State Backs Israeli Arab Homebuyers in Afula, After Contentious Debate

Despite Jewish protesters' claims, Israel Lands Authority says it knows of no improprieties in housing tender.

Jewish residents in Afula protest granting of local housing tender to Israeli Arabs, December 6, 2015. Sign reads, "The mayor has betrayed us; he wants to build a mosque."
Gil Eliyahu

The Israel Lands Authority said Tuesday it knows of no improprieties in the Afula housing tender that was won last week by Israeli Arab families. A number of local Jewish residents, who were among the 200 who protested outside city hall against the entry of Arab homeowners to the northern city, claim the tender was fraudulent and have asked the ILA to rescind it.

The Arab families said they applied for the tender properly and legally, and that the winners were Arabs is not an indication of impropriety. One of those who participated in the winning bid, attorney Abdallah Zoabi, told Haaretz that “everyone who entered the tender was looking for quality of life and not to taunt anyone else; in fact the opposite, we know that all sorts of interested parties are trying to set the ground on fire.”  

On Sunday, some 200 Afula residents demonstrated outside city hall against the granting of a tender to 48 Arab families to build homes in the northern city’s new Young Afula neighborhood. The unrest began last weekend, when a local newspaper published a story titled, “A mosque in Afula Illit – no longer hard to imagine,” in which it reported the results of the tender. After the story was picked up by other local and national media, a Facebook protest was launched and gathered support.

The first tender in the neighborhood, which was for 88 plots on which 118 units were to be built, was published in February; a third of those plots were won by Arabs and the other two-thirds by Jews, including ultra-Orthodox Jews. The tender now causing the storm is the second one, for 27 plots on which 43 units are to be built. That was won solely by Arabs, both Christian and Muslim. According to the municipality, the project, in the northwestern part of the city, will eventually have 1,800 homes.

The lawyer hired by the Jewish residents to examine the tender process sent a letter to the ILA asking it to cancel the results of the tender, threatening that if it didn’t, he would urge his clients to initiate legal proceedings. He claimed there were improprieties and price fixing in the tender, and in similar cases in the past the tender had been canceled, adding that racism was not the issue at all.

A resident of the area who is involved in the controversy said of the prospective Arab homeowners, “I know these people. These are well-off families of doctors, lawyers, engineers and high-tech people who were looking to leave the choked neighborhood in their communities and build a modern home in a modern neighborhood at a reasonable price.”

Housing prices in the communities where they live have climbed, and their neighborhoods have poor infrastructure, the resident said. “The tender in Afula was an opportunity because the prices for land were reasonable – 650,000 shekels (about $172,000) for a two-family plot.”  

The ILA said it received 305 offers for the parcels of land. It noted that it sells land to all Israeli citizens equitably, without discriminating over religion, race or sex.