Over a thousand Jews and Arabs march in Jerusalem to protest Israeli occupation, April 1, 2017. Olivier Fitoussi
“The Arab-Jewish Planning Forum,” which includes professionals from the fields of building and architecture, sent an open letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday. The letter opposes the building policies set forth by most Israeli governments since the country’s founding, which the forum sees as consistently discriminatory. So far, the letter has managed to collect the signatures of over 280 building planners.
Specifically, the “Building Planners’ Letter,” as it has been dubbed, describes a lack of issuing building permits for Arab communities, while simultaneously going ahead with the demolition of illegally built structures within those communities.
Photo taken in Umm al-Hiran near the remains of a home during a tour organized by the forum two weeks ago (Photo: Adi Bartov)
“We, Jewish and Arab planners, citizens of Israel, object to the ongoing discrimination against the Arab population in Israel in the area of housing and planning,” the letter opens. “After years of discriminatory planning policies, which reached new heights with recent demolitions in the town of Qalansawe and the village of Umm al-Hiran—we can no longer remain silent.”
The Building Planners’ Letter stresses that the lack of building permits—which would have allowed the Arab population to legally build more structures—brought on illegal building within those communities in an effort to meet the basic needs of this growing demographic.
“Natural growth on the one hand, and lack of planning on the other, has forced the Arab population to build without permits on a massive scale. The demolition of these homes, constructed out of distress in the absence of equitable planning, violates morality and basic civil rights.
Protests against demolitions in Qalansawe
“House demolitions are not the answer to building without permits. We demand an immediate end to the policy of house demolitions and call upon the authorities to advance worthy and fair planning policies—together with local communities—through which housing construction will be regulated and the needs of the population will be met."
The letter ends by saying that “as planners and human beings, we aim to create hope. We are convinced that planning solutions are within reach and believe that equitable planning is the basis for a just, democratic society that serves the public good.”
The Arab-Jewish Planning Forum was founded several weeks ago and is comprised of planners, architects and engineers who wish to combine their professional work with creating social change.
Home to be demolished in Wadi Ara
Among those who have already signed the letter are: Architect Yuval Yaski, the dean of Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design’s Architecture department; Prof. Oren Yiftachel, from Ben-Gurion University; Prof. Rassem Khamaisi, from Haifa University; Architect Ayala Ronel; and Architect Amnon Bar Or.
Ofir Fichman, an architect who is a member of the Arab-Jewish Planning Forum, admitted that “there’s a lot of illegal building going on, but it’s due to real distress derived from the growth of the Arab population without there being specific master plans.”
He emphasized that “this isn’t an accusation against the current government. We’re talking about the discriminatory policies of most of Israel’s governments, which didn’t invest funds to promote detailed building plans for Arab communities.”
And are you now calling for more funds to be invested or also offering master plans and solutions?
“We’re a young forum, so we haven’t put together building plans, but our first call to action is a call to stop the demolitions within Israeli territories, which do not allow for a real solution. Demolishing a house and leaving people out in the rain does not offer a solution. The real solution here is to promote detailed master plans for Arab municipalities.”
Despite not yet having a course of action, what do you as professionals say about what’s going on in the field of building and planning in Israel?
“There is discrimination in the field of building within the State of Israel; the government doesn’t promote building within Arab society,” answered Fichman, adding that the forum also believes in “working together with local municipalities.”
For the time being, the forum has yet to formulate a position on the resistance coming from members of the Arab community to building initiatives that have come from municipalities and government.
One such plan has been offered by the Jerusalem Municipality, which aims to regulate Arab building by retroactively issuing permits for certain buildings while demolishing others, in favor of building new structures that will meet the official building standards and requirements.
“We haven’t taken it upon ourselves to represent the Arab population as a whole,” noted Fichman. “We are representing ourselves, as planners who oppose widespread structure demolitions.”
For Us Jews, Our Land Registry Is With God
by Amira Hass 28 April 2017 Haaretz
There's a name for the reality in which a government that sees itself as representing only one nation determines the future of two nations and creates two separate and unequal systems.
A picture taken on February 6, 2017 shows Israel's controversial separation barrier dividing east Jerusalem (L) from the West Bank village of Anata (R).
They settled there in good faith; there’s a consensus on the settlement blocs; previous governments took care to build only on state land; it’s all the fault of the Palestinian law against selling land to Jews; property rights are sacred. These are few of the positions that have been tossed into the air in recent days, before and after the Knesset vote on the land expropriation law. The internal Israeli dispute created a cacophony of deceptions from both the bill’s supporters and its detractors from the center-right (Zionist Union, Yesh Atid). Both camps seemingly speak in parallel tracks that never meet, but only seemingly.
The law’s supporters speak of good faith and of settlements without malice aforethought. If it was indeed in good faith, then how is it that the builders of the outposts have created rings upon rings of violent harassment around them and, with the aid of their private army (the Israel Defense Forces), prevent Palestinian farmers from reaching the parts of their land on which innocent mobile homes and villas have not yet been erected?
The law’s detractors say that up to now, Israeli governments were careful not to establish settlements on privately owned land. Really? How many times do we have to repeat that this is a fiction? Beit El sits entirely on private land, as does Ofra. There are dozens more thriving settlements and outposts that were built in part or entirely on private Palestinian land that was seized for military needs – even after the Elon Moreh ruling of 1979, in which the High Court of Justice prohibited construction on privately owned land. Fertile agricultural lands were confined within the borders of settlements such as Elkana and Efrat, where they became recreation areas for Israeli walkers and lovers.
The law’s supporters say that nowhere on earth is it impossible to purchase private land. But when British nationals buy homes in France and in Spain, it isn’t for the purpose of imposing British sovereignty.
The law’s detractors make a distinction between state-owned land and privately owned land. A reminder: All seizure of land and construction in occupied territory, against the will of the conquered population, is illegal according to international law. The Jewish mind has come up with innumerable inventions, as the saying goes, in order to declare Palestinian-owned land as state land. Those for whom only private Palestinian ownership is sacred devalue international law and the tradition of sharing public land. They prove that to them, the Palestinians are a random collection of individuals, not a collective with historical, material and cultural rights to the area in which it was born and has lived for centuries, irrespective of any real estate classifications. The distinction between private and public, which the High Court of Justice makes with such joy, portrays the Palestinians as being entitled to live only within the crowded confines that conform to the records of the Land Registry Office. For us Jews, our Land Registry is with God.
The law’s detractors say there’s a consensus on the settlement blocs and the land expropriation law messes things up for us abroad. Consensus? By whom? Not only the settlers but also the law’s detractors fail to count some six and a half million people, Palestinians, on either side of the Green Line (and us, a handful of Jewish Israelis). Both camps, the right and the center-right, simply do not see any problem with the fact that it is only the Jewish consensus that decides what will happen to both Jews and Arabs. After all, it’s been that way for decades, and that is the essence of the celebrated Jewish democracy.
But yes, it is a problem. On the piece of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea live two nations. There is a name for the reality in which a government that sees itself as representing only one nation determines the future of two nations and creates two separate and unequal systems of rights, laws and infrastructure, with the eager support of its people. It’s called apartheid – a crime according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and also according to a global consensus that was created over the years.