The Keshet Forum
There exists in Israel an extreme distortion and inequality in the distribution of land between the communal and rural sector comprising regional councils, and the other forms of settlement (local authorities, municipalities, development towns, Arab settlements etc.). This distortion stands out especially considering the fact that while the majority of the country’s population lives in urban areas (more than 70%), the Jewish regional councils control about 80% of the country’s land . These lands are not only valuable agricultural areas but also industrial areas housing many industries, including the Dead Sea Works, power stations and other entities with high taxation potential (Blank, 2003; Razin & Hassan, 2003). This means that those regional council maintain an almost total control over land reserves in Israel and over areas with the highest tax potential.
This unjust division is the result of a discriminating and non egalitarian planning policy which existed since the early days of the State of Israel. This policy especially influences the weaker groups in Israel’s society: Mizrhaim, Arabs, new immigrants. As to the Arabs, it is a clear case of declared policy of the Government of Israel aiming to render the Arabic sector fully controlled by Jewish society and hence to forestall independent Arabic economic development. In the development towns it is a case of continuing the historic trends according to which development towns are meant to absorb new immigrants only while livelihood may be found in the neighboring cities (Blank, 2003). This unequal historical and ideological division created ever growing social and economic imparity between Arabs and Orientals who live in development towns and peripheral areas and the regional councils and the neighboring cities.
This inequality in land distribution has worsened, especially during the last decade, as a result of intensified development which began during the early 90’s due to the mass immigration from the Commonwealth of Independent States (former Soviet Union). In order to provide dwelling and employment solutions the Israel Land Council, the legal body responsible for formulating land policy in Israel, enabled land earmarked for agriculture to be changed to development areas in the regional councils (resolutions 717, 727, 737). As a result, most of the industrial and commercial areas established since the mid 90’s were built on agricultural land within the boundaries of the regional councils. On the other hand, the immigrants were housed mainly in the cities (especially in the south). These cities provide most of the manpower to the above mentioned industrial areas, but are not entitled to their share of the taxation paid by them. This policy increased and intensified the social and economic polarization in Israel and continued the same discriminating planning policy set down by former Israeli governments.
The proposed change is especially essential during the present period of economic difficulties affecting many local authorities, especially those planning to expand their boundaries and develop their industrial areas. An extreme expression of the above mentioned inequality is the fact the many local authorities, both Jewish and Arab, most of whose inhabitants are of a low social-economic level, suffer from grave budgetary deficits and have been unable even to pay salaries to their employees for over half a year (such as: Lod municipality, Kiriat Malachi, Arabe, Sachnin, etc.). This situation will grow worse unless the Government steps in and changes the income function of the local authorities and enable the development of commerce and industry areas or a change the method of property tax collection on commerce and industry areas among the local authorities and regional councils and in different parts of the country, mainly in the south and in the north.
The project will operate throughout the country in development towns and Arab villages inhabited mainly by population of lower socio-economic strata, comprising Israeli Palestinians, second and third generation Jews of North African and Asian origins (Mizrahim) and new immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.
- Increasing public awareness regarding the issue of unequal distribution of land uses.
- Mobilization of various bodies such as local authorities, social organizations and the public at large, on the local level, to the struggle aiming at bringing about legislation that insures “standards for civil equality and just distribution of land use”.
- Initiating change and introducing “standards for civil equality and just distribution of land use” that will lead to a more democratic and equal society, based on equality and just distribution among the different sectors of the population, to social mobility, to egalitarian democracy, and to minimizing social and economic differences between Jews and Arabs, Mizrahi Jews and Ashkenazi Jews (Jews of European and American backgrounds), new immigrants and veterans, center and periphery of Israeli society.
- Economic strengthening of local authorities in the periphery of the State of Israel, inhabited mainly by Mizrahi Jews, new immigrants and Arabs. This economic strengthening will enable the local authorities in those towns and villages to significantly improve the variety of public services provided by them to the inhabitants (education, culture, health etc.). Such services, especially raising the level of education and culture in the towns, are tools for social mobility and a life buoy for populations that are in a very low social-economic level, expanding and building industrial and commercial centers in those towns will help find solutions to the severe unemployment problem and provided many and varied jobs for the residents.
The project has three target groups:
· The weaker populations in Israeli society (Mizrahi Jews, Arabs, new immigrants in development towns and Arab towns and villages) who will be the main beneficiaries of the "standard"’s influence on their economic, social, educational, etc., situation.
· The local authorities in the towns and villages whose situation will improve and will be able to sustain themselves.
· Social change organizations, heads of local authorities, the Union of Local Authorities, who are the intermediaries.
The law will reduce social and economic imparity in Israeli society and bring about a more democratic, egalitarian and just way of allocating public resources. It will reduce social and economic imparities between Jews and Arabs, new immigrants and veteran citizens, Mizrahim and Ashkenazim, center and periphery, and economic strengthening of the weaker parts of the population.
Indicators envisaged to quantify results
Indicators for the Project’s success:
a) Making the subject part of the national agenda through the written and electronic media.
b) The enforcement of the “Standard for civil equality and just distribution of land use” in land distribution by the planning authorities.
c) Improvement in the social and economic status of local authorities and residents of periphery areas in Israeli society.
d) Strengthening of the weaker residents through improvement of the economic basis of the town and enhancement of the level of education and culture and employment opportunities in the local authorities.
High Court of Justice Land Ruling (244/00(
In January 2000 Hakeshet Hademokratit Hamizrahit appealed to the High Court of Justice requesting the cancellation of three decisions made by the Israel Land Council (decisions 717, 727,737) dealing with changing the status of agricultural land for the development of industry, commerce and housing. Hakeshet claimed that these decisions contradict the principles of just distribution and social equality which are the basis of each and every public body in a democratic country. These decisions make it possible for a small public, the agricultural sector comprising only 3% of the county’s population, to gain economic advantages to the tune of tens of billions of NIS for land which belongs the entire public. The Hakeshet stressed that these benefits are damaging to the weakened and perpetuate their discrimination.
In August 2002 the High Court of Justice handed down a precedential decision of far reaching historical importance accepting the claims of the Hakeshet (HCJ 00/244). The Court decided that the decisions which were the object of the appeal awarded exaggerated and unjust benefits to certain sectors (the agricultural sector) and are therefor null and void because of extreme unreasonability and impingement of the principles of just distribution. The Court also ruled that the Israel Land Council, as the trustee of the public, must manage the country’s land while safeguarding the public’s interests in it, including protecting the land for the benefit of the public including the necessity to avoid the granting of unjustified benefits in the land to others. The Court added that the Israel Land Council must act in an egalitarian manner and be guided by just distribution considerations, especially when one considers a limited and highly valuable resource such as land. The prcedential and historic victory in the High Court of Justice opened a new era in the public debate on land policy in the State of Israel.