Hundreds of Arab and Jewish Architects Call for End to Arab Home Demolitions

Jewish and Arab planners band together to fight what they decry as discriminatory housing policy in Israel.

FILE PHOTO: A young Bedouin sites on the site of a demolished home in the village of Umm al-Hiran.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Some 300 Jewish and Arab Israeli architects, planners and engineers sent a letter to the government this week protesting discrimination against Arab communities in the areas of city planning, construction and zoning.

“After years of a discriminatory planning policy toward the Arab population, which culminated with the recent demolitions in Kalansua and an Umm al-Hiran, we can be silent no longer,” said the letter from the Arab-Jewish Planners Forum to the cabinet.

Among the prominent figures who signed the letter were Yuval Yasky of Jerusalem's Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design; Prof. Rasem Hamaisi of the University of Haifa; urban planner Enaya Banna-Jeries of the Iron Local Council; professors Ayala Ronel and Amnon Bar Or of Tel Aviv University and architects Zvi Efrat, Meira Kowalsky and Arie Kutz.

The letter, which was also sent to all 120 Knesset members, states that the demolitions of homes in Arab communities is unethical and violates fundamental civil rights. It calls on legislators to advance appropriate planning solutions to address the phenomenon of illegal construction, which they assert stems “from criminal negligence of Israeli governments over the years in proper planning for Arab communities and expanding areas in accordance with population growth.”

The planners assert that home demolitions do not solve the problem of building without permits. “We demand an immediate freeze of home demolitions and call for advancing suitable and fair development plans with the participation of the local communities,” they wrote.

The Arab-Jewish Planners Forum was founded a number of weeks ago in wake of the home demolitions in Kalansua and Umm al-Hiran. Its members include planners, architects and engineers involved in urban planning who see it as a significant tool for establishing a more egalitarian and just society. Its members have participated in courses of The School for Peace at Neve Shalom — Wahat al-Salam and the Arab Center for Alternative Planning.

Prof. Oren Yiftachel of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, who signed the letter, welcomed the establishment of the forum.

“After too many years of ongoing failure to which planners, architects and geographers were party, there is progress here,” he said. “I found that only one or two percent of state land that has been allocated for planning has gone to the Arab community, despite their being a much larger part of the population. Planning is not meeting the needs.”

Samer Sweid, the head of the Arab Center for Alternative Planning and a member of the new forum, said the goal is introducing appropriate planning policy.

“Most of the land in Arab communities is private, and the state makes new plans without checking the social values of the population,” he said. “Everything is done on order from above with participatory steps that are basically presenting a plan and not a process of real public participation. And then people object, and the plans get stuck.”