Israeli Arab couple wins legal battle to build home in northern Jewish town
Residents of Sahknin, Ahmed and Fatina Zabeidat, petitioned High Court of Justice five years ago over rejection by Rakefet's admissions committee.
An Arab couple will finally be permitted to take possession of a plot of land and build a house in the Jewish community of Rakefet in the Misgav region of the Galilee, the Israel Lands Administration decided last week. The decision came after a long legal battle, still ongoing, against the ILA and the community's Admissions Committee.
The couple, Ahmed and Fatina Zabeidat, residents of Sahknin, petitioned the High Court of Justice over their rejection by Rakefet's Admissions Committee five years ago - a story made public in a 2007 Haaretz expose.
The timing of the ILA's decision is no coincidence. The High Court petition has yet to be decided, and thus the ILA's step is likely to be highly influential with the justices, who are scheduled to deliberate the matter on September 13.
In approving the Zabeidats' request, ILA acting director-general Ronen Cohen Schorr wrote that he was "convinced of the honest desire of the petitioners to blend into the life of the community and believes that their acceptance is not likely to damage the community."
No other reasons were given for the ILA's sudden decision, which contradicts the recommendation of the body's Appeals Committee, in a majority opinion, to refuse the couple's entry into Rakefet.
The Rakefet Admissions Committee rejected the couple in 2006. In the middle of that same year, the couple filed an appeal to the ILA, which is authorized to deal with such matters. After the appeal was rejected in 2007, the Zabeidats petitioned the High Court, which, in February of this year, decided that Rakefet's Admissions Committee should reconsider the couple's request. The High Court also ruled that if necessary, the request should also be reconsidered by the ILA's Appeals Committee and its director-general.
The couple then reappeared before the Rakefet Admissions Committee, which again rejected them, arguing that the Zabeidats do not see Rakefet as an organized community but rather as a quiet urban suburb that will grant them a higher standard and quality of life. It also argued that the couple's stance against the institution of the Admissions Committee and the idea of the preservation of the nature of the community were like to be injurious to it.
In their appeal, filed by attorney Souhad Bashara of Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the couple argued that Rakefet was not a genuine community with a uniform identity as it claimed. They said that they had declared their interest in taking an active part in community life and agreed to accept majority rule.
Two weeks ago, the ILA Appeals Committee reconsidered the case. During the hearing, Ahmed Zabeidat said that he was familiar with some residents with whom he studied architecture at the Bezalel Academy of Art, and that the Admissions Committee's decision did not reflect the views of all the residents.
"After studying all the material, I have decided to accept the minority recommendation of the [Appeals] Committee and accept the [couple's] appeal," Cohen Schorr announced last Tuesday.
Rakefet's legal counsel, attorney Doron Goshen, attacked the decision, calling it "strange" and arguing that the petition to the High Court was intended to negate the special character of such communities.
"And so, in the most sudden manner and without citing reasons, the acting director of the Israel Lands Administration has rejected the decision of the majority of the Appeals Committee, of four out of five members," Goshen said
Attorney Bashara expressed satisfaction with the decision and said that he did not intend to withdraw the High Court petition so as to ensure that the transfer of the plot of land took place in a timely fashion, and also to allow the High Court to deliberate on the petition's principles.
The Zabeidats were elated with the decision. "After six years, we are beginning to see the end and hope to begin to plan and build our home within a short time," they said.
Along with the Zabeidats' petition, the High Court will also consider one against the Admissions [committee] Law, approved several months ago by the Knesset.