The Supreme Court yesterday sanctioned the construction of three apartment buildings for Jews only that are slated to go up in the Jaffa neighborhood of Ajami, even as it implied that such a project could constitute improper discrimination.
The legal counsel for a prominent civil rights group said the court's implicit opposition to discriminatory housing could keep the issue from recurring.
Residents of the mixed Arab-Jewish neighborhood, which was featured in a film of the same name that was nominated for an Oscar earlier this year, said they remained opposed to the buildings, which are geared toward a religious Zionist crowd.
"In recent days there has been racist violence in Safed in an effort to push Arabs out of the city, while here, in Jaffa, the racism falls under the protection of the Supreme Court," said Esther Saba, one of 28 Jaffa residents to appeal the construction.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Rabbis for Human Rights and Bimkom - Planners for Planning Rights also joined the appeal, which the Supreme Court rejected yesterday.
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch ruled that the appeal was "theoretical" since the rights to the land already have been granted to a real estate purchasing company created by Be'emunah, the property development firm that won the tender. Be'emunah develops housing for the religious Zionist population.
"There is a foundation to the argument that the [Israel Lands] Administration must oversee the land being sold in an equitable, non-discriminatory way, including by private companies that win tenders it issues," the court found. But, "the appeal is against a done deal, and the requested support is no longer practical. There is no longer a practical possibility of taking away the respondents' rights to the plot of land."
Kamal Ajabaria, who heads the Ajami neighborhood committee, said Jaffa public activists would meet shortly to decide what their next step will be.
"The Supreme Court can't give us the rights," said Ajabaria. "This is a public struggle, which needs to be uncompromising and needs to be done in the streets, not between the walls of the Supreme Court."
All the same, the court expressed restrained approval of the Israel Lands Administration for informing the court in its response to the appeal that future tenders will ban bidders from engaging in improper discrimination while selling the housing units.
"Without taking a firm stance on the matter, it appears that this is an important and appropriate finding in light of the administration's public position and because land designated for residential purposes is a limited public resource that should be distributed equitably," the Supreme Court said in its verdict.
ACRI legal adviser Gil Gan-Mor said the statement would keep future discrimination at bay.
The Ajami ruling was "disappointing," he said. "But it includes important statements in principle that will prevent discrimination in public land from now on."
Be'emunah CEO Yisrael Ze'ira said the neighbors of the controversial project would be "surprised by good, quiet and calm neighbors."
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