Jewish Residents Allege Illegal Construction by Neighboring Arab Town, in Bid to Keep It at a Distance

Israel advancing a plan to add 4,000 housing units to Arara ■ Town’s mayor says illegal construction halted as precondition

Ruins of a house demolished by the Israeli authorities, Arara, northern Israel, July 24, 2019.
Amir Levy

Residents of the Jewish town of Katzir sent planning authorities information on what they claim is illegal construction in the neighboring Arab town of Arara, in an attempt to foil a development plan that would bring Arara closer to Katzir’s borders.

Last week, the Wadi Ara region found out that the National Planning Authority was advancing a massive program to expand Arara by 4,000 housing units, and that the authority planned to expedite it.

The news was received happily in Arara, but with dismay in neighboring Katzir.

The plan, which would expand Arara for the first time in years, is a pilot by the Housing and Construction Ministry, the Planning Authority and the Interior Ministry designed to legalize some 650 housing units built illegally and give the town a master plan for development.

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This is the first time the state has tried to legalize illegal construction via a plan for new construction combined with a master plan.

The condition for advancing the plan, however, was a halt to all illegal construction during the planning period, as part of trust-building measures between Arara residents and the authority, Deputy Attorney General Erez Kaminitz has stated.

And yet, Katzir residents say they have evidence that illegal construction continued in Arara over the past two years, while the plan was in the works, and are thus arguing that the town didn’t meet the terms of the pilot.

Ronen Rosenthal, a member of Katzir’s local council, told TheMarker that the residents were demanding that the state halt the planning process for Arara in response.

Katzir residents complained to Kaminitz’s offices, sending in aerial photographs which they said showed dozens of new homes.

Israel’s Arab communities are believed to have some 50,000 illegally built housing units, so finding a solution for illegal construction is one of the sector’s planning priorities.

The Justice Ministry disagreed with Katzir’s residents, and countered that its investigation showed a decrease in illegal construction. The Planning Authority criticized the conduct of Katzir’s residents. “Unfortunately, contrary to the position of the Menashe regional council [the region where the towns are located], Katzir’s local council is trying to undermine this important plan in various ways.”

When the plan was announced several months ago, Arara council head Morad Younes told TheMarker that halting illegal construction in his town was a complicated matter involving trust-building measures by both local residents and the state.

Arara’s local authority went to great efforts to convince landowners and builders to wait, even drafting local imams into the campaign, he said.

“We met with representatives of Katzir in order to understand their demands, but some of their arguments were unclear to us and to the planning authorities, and appear to be an attempt to harm the town’s development,” he said.

Rosenthal said a better option would be to let Arara expand to the north, past Route 65. The current plan would expand Arara to the south, toward Katzir.