Fadi Eyadat
July 29, 2010 - 12:00am

Israel's Arabs are forced to build illegal housing due to the government's refusal to recognize many of their communities as official towns or to grant them permits for legal construction, according to a study released by the Dirasat - Arab Center for Law and Policy.

The dozens of structures Israel razed earlier this week in the Bedouin town of Arkaib are among the 45,000 illegal constructions in unrecognized villages in the Negev. According to Knesset figures, some 1,500 structures like these are built annually in unrecognized villages.

The Dirasat study concludes that this phenomenon will continue for years as a result of the obstacles imposed by Israel's planning committees.

Approximately one-quarter of Arab communities have neither a local nor privatized master plan and thus are not eligible to receive building permits. As such, says the study, the national master plan short-changes the development authorities and stunts their progress. Communities that do have a master plan are often given last priority for construction permits due to their flailing infrastructure, says the study.

The Dirasat report, which was conducted by attorney Kais Nasser of Hebrew University's law faculty, is one of the most comprehensive studies in Israel examining the reasons for the high rate of illegal Arab construction.

Partial data from the study indicates that the number of Arabs in Israel has multiplied by seven since the state was established in 1948, but their municipal communities take up only 2.5 percent of state land.

Some 1,000 Jewish settlements have been established since 1948, says the study, but not a single Arab town aside from the seven Bedouin communities consolidated for residents that has previously been scattered across the Negev.

"The Arab citizen in Israel does not suffer from a 'syndrome' or find pleasure in illegal construction," said Nasser. "Like any citizen of the state, the Arab citizen would build legally if he were guaranteed within a planning framework that enabled him to receive a permit."

The study points to three types of institutional, planning and legal obstacles facing Arabs.

According to the law, a condition for issuing a building permit is the existence of a private master plan that shows how land will be used.

The study found that in a quarter of Arab communities in Israel, no private or local master plans exist that would allow a resident to be issued a building permit. This is true for the 36 unrecognized villages in the Negev, in which there are no basic services like water or electricity.

In the other communities, there are old master plans that have not been updated.

Another obstacle in regards to the approval of master plans is that only 6 percent of local Arab authorities have local planning and building committees, compared to 55 percent of Jewish communities.

But even when local authorities submit master plans for development, the study finds obstacles posed by national and regional master plans.

These obstacles include the demarcation of areas that could be used for residential development as nature reserves or agricultural land instead.

For example, national master plan 35 is intended for the development of the "urban fabric", a designation not given to many Arab communities.

When there are no institutional or planning obstacles preventing the submission of updated master plans, there are bureaucratic and legal obstacles in the way.

For example, the study highlights the village of Reineh in the north, which a decade ago approved a master plan that designated certain lands for residential use. According to the study, no village resident has yet received a building permit on that land because the area lacks the access routes and infrastructure required by the planning committee.

"Young Arabs today feel despair about their future housing options. Lands for use by the public do not exist and therefore natural development has been halted," said Dr. Yosef Jabareen, the head of Dir Assat center. "This reality should be a red warning light for policymakers and cause them to act to ensure the existential rights of Arab citizens before it is too late."


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