Israel Stops Enforcing Contentious Law Targeting Arabs for Construction Violations

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The demolition of a house built without a permit in the Arab town of Arara last year.
The demolition of a house built without a permit in the Arab town of Arara last year.Credit: Amir Levy

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced Thursday a freeze on enforcement of the controversial law that made punishment of building violations much more severe, known as the “Kaminitz Law.” The law, passed three years ago, does not state it is aimed at Arab communities, but in practice it has its greatest effect on illegal construction there.

The planning process in Arab towns can take decades, and sometimes residents have little choice but to build their homes without permits. Estimates were that when the law was passed, some 50,000 homes in Arab communities had been built illegally.

Under the new guidelines formulated by the Justice Ministry, enforcement will be frozen until 2023, during which time planning and legalization arrangements would be speeded up greatly for construction in a large number of communities.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz has led this effort along with Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, in coordination with lawmakers from the Joint List. The freeze will not apply to enforcement procedures that already began.

The present law, named after Deputy Attorney General Erez Kaminitz, would not be changed of rescinded for now because of disagreements on the issue inside the government coalition, and because of the continued confrontations outside the government that have blocked legislation in the Knesset.

Nissenkorn said that along with Kaminitz, he would present a solution for proper development in these communities alongside “fair enforcement.”

Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties, said the freeze was good news for thousands of families facing demolition orders, and that Nissenkorn and Gantz had followed through with commitments given during talks on the matter. 

Joint List lawmaker Mtanes Shehadeh said the move was “another success for the Joint List” that showed that only insistent cooperation would bring about results for the Arab community.

Member of Knesset Heba Yazbak, also from the Joint List, welcomed the decision but said it was insufficient. “We will continue to work toward complete nullification of this cruel law, and for the sake of fair regularization and planning for Arab communities.”

Likud and Kahol Lavan included a special section in their coalition agreement on establishing a committee with equal representation for the two parties to examine the future of the controversial law. Even before that, the Joint List made revocation of the law a condition for its support for Gantz’s candidacy for prime minister, during their consultation with President Reuven Rivlin after the last election.

The Knesset voted down a private member’s bill sponsored by MK Gadeer Mreeh (Yesh Atid) which called to freeze the enforcement of building violations in “minority communities” until final approval of master plans and legal planning arrangements. “This law harms so many people. Twenty million shekels is the amount of the fines,” said Mreeh during the session. “People are turned into criminals overnight because they only wanted to build their homes on their own land.”

Deputy Interior Minister Yoav Ben-Tzur of Shas responded in the government’s name: “This bill is not worthy of discussion because it means the neutering of the authority to enforce the law against illegal construction, and in practice it would allow the carrying out of construction without planning and rule out any possibility [of enforcement].” He said the proposal meant “total anarchy.”

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