Every time the issue of Arabs living in small rural Jewish communities arises, the same question arises: Would Arabs be willing to let Jews live in their small rural communities? The goal of this question is to throw the ball back into the Arabs’ court and portray them as the bad guys, who don’t want Jews in their villages, and therefore have no right to demand to live in equivalent Jewish communities.
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But the people who raise this claim ignore several important facts in an attempt to justify a fundamentally racist and discriminatory policy.
First, all the Arab villages – without exception – existed even before the state was established, and the vast majority of their houses were built on privately owned land that the owners inherited from their forebears, not on land provided by the state. Most of the rural Jewish communities, in contrast, were built on state land based on terms set by the state, and according to the High Court of Justice’s precedent-setting ruling in the Kaadan case in 2000, the state cannot discriminate in allocating land on the basis of a person’s ethnic or national background.
Second, Arab citizens of Israel currently own only about five percent of the country’s land, because most of what was once Arab-owned land has been expropriated over the years since 1948 via a series of draconian laws and decisions. In contrast, the regional councils where most of the Jewish communities in question are located control about 70 percent of the country’s land.
The fact that Arabs are barred from living in these areas due to their ethnicity, while almost any Jewish citizen who meets the relevant socioeconomic criteria can live there, means that Jews have considerably more options than Arabs when it comes to choosing a place to live.
Both the Israeli establishment and the greater public have completely disregarded the dire statistics about the the Arab community's housing shortage, which stems from blatant discrimination in the allocation of land, the expansion of existing communities’ jurisdictions and the approval of master plans. There is an urgent need for tens of thousands of houses for young Arab couples. “Where will we build our house and raise our children?” has become the problem that keeps such couples awake at night, and the options available to them are steadily shrinking.
Every young couple, even an Arab couple, is entitled to aspire to a decent standard of living in every area of life. But instead of enjoying their rights as citizens, striving to realize this aspiration and being able to talk about fair allocations of land and equality of opportunity, Arab citizens feel they are being pushed further and further into a corner. Arabs are searching for any possible solution, including the option of living in small Jewish communities, not out of a desire for separatism, but out of a desire to integrate.
The norms proper to a true democracy obligate the state to take steps to promote equality of opportunity and implement a policy of narrowing the gaps in land allocations. Instead, it has responded with a series of laws, including the one allowing small communities to set up admissions committees, that send the following unequivocal message: This is a Jewish state; Arabs out.