Why an ultra-Orthodox Town in Wadi Ara?

Why should a Haredi town be planted precisely in Wadi Ara?

The Arabs, some 20 percent of the entire population of Israel, hold only about 3.5 percent of the land. Only 2.4 percent of the country's industrial zones are located near Arab towns or villages. This is one of the means the state uses to maintain control and concentrate an important resource in its hands. The monopoly on land held by the Israel Lands Administration - which controls some 93 percent of the land in the country - can explain why Arab towns are not being built in Israel and why industrial zones are almost not being set up near Arab areas.

This is also the reason why 96 percent of the Arab local councils can be found near the bottom of the socioeconomic scale. The Arab population increases annually by some 40,000 people. The average annual rate by which the Arab population increases, 3.4 percent, is greater than the average of the general population, 2.6 percent. Against this background, the shortage of land for residential purposes in the Arab sector leads to a huge growth in the housing density there. The per capita occupation per room in the Arab sector, 1.4 on average, is almost double that of the Jewish population, which stands at 0.8 per room on average.

The planning and building policy is completely different in the Jewish sector. Since the establishment of the state, thousands of Jewish villages and towns have been set up. One of these is the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi ) town of Harish, smack in the heart of Wadi Ara, and last week a plan was approved for its expansion. Why should a Haredi town be planted precisely in Wadi Ara? After all, it is not supposed to provide a solution to the overcrowding in the Arab towns, nor has the Western Wall relocated.

Its establishment is in keeping with the approach by a government that views the Arabs as a demographic and geographic threat. The aim is to thwart the natural increase of the Arab population and blur the unique Arab character of Wadi Ara. Thus, instead of solving the problem of the housing shortage in Taibeh, they blocked it by building Tzur Yitzhak, and instead of planning the expansion of Baka al-Garbiyeh and Meiser, they are expanding Harish - in exactly the same way as moshav Mei Ami blocked the expansion of Umm al-Fahm - and the list is long.

This policy is based on exclusive control of resources and ensuring that Arabs are kept away from key positions. They are not partner to planning decisions and do not sit on the ILA's board of directors. The result is a lack of master plans for the Arab sector, which leads to the situation in which almost all the building in Arab towns is deemed "illegal construction."

The establishment of the town of Harish is appropriate for a state that defines itself as Jewish, aspires to exclude its Arab citizens and allocates resources to the Jewish population at the Arabs' expense. This conduct is like spitting in the face of the young Arabs who wish to be full partners in the country's civil and economic life. On the face of it, the Arab politicians could fight against this trend but when there are so many Arab parties and they are all outside the foci of power, it would not surprise me if a Haredi town were set up in the heart of Nazareth. I am not opposed to the large number of parties, but under such difficult circumstances the Arabs should exploit the democratic game in a responsible fashion and do everything possible to reach the decision-making centers.

The challenges being faced by the Arab population are harsh and numerous. With a lack of vision and a desire to build a control nucleus in every government coalition, whether through one Arab party which could be an alternative to the ruling party or through joining forces with Jewish parties, the Arab parties will remain small and weak, and in the best-case scenario will voice their condemnations and shout slogans against discrimination.

The writer is an accountant and holds a master's degree in Political Science and Business Administration.