An initiative by the Yesha Council of settlements and the extreme right-wing parties to begin public and legal proceedings to clarify the extent of illegal building in the Arab sector is liable to put its sponsors, as well as the entire governmental establishment for generations to come, into the position of the man who shot himself in the foot while aiming at his enemy.
This demand was raised following the evacuation of Amona, and it is being brandished as a weapon against any government that seeks to dismantle an illegal settlement outpost. The public figures who have raised this demand have generally done so in the tones of oppressed people rebelling against a terrible injustice. They present the effort to evacuate unauthorized Jewish settlements in the territories as a persecution that cries out to heaven when compared to the preferential treatment the state allegedly extends to construction violations in Arab towns inside Israel. But before right-wingers continue with this move, they might do better to acquaint themselves with the facts.
From 1948 until today, some 700 Jewish communities have been established, but not a single Arab town has been founded within the state's borders (other than a small number of communities in the Negev that were meant to force the Bedouin to abandon their expansive living spaces and confine themselves to limited residential areas. The following data are derived from presentations by professors Oren Yiftachel and Alexander Kedar during discussions held a few years ago at the Israel Democracy Institute, and also appear in a forthcoming book). Arab Israelis, who constitute 18 percent of the state's citizens, control only 2.4 percent of its municipal areas. The amount of territory per Jewish citizen is eight times larger than that allocated to each Arab citizen. In the Galilee, where 72 percent of the population is Arab, Arabs control only 16 percent of the municipal areas. An Arab citizen has no possibility of living in a moshav, kibbutz or community settlement; and even in the three major cities, his ability to live is limited, given the lack of suitable infrastructure and services. This reality forces the younger generations of Arabs to cram themselves into the confines of the existing Arab towns. Because the Arab public is left out of the planning process, the state does not provide suitable solutions to its housing needs.
Before the state's establishment, less than 10 percent of its land was publicly owned; today, the state controls 93 percent of Israel's land. The state gained control over this land in four ways: It claimed ownership of unregistered land that had previously been controlled by the British Mandate government, including land that in practice had been held for generations by Arab clans (some 5 million dunams); it transferred ownership of Arab lands that were defined as "absentee property," including property belonging to "present absentees," to itself; it expropriated land for the purposes of settlement and security; and it acquired control over land owned by the Jewish National Fund and other public companies that were involved in purchasing land during the Mandate period (some 2.5 million dunams). This was all done via laws, regulations and other official procedures. Thus, for instance, the JNF and the state have equal representation on the council of the Israel Lands Administration. As a result, the ILA, a governmental institution that is supposed to provide for the needs of the entire population in fact conducts a lands policy that gives clear preference to the Jewish public (according to Yiftachel, only 0.25 percent of the ILA's lands are allocated to Arab towns).
This reality came into being due to a conscious decision by the state's founding fathers to make Israel the national homeland of the Jewish people. Through a blatant and systematic process, this lands policy implemented the worldview that the Jewish people had come to the Land of Israel in order to inherit it. Control of the land was considered equal in importance to the Law of Return. But what was accepted within the Green Line in the 1950s and 1960s is far from obvious in the 21st century: Today, the civil rights of Arab Israelis compete with the Zionist ethos. And it would be even more intolerable, by several orders of magnitude, to apply this usurping system of gaining control to land in the West Bank. The Zionist enterprise was fulfilled within the 1967 borders, and those who seek to expand it into Judea and Samaria are endangering its very existence, as well as repeating the injustices that were entailed in Israel's founding. The settlers are establishing illegal outposts for reasons of group ideology, rather than because of their existential needs as individuals, which are the principal reason for building violations in the Arab sector.
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