Israeli Watchdog Raps Housing Discrimination Against Palestinians in Jerusalem

East Jerusalem gets only 15 percent of building permits issued, comptroller report finds, while also criticizing lax enforcement of building violations in same area.

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A Palestinian boy sits in the yard of his house, back-dropped by the Israeli housing development, Har Homa, in East Jerusalem, September 2009.
A Palestinian boy sits in the yard of his house, back-dropped by the Israeli housing development, Har Homa, in East Jerusalem, September 2009.Credit: Bernat Armangue / AP

An annual comptroller's report on Israeli local authorities issued on Tuesday accuses the Jerusalem Municipality of faulty planning and construction, and discriminating against the largely Palestinian populated side of the city in the the issuing of building permits.

The report finds the entire city of Jerusalem lacks any valid zoning plan, and that the most recent one, approved in 2009, was later frozen, due to right-wing complaints it would permit too much Palestinian construction.

Comptroller Joseph Shapira writes that although the plan was shelved, it was not replaced and is still cited as a "political document."

East Jerusalem, where most Palestinian residents of the city live, receives only about 15 percent of building permits issued, the report says. The main reason for this problem is the absence of an orderly registration of land ownership in this part of the city, it adds.

The report also cites lax enforcement of building violations in East Jerusalem, which it blames on the "security situation" there.

Turning to the nation at large, Shapira slams local officials for taking trips abroad for not always justified reasons at tax payers' expense. Sometimes more people than necessary are sent abroad to an event, and some officials don't even bother to report about the trips' outcomes, the comptroller writes.

The report accuses Mayor Ron Huldai of Tel Aviv, Miriam Feirberg of Netanya and Dov Tsur of Rishon Letzion are accused of failing to put their travel plans to a requisite city hall vote ahead of the fact.

The Interior Ministry is also taken to task for failing to answer recommendations published three years ago to set specific rules and guidelines for the conduct of trips abroad by local officials.

The report says that 42 out of 257 local governments queried about travel abroad never filled out their questionnaires.

Tel Aviv led the list of overseas travel, with 73 trips from 2013 to 2015 at a cost of 600,000 shekels, followed by Haifa with 66 trips at a cost of 765,000 shekels. The city of Holon sent 35 delegations abroad in this period at a whopping cost of 1.1 million shekels, ($280,000) the report says.

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav was the most travelled mayor for this period, with eight trips abroad.

Shapira's report provides some examples of what he sees as unnecessary trips, such as a six-day November 2013 trip by two social workers to a conference and subsequent professional tour of New Zealand.

The trip was funded entirely by the city at a cost of 22,000 shekels, including air fare, hotel and local travel costs as well as meals.

"The city never discussed the necessity of this travel the length of time and country that was hosting the conference, or the entire cost," the report writes.

And it turns out that the conference lasted only two days and no documentation was found to support the "academic tour" that followed, it adds.

Bat Yam is criticized for sending a four-member delegation to a conference in New York in 2015, at a cost of 46,000 shekels. The city council approved the trip only retroactively. Other local authorities sufficed with delegations of just one or two people, the report says.

Perhaps topping the list of questionable travel is the city of Holon which sent six representatives to a "smart cities" conference in Barcelona held in 2014. The cost came to 84,000 shekels, yet the city never debated that expenditure beforehand, says the report.

Holon is quoted as defending its participation in that conference as "an essential part of a plan to improve executive performance" and ultimately, city services, too. .

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