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Law to Keep Jews and Arabs Apart: Apartheid Israel-Style

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The pretty two-storey home with a red-tiled roof built by Adel and Iman Kaadan looks no different from the rows of other houses in Katzir, a small hilltop community in northern Israel close to the West Bank.

But, unlike the other residents of Katzir, the Kaadans moved into their dream home this month only after a 12-year battle through the Israeli courts.

The small victory for the Kaadans, who belong to Israel's Palestinian Arab minority, dealt a big blow to a state policy that for decades has reserved most of the country's land for Jews.

Katzir is one of 695 so-called "co-operative associations", communities mostly established since Israel's creation in 1948, whose chief purpose is to bar non-Jews from residency.

In October, the Israeli parliament moved to enshrine in law the right of these associations, comprising nearly 70 per cent of all communities in Israel, to accept only Jews.

The Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved a private members' bill that will uphold the right of the communities' admissions committees to continue excluding Arab citizens, who make up one-fifth of the population. The bill is expected to pass its final reading in the coming weeks.

Commentators have compared the legislation with South Africa's notorious apartheid laws such as the Group Areas Act. A leading jurist, Mordechai Kremnitzer, of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said the bill gave off the "foul odour of racism".

The legislation, both its supporters and opponents are agreed, is a rearguard action to prevent the possibility that other Arab citizens might be inspired to follow the Kaadans' example.
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Israel Hasson, of the centrist Kadima party, who was among the bill's formulators, said it reflected "the state's commitment to the realisation of the Zionist vision" in Israel. That vision is embodied in a decades-old "Judaisation" programme to settle as many Jews as possible in the heavily Arab-populated north.

Suhad Bishara, a lawyer with the Adalah legal centre for the Arab minority, said that the long-standing practice of using admissions committees to weed out applications from Arab citizens was being given legal standing for the first time.

"This legislation makes clear in very blunt fashion that the thrust of policy in Israel is towards maintaining segregation in housing between Jewish and Arab citizens," she said.

The question of control over land, Ms Bishara said, was felt especially keenly by the Arab minority, because the state had nationalised 93 per cent of all territory inside its recognised borders.

Co-operative associations, which are limited to no more than 500 families each, have jurisdiction over most of the country's habitable land and are regarded by the authorities as a bulwark against an Arab takeover, she said.
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Arab citizens, meanwhile, are largely restricted to living in 124 towns and villages, and control 2.5 per cent of Israel's territory.

Planning and building laws confine the development and expansion of Arab communities, leading to overcrowding. Tens of thousands of Arab families, forced to build in non-zoned areas, live in homes under demolition orders.

Mr Kaadan, 54, a hospital nurse, said he had wanted to move to Katzir to improve his family's quality of life. Baqa al Gharbiyya, an Arab town 10km from Katzir where they previously lived, was densely populated and lacked public services, while the local schools for his five children were underfunded and crumbling.

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www.jonathan-cook.net

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)
 

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