Israeli Arabs Concerned Rejig of Construction Supervision Agency Will Lead to Demolitions

Over 50,000 homes in Arab communities were built without a permit; local authorities say solution must be consensual rather than forced.

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The Israeli Arab city of Umm al-Fahm.
The Israeli Arab city of Umm al-Fahm.Credit: Nitzan Shorer

The Prime Minister’s Office is currently promoting the transfer of the National Construction Supervisory Unit from the Finance Ministry to the Interior Ministry. Haaretz has discovered that in the coming weeks there will be discussions of the transfer, in the belief that it will help the police and the planning and enforcement authorities to carry out demolition orders in Arab communities. A special interministerial team has been formed to examine the issue and submit its recommendations.

The issues of illegal construction and home demolition are central in Israeli Arab society, and home demolitions are usually accompanied by considerable tension and clashes in the Arab communities. According to the assessments of Arab planning organizations, over 50,000 homes in Arab communities were built without a permit. Arab local authorities explain that a failure to expand their areas of jurisdiction and the massive red tape surrounding approvals of master plans frequently force the residents to build on their private land without a permit. The local authorities say that the solution must be consensual rather than forced.

The National Construction Supervisory Unit operated under the Interior Ministry’s Planning Authority, and was transferred to the treasury’s responsibility as part of the demands of the Kulanu party in the post-election coalition agreement. At a cabinet meeting about two weeks ago the head of the unit surveyed the illegal construction situation in the Arab sector, and noted that the transfer of the planning authority, of which his unit is a part, made enforcement more difficult. He also said that there is a shortage of job slots.

Several ministers said at the meeting that transferring the unit to the Interior Ministry should be considered, one reason being that the inspectors work closely with the police in any case, and that the step would streamline the work. Interior Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) adopted the proposal, but said that it would require an increase in resources. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) also supported the step, and according to informed sources said, “Take it, I have no problem.” A senior government official said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also supports the proposal.

Sources in the treasury and the Interior Ministry spoke recently about transferring the enforcement unit to the Interior Ministry, and also discussed the subject with senior ministry officials and with representatives of the Arab community. The sources told the Arab representatives that Netanyahu and Erdan are the ones promoting the step.

The decision is causing serious concern in the Arab community. The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee announced that at the beginning of next week it will conduct a special discussion on the issue. MK Yousef Jabareen (United Arab List) was informed about the planned step and described it as “a declaration of war against the Arab public.”

“The conclusions of the Or Commission [into the events of 2000 in which 12 Israeli Arabs died in clashes with police] reverberate to this day on the issue of the police’s hostile attitude toward the Arab public and treating it as an enemy, and this attitude has only become exacerbated in recent years.”

Jabareen said that the enforcement unit “is known for its discriminatory and inhumane attitude toward Arab citizens, and transferring it to the Interior Ministry is liable to lead to serious clashes with the Arab public. Apparently there is someone here who is trying to increase the tension in Jewish-Arab relations, and is trying to deliver another serious blow to the status and rights of the Arab public. Anyone who talks about ‘a state within a state’ apparently wants to relate to Arab citizens only via the police and the demolishing bulldozers.”

The interministerial team headed by Deputy Attorney General Erez Kaminitz, which is discussing the illegal construction, will soon submit its conclusions to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. The team is trying to find ways of carrying out administrative and judicial orders regarding construction and to help the planning authorities enforce them. Despite the wait for the committee’s recommendations, according to assessments there is nothing to prevent implementation of the step, since it is supported by the prime minister and by ministers Erdan and Kahlon.

The Interior Ministry did not respond and asked that the question be directed to the Prime Minister’s Office, which said that there is nothing to discuss at this stage. The treasury said that it is still awaiting the recommendations of the interministerial team before making decisions.

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