It's Amidar vs. Poor Residents in Haifa Housing War

Khaled Abu-Al'ula, 33, has been trying for years to buy an apartment in Haifa's Halisa neighborhood. He cannot obtain a mortgage and is now in a rented apartment with his family. It seems his own only hope it to get an apartment through Amidar, which owns dozens of local unoccupied properties. But Amidar prefers to deal with developers and contractors who offer sums neighborhood residents cannot match.

"I'm waiting for Amidar to issue tenders for closed structures in the neighborhood," says Abu Al'ula. "Go figure when that'll happen."

The residents of Halisa are struggling families: 80 percent are Arabs, the rest are primarily new immigrants from the former Soviet Union or Ethiopia.

Chairman of the neighborhood committee Kamal Yousef (Abu Kaid) explains that because of the socioeconomic situation, the banks refuse to approve mortgages for residents. "People here live off National Insurance Institute allowances," he says. "The neighborhood has dozens of closed Amidar buildings that can be renovated and sold via a tender or given to residents for key money."

The properties Amidar manages (abandoned in 1948 by Arab residents) are owned by the Israel Lands Administration (ILA). Many stand empty. But instead of offering them to local residents, the ILA and Amidar are planning to issue a tender for them to contractors. Says Jafar Farah, director of the Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Rights: "Amidar and the ILA operate based on purely business interests and make it hard for residents who cannot compete."

"The ILA denies the objective is to bring in a more solid population," he adds, "but what about the weaker elements? What about the public housing law? Amidar operates as a corporate entity, looking to maximize profits at the expense of ... poor tenants."

The ILA states: "The assets of the Development Authority [which manages absentee properties - F.E.] and public housing are not connected in any way." According to them, the public housing law does not relate to the sale of vacant properties, but to their transfer to those who've lived in them for years. ILA officials stress that the tenders are open to all citizens, at reasonable prices ranging from NIS 40,000-70,000 per apartment.

Abu Kaid is unconvinced: "The housing problem is very serious. If only the housing minister would demand that Amidar open up the buildings to young couples. We aren't asking a lot."