representatives of local councils, public committees and organizations participated in the 10th Annual Land and Housing Conference organized by ACAP, in partnership with the National Forum of Arab Mayors and Mossawa Center, on the occasion of the 34th anniversary of Land Day. The conference was financially supported by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and the European Union.
Also participating in the conference were Knesset Members: Dr.Hanna Swaid, Dr. Dov Hanin, Talab Al-Sanaa and Hanin Zoabi, in addition to the Head of the National Forum of Arab Mayors, Mr. Ramiz Jaraysi, and the Head of the Higher Follow-Up Committee on Arab Affairs, Mr. Mohamed Zidan.
The conference was opened by ACAP's director Mr. Raja Khoury, who welcomed the attendance, and acknowledged the importance of such a conference in keeping track of the developments in the building and planning sector which has a massive impact on the Arab citizens.
The next speaker was Mr. Mohamed Zidan who welcomed the audience, and affirmed the importance of the struggle for the Arab minorities' rights. He condemned the racist laws that discriminate against the Arab citizens.
Mr. Jaffar Farah, director of the Mossawa Center, acknowledged ACAP's persistence in holding such an important conference for the 10thyear in a row. Farah added "what we have to do is stop talking and begin taking actions. In the conference that was held a decade ago, where ACAP was established, several mayors pledged that they would donate one shekel for every Arab citizen to the Arabic Land Fund. But to this day none of this has happened." Farah stated that what happened on Land Day in 1976 proved that the Arab citizens are capable of scoring achievements through real struggle alongside democratic Jews in the country.
Mr. Ibraheem Al-Waqeli, Head of the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages in the Negev, was the next speaker. Mr. A-Waqeli thanked ACAP for its work and support of the unrecognized villages, and presented a small glimpse of the suffering faced by Bedouins in the Negev in general and in the unrecognized villages in particular. He then affirmed that the Bedouins are determined to stay on their land and will not surrender to any means used against them.
The Ghetto Policy is Responsible for Unlicensed Building
After the welcoming remarks, the first session opened with a lecture given by MK. Dr. Hanna Swaid titled: Latest Developments in Confiscation Affecting the Public.
Swaid began his lecture with praising the systematic work of ACAP. He then sarcastically stated how that in Israel in 2010 Arab citizens exchange congratulations if one of them has received a building license.
Swaid affirmed that the system in Israel is moving steadily towards Apartheid, and the recent laws are evidence to that. He then presented some of the raciest laws, such as the admission committee’s law which would prevent Arab citizens from living in Jewish settlements that were built on their lands in Galilee and the Triangle area. Another example presented was the new modification to the confiscation procedure, which will give the government the right to use confiscated land as they see fit up to 25 years after confiscation, even if the land is not used for the purpose it was confiscated for.
MK. Swaid affirmed that the solution to this problem is public and professional confrontation.
The next speaker was MK. Hanin Zoabi. She presented her views on the "reform" in the ILA (Israel Land Administration) and summarized this reform in one word: "Privatization". Privatization refers to selling the lands of the refugees to individuals, thus disconnecting any legal relationship between the land and their original owners. She stated that this reform imposes a one-sided political equation and effectively destroys any connection between the land and their original owners. She also pointed out that there is a deal between the government and the KKL to transfer 70,000 Dunams of land in the north and the Negev to the KKL to prevent Arab citizens from acquiring these lands, since according to KKL policy, land owned by the KKL can only be used by Jews.
The mayor of Nazareth Mr. Ramiz Jaraysi commented on the issue of demolishing Arab houses and presented ways to confront it, saying that there is no contradiction between the public and ideological struggle and the struggle to acquire positions. He added that according to his experience, one can make achievements by combining the ideological and public struggle with a professional struggle.
Mr. Jaraysi pointed out how the Ministry of Interior states that there are no problem of budgets for development and expansion of Arab towns. While on the other hand, it presents a structural plan that does not take into consideration the needs of the citizens. Furthermore, budgets are not allocated for the detailed plans that are required in order to issue building licenses.
Jaraysi presented the initiative of the National Forum of Arab mayors, which was a challenge that was discussed in the Interior Committee in the Knesset which said: “we don’t want illegal buildings but the government polices pushed us to do so. So we are calling to put on hold all legal actions regarding house demolitions and during this period the Arab citizens would stop building illegally.” Also, during this period, an extensive survey will be implemented to detect the difficulties and problems that exist in the Arab sector and to come up with a solution to solve the problems.
This reform targets Arab's lands
The second session, which involved a round table dialogue, presented the new building and planning law which was recently discussed in the winter session of the Knesset, and will be passed after the Knesset returns from spring vacation.
ACAP’s urban planner, Ms. Enaya Bana-Geries, summarized the main points and changes in the law. Ms. Bana affirmed that the new law doesn’t solve the problems that the Arab town’s face, which are a result of the planning policy in the country and the old law.
She pointed out that the key problems affecting the Arab citizens will remain even after passing the new law. These problems include illegal building, house demolishing, unrecognized villages, tight jurisdictional areas, absence of industrial areas and poor planning that does not take into consideration the needs of the Arab citizens.
Ms. Bana pointed out that the main changes will be to the national plans. The reformed law will give more responsibility to the local planning committees (both independent and regional) to approve local plans but with some conditions. And there will be changes to the committees' representatives in a way that completely ignores the Arab citizens.
The first to comment on this law was MK. Dr. Dov Hanin. He stated that the use of the word "reform" to describe this law is misleading, since this law is no less than a "revolution" in the negative sense of the word. This new law is less democratic and less transparent and it doesn’t provide solutions to the social and ecological issues that we are facing toady. Hanin added that this law will increase the suffering of the Arab citizens, and only provides solutions to the rich and powerful by removing any obstacles they might face in order to move forward with their plans on the expense of the average citizen and its quality of life.
MK. Hanin also pointed out that the new law makes the planning system more "efficient" in dealing with house demolitions in the Arab sector without giving the citizens the opportunity to even appeal to a court of law. MK. Hanin called to establish the widest coalition possible against this law. He also called upon the citizens and those who are affected by the law to approach the Interior Committee in the Knesset to present their views and put put pressure on MKs to vote against the law.
MK. Talab Al-Sanaa also commented on this law by saying that land and planning are a central issue, and the solution to solve many problems is a political solution and a political decision and will not be solved by reforming the existing planning and building law. He gave the example of Al-Dahmash neighborhood which is between Lod and Ramlah where authorities punished the citizens doubly: the first for not presenting a structural plan, and the second time by demolishing their homes because they were built illegally. This is similar to what happens in the unrecognized villages in the Negev. MK. Al-Sanaa concluded his comments by affirming that planning doesn’t replace the public struggle.
Ahmed Melhem, Head of the Public Committee for Defending the House and Land in Wadi Aaraa, commented on the law by pointing out the plan to build Harish, a city for Orthodox Jews. He discussed how a special planning committee was formed for this sole matter in order to bypass any bureaucratic obstacles that the project might face, and thus speed up the process of building the city, which is destined to be the fifth largest city in Israel.
Following the comments in the round table session, the floor was opened up for questions and answers, where the audience which consisted of representatives from about 20 institutions and organizations had the opportunity to discuss this law.
The conference concluded with participants recognizing the importance of such a conference and affirmed the need to establish a mechanism for following-up the matter and trying to affect the new law.
At the conclusion of the conference, participants agreed that there is a need to implement a special study day for local authorities, public committees and MKs representatives in order to study the situation, present a complete and thorough vision about this massive reform that is planned, and to think of a strategy to deal with it and advocate MKs to make changes to the law so that it will benefit the Arab citizens.