Arab Jaffa Residents Claim IDF Reservists Get Priority in Buying Real Estate

The High Court of Justice ordered state to explain reasoning behind granting benefits to reserve soldiers buying Jaffa property.

The High Court of Justice recently issued an show-cause order to the prime minister and Israel Lands Administration to explain why reserve soldiers should receive benefits and priority in land purchases in Jaffa.

The order followed a petition filed by Jaffa's Muslim Council last October, claiming the state and ILA's decision to grant reserve soldiers benefits in buying land in Jaffa violates the tender regulations and the Arab residents' right to equality.

Children cooling off at a Jaffa fountain, August 1, 2010
Tal Cohen

This is the first time the High Court has been asked to make a ruling on the fundamental issue of giving soldiers priority in buying land in a mixed Jewish-Arab locale.

The petitioners say the decision prevents Jaffa's Arabs from buying land for housing despite the acute housing shortage in the city.

The decision, made in February 2010, says reserve soldiers who win a tender to buy land will pay 15 percent less than the offered price, or receive a NIS 50,000 reduction on the price.

The petition was filed in regard to three tenders in state-owned lands on Sternhartz, Shmuel Ben Adaya and Ga'ash streets in Jaffa. The petition outlines the housing shortage in Jaffa and the Arab residents' difficult economic situation, which makes it impossible for them to compete with the advantages given to reserve soldiers.

Over two thirds (70 percent ) of Jaffa's Arab community do not own the properties they live in, the figures show. The ILA promised in the past to find housing solutions for 400 families but so far has failed to do so.

In the court debate on the petition a few weeks ago the state's representative said the government's decision does not discriminate against the Arab community, but rather benefits a group of active reserve soldiers, on whom the state's security is based.

Attorney Khaled Sawalhi, of Jaffa's Muslim Council, argued that the state was discriminating against the Arab residents by reducing their chances to win a land tender, for no other reason than ethnic distinction.

"Real estate is a rare commodity and high in demand especially in Jaffa's needy neighborhoods. The advantage the respondents have given IDF soldiers in land tenders of all things is causing extremely grave damage to the Arab public," the petitioners said.

Justices Salim Joubran and Eliezer Rivlin asked how come the housing benefit was given in Jaffa and not in cities like Bat Yam and Rishon Letzion. Justice Isaac Amit said the petition raises an extremely important question. The problem was not in rewarding reserve soldiers, he said, but in the state's doing so with tenders, where the law is very clear regarding equality.