An End to the Judaization of the Galilee?

Nearly seven decades of land discrimination brought in its wake dreadful poverty, illegal construction and an embittered Arab population. A new policy seems to be in the making.

Meirav Arlosoroff
Meirav Arlosoroff
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Israeli Arabs waving Palestinian flags during a rally in the northern Arab-Israeli town of Sakhnin on March 30, 2013 commemorating the 37th anniversary of 'Land Day.'Credit: AFP
Meirav Arlosoroff
Meirav Arlosoroff

In October 2000, concurrent with the eruption of the second intifada in the territories, the Israel’s Arab population rose up. Their violent protest was met with violence by the police, who saw their worst nightmare scenario come true: the fifth column. Palestinian citizens of Israel were joining forces with the Palestinians in the territories to attack Israel from without and within.

The result was 13 dead civilians, 12 Arabs and one Jew, and a governmental commission of inquiry to investigate the violence on both sides.

The Orr Commission inquiry was the first time since Israel’s establishment that the state looked the Israeli Arabs in the eye and tried to understand their frustrations and distress. The commission culminated in a comprehensive report, the first official document in which the State of Israel admitted to systematic, protracted discrimination against its Arab citizens. The discrimination, which was economic, social and political, touched almost all areas of life, and was of course the fuel behind the protest – not an attempt to conquer Israel, as the policemen mistakenly thought.

Among other things, the Orr Commission devoted a long chapter to discrimination in selling land. “In the first years of its existence,” the committee wrote, “the state expropriated extensive areas of Arab land. These expropriation actions were clearly and openly harnessed to the interests of the Jewish majority. Hundreds of Jewish settlements arose on the expropriated lands, including new cities, such as Upper Nazareth and Carmiel. In the collective consciousness of the Arab society, the massive expropriations in the 1950s and 1960s were a dispossession enterprise.”

Among other examples, the Orr Commission brought up that of Sakhnin. During the pre-state years of the British Mandate, the village held about 70,000 dunams. Under the State of Israel, its area contracted to 9,700 dunams, of which only 4,450 were approved for construction development. Sakhnin lost 87% of its land and was left without sources of employment for its residents, most of whom had originally been farmers, and with a population density of 191 square meters per person. In Carmiel, which was established on the expropriated Sakhnin lands, the population density is 524 square meters per person.

The State of Israel never concealed the intention behind the policy of the massive land expropriation. The policy even received a popular name: Judaization of the Galilee. Young Israel, surrounded by Arabs on most sides and with a large Arab minority within, set out to transfer as much land as it could from Arab hands to Jewish ones. Thus the small city of Upper Nazareth arose on lands seized from the Arab city of Nazareth, with the clear intent to block expansion of the Arab city next door. “A Hebrew city absorbing immigrants in the Galilee,” David Ben-Gurion said proudly of Upper Nazareth’s establishment.

Over the years, and after the Land Day riots in the 1970s, the State of Israel stopped seizing Arab lands, but the discrimination over land continued. During the state’s 67 years of existence, more than 700 new Jewish towns went up, and not one Arab one (leaving aside the resettlement of illegal Bedouin encampments in the Negev), and only now is the first such city in planning.

Yet meanwhile the Arab population has grown sevenfold. Even the area of the existing towns has barely changed, leaving them unable to meet the growing demand for housing.

Nor is there any plan to solve the housing crisis in the Arab towns. The state of land registration is in utter chaos. The state doesn’t own much land in them (most of the available land in Arab towns is privately owned, and is usually bequeathed to the next generation rather than developed); there are no detailed master plans either. The result is extensive illegal building.

To this, add the Jewish majority’s control over land planning: Out of 126 local and regional planning committees, only four are controlled by Arab local authorities. The other 80 Arab local authorities cluster within 33 regional planning committees. Of those 33, Arab towns are a majority in 21, but only six have an Arab chairman.

Moreover, studying the structure of local government in Israel finds a lot of “mixed” authorities – mixed cities (with both Arab and Jewish populations), or regional councils with both Arab and Jewish villages. It is not clear how geographical boundaries in the mixed places were set, but mysteriously, it turns out that the Jewish majority always rules over the Arab minority. Nowhere in Israel is there a Jewish town ruled by an Arab local authority.

Regarding the sweeping Jewish control over land management and planning in Israel – a study by the nonprofit organization Injaz Center for Professional Arab Local Governance found not a single Arab member in the planning administration. The Interior Ministry also admitted that all of Israel’s planning committees together have just 12 Arab members. That assures that the resource of land will never, heaven forbid, be abandoned to Arab management, and that the Jewish majority’s dominance in most of Israel’s areas will be maintained.

Thus, while the Arab local authorities encompass about 15% of Israel’s population, their share of industrial zones (areas that generate corporate tax, creating economic growth for the local authority) is just 3.8%. Their share of taxes paid by various government bodies to the local authorities is 0.2%. Their share in public transportation trips is also much smaller, and so on and so forth.

Over the years the discrimination created not only a great deal of frustration and alienation of the Arabs from their country, it ultimately achieved the opposite of what the Judaization of the Galilee had been intended to achieve – it is very difficult to find appropriate housing within crowded, dirty Nazareth, so the Arab middle class is moving out.

To where? To the Jewish town next door, of course, Upper Nazareth. In a creeping process, the city supposed to symbolize the strategy of Judaizing the Galilee is turning into a mixed city. As of 2010, 14% of the Upper Nazareth population was Arab. Upper Nazareth did strain to fight the creeping Arab incursion; you won’t find a single Arab school in the city, for instance, the kids have to study in Nazareth – but its efforts were pathetic, and inappropriate for a modern city. Yet until Nazareth can supply appropriate housing to its residents, the emigration to Upper Nazareth will continue.

So, 67 years late, the State of Israel woke up and realized that the policy of Judaizing the Galilee was turning on its makers. Sixty-seven years of discrimination had created dreadful poverty, chaos in planning, whole cities based on illegal construction, an embittered and alienated Arab population, and massive Arab migration to Jewish towns.

And 67 years late, an inter-ministerial team discussing the planning and construction problems of the Arab sector, is proposing a revolution in land discrimination policy.

One’s eyes open even wider when reading the recommendation to establish a permanent committee to discuss expanding the borders of the Arab cities. It is simply hard to believe when one reads the things written by the government’s professional team about the need to amend National Master Plan 35, in order to correct biases in land allocation against Arab settlements.

There it is, black on white: “Amending NMP 35 – a discussion will be held on including comments regarding the minority settlements, with the intention of increasing the development lands of towns within the minorities sector. These proposals for amendment will be discussed by the National Council.”

Maybe the Messiah is nigh, or maybe the boycott threats against Israel have done the trick; one of the BDS movement’s demands is that Israel stop discriminating against its Arab citizens. Or maybe after 67 years, the State of Israel’s eyes were opened and it grasped that treating Israel’s Arabs like a fifth column does more bad than good. In any case, there is no question that this is a historic turning point, and a welcome one.

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