Tuesday, May 12, 2020

  • Tuesday, May 12, 2020
  • Elder of Ziyon
Human Rights Watch issued a new report, Israel: Discriminatory Land Policies Hem in Palestinians: Palestinian Towns Squeezed While Jewish Towns Grow. 



As usual with HRW, it plays fast and loose with the facts to make Israel appear to be monstrous. 

It starts off with

 The Israeli government’s policy of boxing in Palestinian communities extends beyond the West Bank and Gaza to Palestinian towns and villages inside Israel, Human Rights Watch said today. The policy discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel and in favor of Jewish citizens, sharply restricting Palestinians’ access to land for housing to accommodate natural population growth.

Decades of land confiscations and discriminatory planning policies have confined many Palestinian citizens to densely populated towns and villages that have little room to expand.

Notice that HRW refers to Israeli Arabs as "Palestinians." As Daled Amos recently showed, the majority of Israeli Arabs do not identify as Palestinian. If anything, HRW is trying to place an artificial distinction between two sets of Israeli citizens more than they accuse Israel of doing!

While the issue of land use in Israel is very complex, and there has been validity to the charge of Israel showing a preference for growth in Jewish communities over the decades, Israel has recently been addressing the issue and putting enormous amounts of time and effort into solving the problem. HRW glosses over, minimizes and ignores these efforts. By saying at the outset, as a fact, that Israel is "boxing in" its Arab communities, HRW is lying, as we will see below.

Another indication of bias comes from this paragraph:
Palestinian citizens of Israel constitute 21 percent of the country’s population, but Israeli and Palestinian rights groups estimated in 2017 that less than 3 percent of all land in Israel falls under the jurisdiction of Palestinian municipalities
The implication is that Arabs are allocated only one seventh of the land they should have by their population.

However, one cannot compare the land of Arab municipalities with the total land of Israel - because most of the land in Israel is not part of any municipality, Jewish or Arab. Only about 6400 of Israel's 22,000 square kilometers is urban. Which means that the actual percentage of municipal land dedicated to Arab-only towns is over 10%. Furthermore, many Arabs live in "mixed" towns like Lod or Jerusalem or Acre or Haifa making this statistic an even less accurate metric of reality since they aren't "hemmed in" at all and can build and buy real estate exactly like their Jewish neighbors. Additionally, tens of thousands of Bedouin in the Negev do not live in any municipality at all. 

By using the 3% figure, HRW is distorting the truth by an order of magnitude. 

The bias continues:

Jisr al-Zarqa, between Netanya and Haifa in northwest Israel, is the only Palestinian town in Israel on the Mediterranean coast. Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics lists its population as 14,700. Jisr al-Zarqa, a local council in the Haifa District with a size of about 1,600 dunams, is one of Israel’s poorest towns, with about 80 percent of residents living below the poverty line.

Policies of Israeli governments and institutions under the British mandate dating back almost a century have effectively boxed in its residents. In the early 1920s, the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, drained the swamps, from which local residents derived their livelihood herding buffalos and weaving reed mats, to make room for new Jewish settlements. Residents say they ended with roughly their current plot of land, far less than they had historically lived on.
Again, one can make an argument that Israel hasn't treated the Arabs fairly - but to say that ridding the country of malaria is a bad thing is a fairly ridiculous argument. And it isn't like the Zionists controlled the land in the 1920s; the British were who moved the residents so the swamps could be drained, which is the sort of thing governments do all the time when people are living in a dangerous area. It was the British who decided how much land the residents would have, not the Jews. HRW says none of this.

HRW included an appendix with a letter from the Israel Planning Administration which listed in great detail what Israel was doing in recent years to help Arab residents achieve equality with Jews in regard to land use. Specifically for Jisr al Zarqa, it says:
The plan allocates new development areas, some west of the built-up areas within the municipal boundaries and some east of Road No. 2 and outside the municipal jurisdiction, on land that belongs to the Beit Hanania moshav community. In answer to your question, the added development areas in the west necessitated the advancement of planning measures for zoning changes of “green” areas (a national park, a landscape conservation area, and agricultural land), which are approved as part of national masterplans, to allow residential use on state land for the purpose of developing new residential neighborhoods. The zoning changes were approved by the National Planning and Building Council Subcommittee.
This undermines the entire thrust of HRW's report - the Israel government is not only allocating state land to this community, it is taking land away from a Jewish moshav to give to the Arabs of Jisr al Zarqa.

So when HRW says Israel is "boxing in" Arab communities, it is flatly lying. 

The IPA lists everything it has been doing over the past few years:

Of the 132 Arab communities, 119 have current master plans that have been approved, are in the approval process, or are in preparation. These plans cover some 96% of the total population of these communities. The plans form a planning framework that encompasses the entire area of the community and determines zoning distribution for the coming decades as well as future development trajectories (residential, employment, tourism, public buildings, open public spaces and more), and they are made in a process that includes public involvement and participation. 

These plans are complex and intricate, given the unique features of Arab communities, which are related to the structure of land ownership: Most of the land in these communities is privately owned, with few landowners in possession of a great deal of land (Some 20% in possession of some 80% of the land). 

 As a result of this, there are many unutilized agricultural enclaves. In addition, there is a short supply of land for public use, partly due to the inability of local authorities to utilize land for public purposes and authorize infrastructure on privately owned land. Most existing construction is in the ineffective form of diffused single-family dwellings. This precludes large-scale solutions for young couples and features multi-generational construction implemented over the years while forcing the authorities to deliver infrastructure over an expansive area, which constitutes both a financial and operational burden. All of this takes place in tandem with large-scale unregulated construction and challenging topographic conditions, particularly in communities in the Galilee. 

The comprehensive plans promoted by the Planning Administration, as detailed above, address these issues on several planes: First, the plans recognize thousands of existing housing units, including ones located at a significant distance from the area approved for development. Second, the planning process includes great efforts to locate state-owned land that would allow both large-scale construction of housing units in order to provide solutions for individuals in need of housing, as well as the allocation of core public spaces needed for these additional housing units and as compensation for shortages in the older core. State-owned land is sometimes located at some distance from the existing community, with agricultural enclaves in between. These lands are included in the new development zones in order to produce a compact urban structure that is not detached from the urban tissue. The result of these measures is masterplans that include new areas for development on an extremely extensive scale, and are suited to contain a number of housing units far exceeding the programmatic and demographic needs of the community, as required by projected natural growth and internal migration over the coming decades. Some of the plans include vast development areas reaching beyond the jurisdiction of these communities. These plans bridge the gaps of the past and provide infrastructure for growth over the extended long term, while taking into consideration construction practices characteristic of privately owned land. All of this is in contrast to the compact high-density planning that is characteristic of planning in the Jewish sector.
HRW breezily dismisses this entire letter by saying, 
in 2019, the Israeli group “Bimkom: Planners for Planning Rights” noted an increase in planning activity in Palestinian towns, including steps to allow for more housing construction, but observed that the housing shortage in Palestinian municipalities would continue without the state allocating them more state land.
This is a far cry from "boxing in." This is saying that Israel is trying to accommodate all its citizens and some interest groups are complaining that it is not enough. 

HRW knows that no reporter is going to go past the first paragraphs of the report that accuses Israel of wholesale crimes against its Arab citizens and read the details and appendix that show that the situation is far more complex and that Israel is investing enormous resources into fixing the issue. Because HRW isn't interested in telling the truth, but in pushing an anti-Israel agenda.

As always.






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