Friday, July 6, 2012

Double Standards for Jewish and Arab Building - Part IV


by Gil Bringer

This is the final part of a series showing how "reverse discrimination" is applied in Israel, regarding building plans for Jews vs. Arabs. The article was originally published in the "Tzedek" supplement of the Hebrew weekly newspaper Makor Rishon.

Read Part I
here.
Read Part II here.
Read Part III here.
Restitution for a Fine

That any town would hire a supervisor of building who himself violates the building code is almost as absurd as hiring a counselor for a couples workshop who beats his wife. But when it comes to illegal building in the Arab sector, it seems that this matter simply does not interest the authorities. There are thousands of illegal structures and unplanned buildings in almost every local Arab authority and this testifies to the fact that the story of Husisi is perhaps amusing, but definitely not unique. Clearly, not all supervisors are law-breakers, but they're just not interested at all in putting an end to the phenomenon of illegal building. It doesn't interest the local authorities and certainly not the supervisors. Therefore there is no reason to engage the services of any particular supervisor - because no building will be demolished anyway.

The latest report of the national ombudsman revealed an interesting phenomenon that again testifies to the systematic failure of enforcement of the law regarding illegal building. Within the area of the Arabe Council, the following practice has been going on for years: Residents who have broken the laws of building and planning, and who have been fined by the court for violating the law, would then appeal to the committee of municipal tax reductions, and would get a reduction in their tax for the same amount of the fine that was imposed by the court. Needless to say that the reductions were given automatically to those who broke the building laws, without being expected to meet any criteria. A discount in exchange for a fine, with no need for explanations and no need for convincing. This is your right - fined? Get a discount. As if it's obvious that there's no way a person should be fined just for building a structure illegally.

And in keeping with the practice of the committee of municipal tax reductions in Arabe, the council would pay from its own funds the fines that the court imposed on those residents in its domain who broke the building laws. And so, instead of enforcing the law against transgressors, the council actively compensated the transgressors, reimbursing them if they had been fined for committing a misdemeanor. This is how the council has become an active accessory in the commission of building offenses, and actually finances these transgressions of the planning and building laws in its domain.

The Mask of Falsehood

It may be difficult for some to connect the dots between the various phenomena, however there is also someone who sees the whole picture - all of the phenomena regarding the planning and building laws in Arab communities in Israel as well as the connections between them.

Attorney Betzalel Smotrich from the NGO "Regavim" sees Kesari's ruling and the under-enforcement of the building code in the Arab sector as one issue. "There is a clear connection" he says, "between the participation of the authorities themselves in the residents' transgressions and the disregard of the governmental authorities and the wanton policy of planning which, oddly enough, has received legal backing. In recent years, dozens of leftist and Arab organizations have succeeded in instilling a false narrative into the Israeli consciousness, according to which the Arabs are unfortunates who want nothing more than a roof over their heads, and the state authorities are the "evil" ones, who systematically deprive Arab Israelis of their right to decent housing, thus violating numerous Israeli and international laws.

This lie has been repeated so many times in the past few decades that many good people in various walks of life have become convinced that it is true. Once this lie has been accepted, enforcement of the laws of planning and building is no longer a high priority of law and order; it has rather become a moral injustice; having minimal planning requirements as a condition for a building permit is not taken for granted, as it would be in any normal place in the world; rather it is a "continuation of the long-standing discrimination and violation of the right for housing", so collection of the municipal tax becomes not a basic obligation but a cynical attempt to profit at the expense of those who ask for nothing more than a roof over their heads.

Meir Deutsch, Field Coordinator of the NGO Regavim, is not surprised that the police consistently refuse to safeguard actions aimed at enforcing the law. "No one wants to be the bad guy on YouTube clips, the Arab-hater who throws children into the street in the chill of night. It's no wonder that the reports of the national ombudsman, which point up how the Arab authorities are involved in violations of the law and trample all norms of good governance, sit gathering dust on the shelves of some archive. The authorities as well, ignore the situation: they are afraid that people may say that they have something against Arabs, and will accuse them of racism and humiliate them in court. This is the root of the problem, and until it is cut out we will not be able to change the situation. The time has come to tear off the mask of falsehood from the face of Arab society in Israel and to apply the same laws as apply to any other citizen of Israel."

Police Action

Almost everyone that I spoke to complained about the way the police does its work. Even when the other authorities are already acting and earnestly trying to enforce the law to inject a bit of logic into the madness - there is almost no cooperation from the police. A document here, and another document there, from this or that governmental body, and again the same line - "waiting for police backup". And the police, for their part, are really in no hurry to participate in these rare government initiatives.

The truth is that it's fairly clear. The moment that they got used to the reality of non-enforcement - every demolition order, even the most minor one, disables an entire police district. But if we're complaining about the ineffectiveness of the police, we must note also one of the few cases where the police actually did act. This time it took an impressive stand and prevented construction in the early stages.

Ilan Miles had been trying for a long time to set up a farmer's market in the area of Egoz Shopping area, which is located near Nimrod's Castle in the North. In 2009, after about ten years of wandering in the halls of bureaucracy, equipped with all the necessary approvals, Miles requested finally to begin working at the site. But one month after starting the work on preparing the ground, Miles was invited to a meeting with Kamal Munder, who is responsible for the Druze Waqf in the area, for an "introductory meeting" in the Nabi-Hazori site, which is located 70 meters from the area intended for the farmers' market. At this meeting Munder explained to Miles that the idea of setting up a farmers' market is excellent, but he (Miles) is not the one who must set it up, but the Waqf. "If you will not give up your plan", Munder clarified, "The spirit of the Waqf will harm you". It is almost needless to say, but nevertheless for the sake of completing the picture, we must note that instead of the legal structure that Miles was going to build, the structure in Nabi-Hazori was built illegally, and these transgressions of the law were never addressed by the police. But why demolish a structure just when they got to the moment when the police decided to enter into the picture?

After the Druze contractor who had worked with Miles cancelled the contract with him because of threats that he got (not from the spirit of the Waqf, but from the local residents), Miles decided to continue the work using a Jewish contractor that he hired for that purpose. The Druze in the area did not back down, and when the work was renewed, dozens of them gathered, accompanied by local sheikhs, and threatened Miles and the police officers who stood near him that they would burn their vehicles and slaughter 2,000 soldiers whose blood would be spilled all over the place". The police officers who were present were ineffective, and were unable to calm down the commotion. But the police, who until now had been powerless, suddenly became very assertive. Miles was requested to come to a meeting with the commander of the Golan police station. At this meeting the commander told him that because of "intelligence information", Ilan is requested to stop the work. Ilan honored the request and invested his time for the next several months in trying to come to an understanding with the Druze sheikhs. Only after he understood that their only goal was to take over the project without offering any compensation, he decided to assert his rights according to the law. Miles served a complaint at the police station and requested that they would allow him to continue building at the site. In 2010 Miles understood that his appeals to the police would go unanswered and he appealed to the Minister of Interior, and told him that he intends to continue the work. The Minister of the Interior read the letter and decided to call a professional meeting on the subject. The department heads, the head of the Council, heads of the Druze committee and more were invited to this meeting. And all of this was to try to see how it would be possible to come to an agreement that would allow Miles to build, legally, the farmers' market that was intended to serve the local residents. When they did not come to an agreement Miles announced to the police, three weeks ahead of time, that he intended to come to the site and continue the work. A few hours before he was supposed to begin, Miles received a police order that forbade him to continue the work, for his own and his workers protection and to keep the public order. "The work may be continued at a later date", the announcement read, "that will be weighed and suited to the situation". As of today the area that was intended for the farmers' market stands empty. But the illegal buildings that were built in Nabi-Hazori still stand. One law, but two different systems of enforcement. Kesari's message sinks in.

Gil Bringer is an attorney who serves as the legal consultant to the Jewish Home faction in the Knesset and co-editor of the "Tzedek" legal supplement to the Makor Rishon Hebrew weekly newspaper. Among other things, he deals with the areas of overlap between law and politics, Zionism and good governance. He can be contacted at gil.bringer@gmail.com

Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav

Source: "Tzedek" ["Justice"] Supplement of the Makor Rishon weekly Hebrew newspaper

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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