Planning Board to Consider First New Arab City in Israel's History

Report on project describes it as ‘affirmative action.'

Zafrir Rinat
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On annual Land Day, Israeli Arabs protest expropriation of their land for Jewish communities; now, for first time in country's history, an Arab city is being planned.Credit: Gil Eliyahu
Zafrir Rinat

A plan to build the first new Arab city in Israel since the establishment of the state will come before the National Planning and Building Council for approval next week. The city, to be built adjacent to the Arab community of Jdeideh Makr, which is just east of the northern coastal city of Acre, is planned for a population of 40,000.

Planning for the new city, initiated by the Israel Lands Authority, the Housing and Construction Ministry and the planning administration in the Interior Ministry, has been in the works for the past four years in fulfillment of a 2008 cabinet decision. The architectural firm of Eran Mabel has drawn up the plans.

However, it is still unclear when construction on the new city, slated to cover 2,700 dunams (675 acres), will start. Its municipal status is also unclear, and the Jdeideh Makr municipality says it should be part of the city.

In Israel’s history, no new cities have been built for Arabs other than for Bedouin who had not been living in permanent settlements before.

A report prepared by the city’s planners notes that among the justifications for building a new Arab city is to create communities that do not belong to a number of clans, and to provide for citizens who do not have land to build on. The new community, intended for a middle-class population, is “a message to the Arab population that new communities are not only being built for Jews but for Arabs as well, as part of the process of affirmative action for the Arab population in the public sphere,” the report states.

The new community is to be accessible to a planned train line from Acre to Carmiel. It will have an urban park and consist of high-rises of at least six stories, which are unusual in small and medium-size Arab communities. It is also planned to have advanced standards of garbage disposal and recycling. Jdeideh Makr is known to have serious environmental problems and is surrounded by illegal garbage dumps, and in recent years has had difficulty maintaining its sewage system.

The planning team met with a variety of Arab planners, mayors and academics. Some expressed their support for the project as a solution to the housing crunch, but others said they opposed the establishment of a new city for a specific population group, arguing that cities need to be open from the outset to all sectors. Some also said they were concerned that the new city would siphon off educationally and economically advanced residents of existing communities, which would leave those communities weakened. Still others noted that the new city was to be built on land expropriated in the past from people now living in Jdeideh Makr.