The Knesset will be convening tomorrow for a special recess session to hold the final votes on a bill that would boost enforcement and penalties for building without a permit. The bill increases the maximum sentence for building violations to three years, does not distinguish between building violations committed for profit and those committed for lack of an alternative, and limits the role that judgment and court intervention can play while enhancing the authority of the Finance Ministry unit that enforces construction laws. This favors the administrative track over a system of checks and balances.
The bill, initiated by the Justice Ministry, doesn’t explicitly say that it’s aimed at the Arab public in Israel, but it’s clear to all that its consequences will primarily affect Arab communities. Between 2012 and 2014, 97 percent of the administrative demolition orders were issued against structures in these communities. Moreover, the bill is being promoted by a government that is pleased to pass discriminatory legislation like the muezzin law, the expropriation law, the impeachment law and the cultural loyalty law.
No one disputes that illegal construction must be dealt with, that all Israeli citizens are meant to obey the law and that the bill is worded in a totally professional manner. However, the bill should not be passed at this stage because it deals solely with enforcement, without providing a solution for the essential problem – a housing crisis in Arab communities – and without recognizing plans being put into place.
Moreover, in the past the government has established that the funding for implementation of this law will be taken from the budget designated for the development of Arab communities. This looks suspiciously as if the bill is aimed at intensifying the abuse of the Arab population and continuing the government’s incitement policy against it.
If the Justice Ministry was really interested in solving the problem of illegal construction, it would implement those master plans for Arab communities that have already been approved, expedite the approval of those that have yet to be approved, increase the number of planning committees dealing with these communities, and only afterward declare an enforcement crackdown.
While Israeli Arabs constitute 20 percent of the population, Arab communities’ jurisdictions occupy just 2.5 percent of the state’s land area, and the process of approving new construction in Arab towns takes decades. The combination of these things and the lack of any workable alternatives cause a housing crunch and expand the scope of illegal construction. This bill does not seek to solve the problem, but merely to make life more difficult for an already distressed population.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.