion shekels ($256 million). It’s a step in the right direction toward making Arab towns look less like the Third World and more like towns in an advanced Western nation.
The only snag is that this welcome initiative has spurred some Likud cabinet ministers, notably Yariv Levin and Zeev Elkin, to oppose allocating state funds to Arab towns for planning and building unless they first take action against illegal construction.
The fact that the main victims of illegal building are the Arabs themselves, and that there is no similar condition for Israeli Jews matters to Elkin and Levin. You wonder whether they care about the welfare of Arab residents, or if they’re just trying to block the allocations altogether.
Hoping to overcome this snag, a team comprising the directors general of the Prime Minister’s Office, the finance and justice ministries and the city of Jerusalem have proposed a compromise aimed at increasing enforcement of building laws. The approach is carrot-and-stick: measures to help the towns, in keeping with the 120-Day Team’s recommendations and the five-year plan while making them responsibility for combating illegal construction.
Local authorities that meet the challenge would be rewarded with their own planning and building committees, giving the mayors more control and authority over building in their towns. Communities that fail to adequately control illegal construction would not be given their own zoning boards. In addition, the state would assume responsibility for enforcing building laws in these towns, further weakening the authority of their local governments.
Enforcement, whether done locally or nationally, would be stepped up and focus on serious offenses, such as building on public land. People caught doing that would not only face losing the buildings, which would be razed (at present, most demolition orders get ignored), but would also face criminal charges and much heavier financial penalties than are customary now.
The Kaminitz report shows that the state has a lot of difficulty demolishing illegal houses, once they’re up and occupied. In 2014, for instance, 55 demolition orders were issued by the courts but only nine were executed. Of these, by the way, 24 (nearly half) were issued for illegal construction in Jewish towns, but none of these were implemented. The nine demolitions were all in Arab towns.
This very selective enforcement raises serious questions but mainly, it shows that the state finds it hard to enforce demolition orders. That is why the Kaminitz committee recommended reserving demolition for only the gravest cases, using heavy fines for most offenders. In light of the state’s poor success rate in executing demolition orders and its significant responsibility for the illegal construction in Arab towns, that sounds like a reasonable compromise. The question is whether Elkin and Levin will agree, or whether all they want is to take revenge on Israeli Arabs.
Meirav Arlosoroff
Haaretz Contributor