Preface: The modern State of Israel was founded on the ideology of Zionism. Zionism holds Jewish settlement in Israel as one its highest goals and achievements. The new Yishuv (see Glossary of Terms, subsequently referred to as GoT) were referred to as “pioneers” whose primary function was to “redeem the land” of Israel for future Jewish settlement. Zionist rhetoric, which refers to Israel as “the Holy Land” and Jewish immigration as Aliyah (“Ascension” in Hebrew), aims to tie Jewish identity to the land of Israel in an essential process of nation building. Therefore, settlement and control of the land in the modern state of Israel is a crucial part of the Zionist project of creating an Israeli national identity.
A Brief History of Land Acquisition by the Israeli Government
Since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the Palestinian Arab community has been denied basic rights to land, housing, and planning. After the 1948 War, which resulted in Israel’s independence and the Palestinian Nakba (GoT), the young Israeli government found itself in an uncomfortable predicament. While the State of Israel was meant to be a “Jewish state,” Jews only owned 7-8% of the land. The government began to quickly enact policies that sought to legally transfer Palestinian land to Jewish control. In 1950, the government enacted the Absentees’ Property Law, which defined persons who were expelled or fled between 1948 and 1952 as “absentees,” regardless of whether they were living as refugees in another country, or as “internal refugees” (GoT) within Israel. Therefore, all property belonging to absentees, including land, dwellings and bank accounts, was expropriated by the government. “Abandoned” houses left by Palestinian refugees were either demolished by the Israeli Land Administration (ILA) to “clear” the country for new settlements or used to house Jewish immigrants. Additionally, The Land Acquisition Law (1953) allowed for the government expropriation of an additional 1.2-1.3 million dunams (GoT) of land from 349 Arab towns and villages for “essential development and settlement needs.” Much of the confiscated land was used to build new Jewish settlements and towns. Additionally, the state took control of all Muslim Waqfs, which include Muslim mosques and cemeteries, as well as thousands of dunams of surrounding land for shops that were once used as charitable income for the Muslim community. These policies were clearly part of a larger plan for “Judaization” and “De-Arabization.” Moreover, the government expropriated 20,000 dunams from Arab locales in 1976 and 500 dunams in 1998. These policies led to the current situation in Israel in which the State owns 93% of the land while Palestinian Arab citizens own only 3.5%.
How Israeli State Land is Managed: the ILA and the JNF
The large majority of the land in Israel is managed by a governmental body called the Israeli Land Administration (ILA). Until recently, a law dictated that 50% of the seats on the ILA’s board of directors must be members of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The JNF is a semi-private organization whose mandate is to buy land and distribute land solely to the Jewish people. It is “semi-private” due to its intimate relationship with the ILA. Not only does it have an abnormally high percentage of members as ILA decision-makers, but the JNF also owns 13% of State lands. These lands are in the highest demand due to their locations in fertile farming areas and large cities. In 2005, three human rights groups, including the Mossawa Center, filed suit against the ILA for supporting the JNF, which clearly discriminates against Arab citizens in its land policies. Israel’s Attorney General, Menachem Mazuz, ruled in favor of the human rights groups, stating that as a state body, the ILA is obligated to market JNF lands to non-Jews as well. Unfortunately, the Attorney General also ruled that when the ILA sells a piece of JNF land to non-Jews, the ILA must reimburse the JNF for an equal amount of land. This ruling allows the JNF to keep its current hold over 13% of Israel’s land. Furthermore, in 2009, the State emphasized its support for the JNF by signing a Principles of Agreement, which outlined legal land swaps between the two parties. The contract states that the JNF will transfer to the State all the lands it has rented to third parties for housing or employment in exchange for State lands in the Galilee and Negev regions, which are “available and unplanned” (around Palestinian Arab towns, which inadvertently restricts their growth). Thus, while the ILA and the JNF are separate bodies in name, they are closely linked in practice. The Israeli government, which is meant to represent all of its citizens, regardless of ethnicity, should denounce the JNF for its discriminatory land polices. Instead, the government supports the JNF through granting it land swaps and disproportionate representation in land governing bodies.
The Harsh Reality for Palestinian Arab localities in Israel
The Israeli government discriminates against the Palestinian Arab community through the amount of land allocated for housing, as well as through the way existing towns and villages are dealt with. For example, while many Jewish towns are planned on a regular basis and provided with public housing units, most Arab towns do not have approved master plans and are denied assistance programs like the ones provided in Jewish areas. Additionally, the Palestinian Arab minority has increased in size seven-fold since 1948 and the government has yet to create one new Arab city. Renting apartments in mixed cities is also a problem; there are no formal regulations for rental contracts and in many cases, landlords can evict tenants without warning. This feeds into existing racial discrimination.
Because of these reasons, many Palestinian Arab localities in Israel are extremely overcrowded. In 2008, the average housing density for Arab housing was 1.43 persons per room, compared to 0.84 persons per room for Jewish housing. Without adequate planning and government services, Palestinian Arab citizens are often forced to build houses on land without permits. For instance, 48 Arab municipalities have plans for new neighborhoods, which include 45,395 new housing units. Due to a lack of government approval for these plans, more than 36,000 houses in Arab municipalities are built “illegally.” Instead of seeking solutions to the housing crisis in the Palestinian Arab community, the Israeli government has turned to home demolitions. This policy has been prevalent in the occupied territories for decades. In 2009, 165 Arab Palestinian citizens’ homes and buildings were bulldozed on government orders. 134 were from unrecognized villages in the Negev (see Negev section for more details) and 18 were from the North and the Triangle regions. In the past year, home demolitions in the Triangle area increased dramatically, especially in the mixed cities of Ramle and Lod. While the international community has continuously condemned the Israeli house demolitions in the occupied Palestinian territories, many continue to be blind to that fact that State uses the same policy on its own citizens.
One common question is why Palestinian Arab citizens don’t try to live in predominately Jewish localities that have superior sources of funding and services from the government. The answer to this question involves a variety of factors, including social racial discrimination and racial discrimination on a systematic, governmental level. For example, one major contributing factor to this phenomenon is the recent Admissions Committees Law passed by the Israeli Knesset. This law, which functions in 695 agricultural communities in 69% of towns and 85% of villages, allows community selection committees to reject applications for residency based on an applicant’s “social unsuitability.” The law is so vague about what “social unsuitability” entails that many communities have already interpreted it to mean citizens who do not have Zionist values or do not support the “Zionist vision.” Obviously, these measures are taken in order to exclude Palestinian Arabs from living in Jewish communities. Under these difficult circumstances, many Palestinian Arab citizens feel that it is futile to apply to live in Jewish localities.
Oren Yiftachel, “Ethnocracy: The Politics of Judaizing Israel/Palestine,” Constellations 1999: 9.
Aron Shai, “The Fate of Abandoned Arab Villages in Israel, 1965-1969,” History & Memory 2006: 90.
The Mossawa Center, “The Palestinian Arab Citizens of Israel: Status, Opportunities and Challenges for an Israeli-Palestinian Peace,” 2006 <http://mossawacenter.org/files/files/File/The%20Palestinian%20Arab%20Citizens%20of%20Israel_Status...2006.pdf>: 22.
Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, “The Inequality Report,” 2011<http://www.adalah.org/upfiles/2011/Adalah_The_Inequality_Report_March_2011.pdf>: 31.
 Arab Association of Human Rights (HRA), “Sanctity Denied: The Destruction and Abuse of 252 Muslim and Christian Holy Places in Israel,” 2004 < http://www.arabhra.org/hra/Pages/PopupTemplatePage.aspx?PopupTemplate=139>: Section A.
Yossi Yonah and Ishak Saporta, “The Politics of Land and Housing in Israel: A Wayward Republican Discourse,” Social Identities 2002: 9.
The Mossawa Center, 8.
The Mossawa Center, 23.
The Mossawa Center, 23.
The Mossawa Center, 23.
 The Mossawa Center, One Year..., 31-32.
ACRI: The Associated for Civil Rights in Israel, “Shadow Report to UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” 2011 <http://www.acri.org.il/en/2011/11/02/acris-shadow-report-to-un-committee-on-economic-and-social-rights/>: 13-14.
The Mossawa Center, “The Mossawa Center Analysis of the Government State Budget 2012,” <http://mossawacenter.org/files/files/File/Publications/TheMossawaCenterAnalysisoftheGovernmentStateBudget2012.pdf>: 1.
ACAP: The Arab Center for Alternative Planning, “165 Buildings Owned by Arabs Were Demolished in 2009,” 2010 <http://www.ac-ap.org/194916/165-Buildings-Owned-by-Arabs-Were-Demolished-in-2009>.