Israeli government’s pre-state land legacy still keeps Arabs out

Published October 15th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Housing, or the lack of it, is one of the most volatile issues in Israel’s Arab community, with almost all all of the residential land in the country’s Arab villages already been built up. Yet the Israeli Lands Administration, which officially owns but all of 7 percent of the land in Israel, has been reluctant to release land for use by Arabs, and in fact is sometimes legally prevented from doing so. Why is that? Because of a legacy that even precedes the creation of the administration. 


The Zionist movement was about 50 years old, when on May 14, 1948, Israel came into being. In the years since its founding, it had created a number of powerful organs, several of which has taken on the appearance of quasi-governmental organizations. And when the state was declared, these organs were not dismantled. Indeed they took on responsibilities that, ordinarily, one would have expected to be carried out by the government. And, because they specifically were committed to Jewish settlement, their official role in the life of the country proved to be an obstacle to the equal development of Israel’s Arab citizens. 


The organizations in question were are the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund (JNF).In 1952, legislation was passed that entrusted the Jewish Agency with the planning and funding of new settlements, including projects necessary to create a new settlement, such as access roads, public buildings, and the connection of settlements to the national electricity and water grid. There is no parallel governmental authority that looks out for the interests of Israel’s non-Jewish population the population. Unsurprisingly, since 1948 there have been no new Arab settlements established in the country. 


Founded in 1901, the Jewish National Fund was created to purchase land in Palestine, which would then be held, according to its charter, as the "perpetual property of the Jewish people." Some 47 years later,by the time Israel was created, it held 12.5 percent of the country’ land. In the early 1960s, Israel Lands Administration was set up, and it assumed nominal control over JNF territory. But it agreed to abide by the JNF's specific mandate for those lands. What this means, is that JNF lands now under Israeli government control cannot be leased to non-Jews.  


The demarcation between the Israel Lands Administration and the JNF is often indistinct. The JNF nominates six of the 13 members of the administration’s board, with the seven directors being nominated by the government itself. This state of affairs was criticized in 1998 by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Economic Rights, which ommented that "a state party cannot divest itself of its obligations under the covenant by privatising government functions."  


Even the Israeli government has admitted that the involvement in state affairs of organizations affiliated to the World Zionist Orgnization has created an economic bias against the country’s non-Jewish population. An official report in 1998, which related to implementation of civil rights in the country, stated that "in several areas of law and practice…[including] the residential development activities of the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund, and elsewhere, the State distinguishes between Jewish and non-Jewish populations in different ways that derive from Israel's fundamental identity as a Jewish state.” 


In recent years, Arab members of the Israeli Knesset have attempted to remedy the situation, introducing two bills that propose to do away with the special status of non-governmental, organizations, such as the Jewish Agency or the Jewish National Fund. But political commentators believe they have little chance of being ratified. 

© 2000 Mena Report (

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