Israel to Step Up Demolitions of Illegal Structures in Arab Sector

New regulations stipulate that only 'political or other sensitivity' could prevent the demolishing of illegal structures, with emphasis on Arab and Druze communities.

Israeli Arab home in Taibeh being demolished. January 24, 2016.
Panet.co.il

Recommendations to increase enforcement of planning and construction laws were released on Sunday by a team appointed a year ago by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.

The recommendations, which Weinstein has approved, are now to be implemented, with special emphasis on Arab and Druze communities.

The recommendations also relate to enforcement of regulations in East Jerusalem, where they stipulate that the authorities are to refrain from demolitions only when there is “political or other sensitivity” and with approval of the attorney general.

The local authorities, in cooperation with enforcement bodies, will also follow up on illegal construction by means of a “standing enforcement committee,” consisting of police and other enforcement officials and representatives of the Interior Ministry and the Israel Lands Authority.

The committee will map existing structures for demolition and prioritize which demolition orders are most urgent.

The committee, chaired by deputy attorney general Erez Kaminitz, recommended increasing the use of fines for illegal construction and summoning alleged offenders for questioning by police if demolition orders are ignored.

According to data presented by the panel, the national unit for enforcing building and planning regulations handles an average of more than 700 stop-construction and demolition orders per year. Some 160 demolitions are carried out each year on average.

Planning officials within the Arab community say that there are some 50,000 houses in Arab communities that have no construction permits.

“According to professionals, the increased difficulty in the Arab sector stems from the fact that in some parts of the population illegal construction is perceived as necessary, legitimate and justified in light of the lack of housing and planning over the years,” the committee’s report states. “This narrative exists even if over recent years there has been much progress in planning solutions and master planning in particular,” it added.

The attorney general’s acceptance of the committee’s recommendations drew sharp responses from Joint Arab List lawmakers, who accused Weinstein of playing into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hands, when the latter announced that the five-year plan to earmark greater funding for Arab communities “could not move ahead” if enforcement in those communities was not increased.

“Instead of working to regulate illegal construction and invest efforts in planning for this purpose, the attorney general lays the groundwork for conflict with the Arab community,” MK Yousef Jabareen said. “Thus he serves the unacceptable racist political agenda of the prime minister and his ministers on the extreme right.”

MK Basel Ghattas said: “We have been working for years to freeze demolition orders to arrive at an arrangement regarding construction that is not according to the law, but the authorities ignore this demand.” Ghattas warned that if the government pursued this course, “the outcome will be very severe for both sides. We have no interest in violent conflict between the Arab minority and the state, but if this policy continues, it will come. The statemakes itself the enemy of the Arab citizens with its own two hands.”