Around 70 per cent of all towns within Israel — Palestinian land occupied since 1948 — are “for Jews only”; the state’s Arab citizens are banned from living therein. This has been the sustained policy since the establishment of the State of Israel on Palestinian land. The means and methods may have changed, but Israel’s goal has not; establishing “Arab-free” towns, which are solely for those who have Jewish ethnicity, is the official intention. This is no ordinary discrimination in favour of one group of citizens; this is Apartheid itself. Despite this obvious fact, it is an issue which the international community would rather not address and so Israel continues to get away with it.
The so-called Israel Land Authority manages 94 per cent of the 1948 Palestinian lands on behalf of three main “owners”: First, the State of Israel, which claims ownership of 69 per cent of the 1948 land that was inherited from the British Mandate Government, seized because it was alleged that it had no owners or was simply confiscated. The second “owner” is the Development Authority, which lays claim to 12 per cent of the land that was handed over by the protector of properties belonging to “absentees”; in other words, properties that belong to ethnically-cleansed Palestinians. The third is the Jewish National Fund, which “owns” 13 per cent of the land. A small percentage of the JNF land was seized or purchased by the fund prior to the creation of the State of Israel. However, most consists of land that belonged to Palestinians driven from their homes in 1948 which was then given to the JNF as a gift by the government of Israel after the state was established, as part of what is known as the first million deal and the second million deal.
JNF land is used for the benefit of Jews only; for building Jew-only towns; and for the implementation of Judaisation projects. When land is said to be owned by the Jewish National Fund, the Israel Land Authority explicitly designates such land as Jew-only property, one that cannot be sold or leased to those who are not Jewish. This is based on the claim that the Jewish National Fund is a “private company” whose statute prohibits the sale or lease of its own lands to those who are not Jews. Furthermore, when the land is said to belong to the State of Israel or the Development Authority, the Israel Land Authority resorts to devious and deceptive means in order to achieve the same objective.
In 1995, the Qaadan family from Baqah Al-Gharbiyah applied to buy a plot of land to build a house in the neighbouring town of Katsir. The response was explicit. The family was told it could not own the land because they are Arabs and because no Jewish blood flows in their veins. When the family demanded an explanation from the Israel Land Authority, it turned out that the land on which Katsir was established was “state land” that had been leased for 99 years to “the Jewish Agency for the Land of Israel”, which in turn had concluded a deal with the Katsir Cooperative according to which only members of this organisation could live in the town.
The Arab Qaadan family had no chance of succeeding in the attempt to live in Katsir. The Cooperative refuses to accept Arab members and the Jewish Agency refuses to lease land to those who are not Jews under the pretext that its statute bans it from doing so. It is in just such a fascist way that Israel succeeded in setting up hundreds of Jew-only towns inside the land of Palestine occupied since 1948. Nevertheless, the Qaadan family did not give up and took its case to the High Court of Justice. As often happens in such cases, after many years of stalling the court ruled that it was illegal to turn down the Qaadan’s application on racial grounds.
It was unthinkable that the Israeli establishment would change its policy and open the door for Arab citizens to live on an equal footing inside towns like Katsir. As such, it was somewhat expected that the authorities would seek ever more spiteful and deceitful tactics in the pursuit of the same policy. This came in a form of a new decision made by the management of the Israel Land Authority on 1 August 2004, bearing reference number 1015. This decreed the establishment of “approval committees” within towns that are inhabited by up to 500 families, as well as within agricultural towns. The committees have the mandate to decide who to reject and who to accept from among the applicants for a place of residence in their towns. Each committee has five members. In agricultural towns, the cooperative itself decides the identity of the approval committee members. In the other towns, the membership includes a representative of the Jewish Agency or the Zionist Histadrut (trade union), a senior official from the Housing Ministry, a representative of the cooperative, a representative of the provincial council and a representative of the settlement movements.
Decision number 1015 subjects 838 towns — that’s 70 per cent of all towns within Israel — to approval committees. These towns and their provincial councils control 81 per cent of the state land, which means that Arabs are kept out of these towns and swathes of land are restricted to Jews only. These committees are not professionally qualified to examine the eligibility of candidates who apply for residence. It is no coincidence that they have not approved a single Arab family for residence anywhere. After all, their task, first and foremost, is to slam the door shut in the face of Arab families.
And that’s not all. When the territory of a certain town includes Arab-owned land, residence in this part of the territory is declared to be prohibited and the land is usually designated as “bush” or “agricultural land”, but certainly not somewhere where Arabs are allowed to live. The Israel Land Authority will do its best to swap such land. If it can’t, it will resort to threats against the land’s Arab owners that it might be confiscated from them.
In 2006, the Zbaidat family from Sakhnin applied for residence within the town of Rakifet, which belongs to the Provincial Council of Mesgaf. The Rakifet approval committee, as expected, rejected the application submitted by the Arab family in a decision that can only be described as racist. The Zbaidat family also submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice in 2007, which condemned as racist and a violation of basic human rights the decision of the approval committee to reject its application, and criticised the decision of the Israel Land Authority to grant approval committees the authority to deny Arab citizens access to 70 per cent of the country’s towns.
In 2011, and after the High Court had made its observations about the illegitimacy of decision 1015 and the amendments that followed, the Israeli government took a pre-emptive step by preparing a draft bill entitled “Amending Cooperatives Law (no. 8) – the approval committees”. In this way, the government legitimised the approval committees and bestowed upon them legal status. Afterwards, Adalah Centre — the legal group for the rights of the Arab minority in Israel — submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice appealing against this amendment. However, in 2014 the High Court rejected the petition and declared that the law which aims to implement what is to all intents and purposes an Apartheid project is constitutional.
What goes on inside Israel — 1948 Palestine as was — is not just discrimination against a segment of the country’s own citizens; it is also the implementation of a distinctly Apartheid project. “Apartheid Israel” is not just another political slogan; it is the daily reality of life in the Zionist state.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.