Brutality in Kalansua

Applying the law 'blindly' means erasing entire neighborhoods and leaving half a million people without a roof over their heads.

Israeli Arabs boy look at the rubble of demolished houses in Kalansua, January 11, 2017.
Ariel Schalit/AP

Destroying the houses in the Israeli Arab town of Kalansua this week cannot be viewed as another instance of enforcing building laws. It has been decades since the Arab community was subjected to such a brutal event, in which 11 buildings were demolished simultaneously. When you add to this the self-satisfied Facebook posts put up by the prime minister and public security minister, it seems clear the move was dictated from above, with the intention of diverting public attention from the issues of the day.

Although there was no urgent need to tear down the structures, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wishes to aggressively advance enforcing building laws in the Arab communities. He and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan know perfectly well that such acts wont solve the problem, but only exacerbate it. There are more than 50,000 houses that were built without a permit in Arab and Druze communities in Israel. Applying the law blindly means erasing entire neighborhoods and leaving half a million people without a roof over their heads.

Netanyahu knows that every demolition increases the rising tension among the states Arab citizens and contributes to their loss of confidence in the state, and that this tension could spill over to violence and unnecessary clashes. He could also have anticipated that the massive demolitions in Kalansua would be seen as indeed they were seen: as an act intended to inflame emotions, sow frustration in the Arab population and curry favor with the rightist voters, who are still angry about the anticipated evacuation of the Amona settlement outpost.

The Arab local government heads are between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, theyre supposed to be attentive to the distress of the residents, who are seeking housing solutions and are ready to risk fines and criminal records to have a home; on the other hand, theyre battling bureaucracy and years of red tape and foot-dragging in the ministries and planning authorities whenever they attempt to expand their communitys master plans.

A proposal to suspend housing demolitions and to invest resources in master plans that would legalize most houses in the Arab communities has been lying on the cabinets table for months. The proposal also stipulates that the local authorities wont build new structures without permits.

But to implement the proposal the Israeli cabinet must make a strategic decision. The question is whether Benjamin Netanyahu finally decides to treat the Arabs like citizens with equal rights, who are also entitled to housing solutions, or continues to use them as scapegoats, whose bashing increases his political capital.