Backs to the demolished wall
Protest tents against the demolition of houses have recently become part of the landscape surrounding Arab communities and Arab neighborhoods in mixed cities.
Protest tents against the demolition of houses have recently become part of the landscape surrounding Arab communities and Arab neighborhoods in mixed cities. In the Negev, it appears the planning and building authorities have been mainly demolishing houses in unrecognized Arab communities instead of planning and building. In Lod, seven homes of Arab families were demolished recently (in the Ta'ayush neighborhood, whose name means "coexistence"). In Tira, Kalansua and most of the communities in Wadi Ara (Nahal Iron) and the Galilee, public committees are fighting the authorities' plans to demolish houses and buildings put up over the years without building permits.
The authorities are conducting the campaign to demolish houses, which is accompanied by very heavy fines on their owners, in the name of the rule of law. But as long as the rule of law works in a selective way, it becomes an instrument of discrimination and revenge. It is right that Arab citizens, who suffer from a housing shortage and a dearth of legal building solutions, are wondering: What about the construction in the Jewish settlements in the territories, in the outposts and the Jewish agricultural sector, where illegal construction for business purposes is flourishing? The only difference is that in those places there are politically connected local authorities and lobbies that ensure illegal construction or the turning of a blind eye.
The lack of proper housing and planning has developed in the Arab communities over decades and has reached the current proportions because of institutionalized failures and neglect. Until the mid-1990s, there were hardly any adequate building plans, if at all, for most Arab communities, even though the Interior Ministry was directly responsible for planning in them through the regional planning commissions it appointed and managed for them.
In the meantime, needs only increased because of the population's natural growth, and with them the need to develop and renew the urban structure of the Arab communities that for the most part had started out as casbahs and developed into mega-villages. There are hardly any instances of prior planning in Arab communities. Instead, the method has been to authorize sporadic building retrospectively.
A planning project in dozens of Arab communities that the Interior Ministry initiated about a decade ago, in cooperation with other government ministries, has not yet borne fruit because of bureaucratic problems, a lack of budgets and the limitation of the public and local councils' participation in the steering and planning processes. No wonder that in a situation where the authorities are prohibiting and restricting nearly everything, behavior develops in which nearly everything is considered permissible, sometimes to the distress of the communities' leaders themselves.
The court system, too, is responsible for the frustration and anger among Arab citizens because of the way the state deals with the problem. It imposes, at the request of the enforcement authorities, heavy and disproportionate punishments on those convicted of illegal building while ignoring almost entirely the authorities' responsibility for the problem and their failure to satisfy building and development needs, which is required of them by law.
A situation has thus emerged in which the planning authorities pursue their aggressive policy in the name of the rule of law but sweep under the rug the market failure they have created themselves.
The vast majority of buildings in Arab communities under the threat of demolition are residences and not shopping centers or structures for industry and trade. The need for a roof over one's head is an elementary human need, where one cannot compromise. The solution to the current distress comes in two stages. First, suspending the house demolitions that have been gathering momentum of late, and carrying out the necessary planning, and second, expanding the approved building zones in the communities, in an accelerated procedure, by 20 percent of the existing area.
It is clear that on this issue the Arab population, in all its variety, feels it is standing with its back to the wall, united in an existential defense and protest against the continuing discrimination against it. It is neither wise nor responsible to allow the tension to explode and develop into a major confrontation, when the solutions are at hand.
The writer a Hadash MK and urban planning expert.