Mixed Israeli City Marketing Homes to Religious Jews Only, Says Rights Group

Arab residents of Acre claim the municipality aims to attract new religious Jewish residents in order to alter the mixed Arab-Jewish character of the city.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI ) has asked the Israel Lands Administration to cancel a recent tender for a housing development in Acre because it is being marketed exclusively to religious families and is discriminatory.

ACRI says the tender, issued last month for some 200 housing units, was advertised on the Galilee Development Authority website and on another site that specializes in marketing lands to the religious public, and goes against the principles of equality.

Acre - Yaron Kaminsky - 03012012
Yaron Kaminsky

An ad by one group, for 43 lots, stated that they are for "houses with yards, single-family and two-family dwellings in a new religious neighborhood in Acre." It described the advantages of living in the neighborhood, including proximity to a hesder yeshiva.

The other group's ad, posted on the Galilee Development Authority website, said it had won a tender to build 153 homes "of a religious neighborhood for families in Acre."

Housing in Acre has been a sore point for many years between its Arab and Jewish inhabitants. Arab residents claim the municipality has been recruiting new national-Orthodox residents in order to change the mixed Arab-Jewish character of the city. They say the trend started three years ago after the unrest between Jews and Arabs on Yom Kippur, and that new neighborhoods have been built for a better-off Jewish population and for career army people. The construction of a new hesder yeshiva has also attracted more national-Orthodox Jews, they say.

Juhaina Safi, a social and political activist in Acre, told Haaretz that housing preoccupies the city's populace, particularly Arab residents. "We are talking about a veteran population in Acre, both Jews and Arabs, who do not have housing solutions. In the Old City, they are selling to the wealthy. And outside, the new neighborhoods are for a certain population, career army people and Sabbath-observers, and there is nothing to offer us," Safi said.

The group building the 43 houses, known as the Association for the development of Acre and its Buildings, was granted NGO status last December ahead of publication of the tender, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

The civil rights group notes that the group marketing the 153 units, known as B'emuna [In Faith] Housing for the National-Religious Public, with which the first association is cooperating, is also behind construction of a new neighborhood in Jaffa, which also has a mixed Arab-Jewish population.

In that case, the watchdog group petitioned the High Court of Justice in the name of Jaffa residents who opposed the project. However, the High Court rejected the petition, saying that purchasers already had rights to property, but it required the state to pledge that every construction tender would feature a clause that the ILA reserves the right to cancel the tender if the winner markets the housing in a discriminatory manner. Such a clause appears in the tenders won by the two Orthodox associations.

According to Gil Gan-Mor, ACRI's attorney specializing in housing, everyone should be able to purchase the housing units, not just Orthodox Jews, because the tender is for public land. "This is clearly unacceptable discrimination based on religion and ethnicity," Gan-Mor said.

The ILA said that its legal department is now studying the matter. The Acre municipality said the project was the responsibility of the ILA and the Housing Ministry, and that the municipality would be glad to see an economically strong population come to the city for the good of all its inhabitants.

The municipality added that, together with the Housing Ministry, it had invested NIS 15 million in recent years to renovate old neighborhoods, and had recently asked the ministry to expand the project to veteran neighborhoods where both Jews and Arabs live.