Israeli Arabs Face Red Tape When Leasing JNF Land

Arab citizens who buy apartments on JNF-owned land have a hard time registering their properties, residents say.

Despite state assurances to the contrary, Arab citizens of Israel who buy apartments on land owned by the Jewish National Fund are still having a hard time registering their homes in the Land Registry (Tabu), Arab residents of Carmiel claim.

Nizar Bakri and his brother Qassem both bought apartments in a Carmiel building three years ago and began the process of having the property registered in their names. To their chagrin, while their Jewish neighbors had no problem completing the process in a timely fashion, their apartments have yet to be registered.

The Israel Lands Authority makes no bones about the reason. In a letter Bakri received from the ILA, the agency writes: “At issue is a minority lessee and the land on which the apartments are built belongs to the Jewish National Fund, and there is a need to implement a swap between the authorities. There has been a request to execute what was requested but it will take considerable time.”

The source of the problem is that the fact that the JNF insists that its lands be sold only to Jews, since historically its lands were purchased with money from Jewish donors for the purpose of settling Jews in the Land of Israel.

The issue of Arabs purchasing assets on JNF land, including in Carmiel, has come up before the High Court of Justice and is the subject of a petition filed nine years ago by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, that is still pending.

In the state’s response to that petition, the attorney general, speaking on behalf of both the ILA and the JNF, promised that JNF lands would be marketed to all sectors of the public, irrespective of religion or ethnic background, and that lands, or apartments built on lands, belonging to the JNF that are sold to non-Jews would be transferred to state ownership, and the state would compensate the JNF with an equal amount of land.

In June 2005, the ILA published a summary of its agreement with the JNF, under which the JNF would transfer all its non-agricultural lands to state ownership. In return, the state was to give the JNF an equal amount of land that was not forests or land designated for development, 90 percent of it being land in the Negev and a small part of it in the Galilee.

Despite this agreement, registration procedures for non-Jews are being dragged out, requiring property owners to wait for years without the status of their properties being clarified. In a letter written to the ILA on Bakri’s behalf by Adalah attorney Suhad Bishara, she noted that the procrastination violates the right to purchase property and can cause problems down the road. In theory, as long as the apartment remains “leased” from the ILA, there are things that cannot be done with the apartment without ILA permission, and in some cases these actions will incur fees. Bakri argued that an unregistered apartment might not get a good price if he puts it up for sale.

The ILA rejected claims of discrimination and said in response that “the registration of ownership on lands that belong to the JNF require more complex procedures that require more actions and time.”

In fact, the ILA claimed that Bakri’s application for registration had been processed and that all he needed to do was present documents to its Title and Registration Division. It added that his brother Qassem’s request was being reviewed “and will be completed like any other application received by the Israel Lands Authority.”

Bakri told Haaretz he had never received any such notice from the ILA, nor had his brother, and upon being so informed by Haaretz he sent the relevant documents out, hoping that the saga would finally come to an end.

It should be noted that Fuad and Baha Abu Raya, whose struggle to purchase a single-family home in Carmiel on JNF land led to the 2004 High Court petition, have yet to have their home registered, either. Until 2010, none of the residents of the Givat Makhosh neighborhood were able to register their homes because the land had not been properly parceled by the ILA. In August 2010, the Abu Rayas were asked to file documents pertaining to their home purchase, but have not yet been able to register the property.

Yaron Kaminsky