The plight of Israel’s unrecognized villages

Published October 11th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

In November 1999, a petition was made to Israel’s High Court of Justice by Adalah, a body which protects legal rights of Israel’s Arab minority. The aim of the petition was to correct what appeared to be a distortion of an official development plan for the Northern Galilee village of Kammaneh.  


The plan, which was proposed by the National Council of Planning, declared that Kammaneh consisted of two unconnected neighborhoods—West Kammaneh and East Kammaneh. But on the ground they were connected by a third neighborhood—Al-Jelasi. However, Al-Jelasi is not recognized by the authorities, and as such it does not have any schools, adequate water and electricity supply or sewage systems. 


In its petition, Adalah's argued that the development plan was illegal. By ignoring the existence of Al-Jelasi it condemned its residents to a life without basic services, in contravention of Israel’s Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom 


Kammaneh traces its history back to the early 1800s, when Bedouin first settled the area. The first stone houses were built in the early 1930s, five in East Kammaneh, and three each in Al-Jelasi and West Kammaneh.  


But trouble began in 1965, with the Knesset’s passing of the Planning and Construction Law, which created a state planning system, from the local to the national level, zoning all land in Israel as residential, industrial, and agricultural or nature reserve. The law was retroactive, and with bureaucratic anonymity the land under Kammaneh was zoned agricultural. This made all its buildings illegal. 


This move was in stark contrast to a policy practiced in the 1970s, during a drive to increase the number of Jewish residents of the Galilee. Then, hilltop Jewish settlements, called mitzpim, were built on land zoned agricultural, and then retroactively recognized by the government. To such settlements were established near Kammaneh. 


In 1995, during the period of time that Yitzchak Rabin served as Israel’s prime minister, the village of Kammaneh was recognized as official. But until such time that an official plan was okayed by the various planning authorities, "illegal" buildings could still be demolished and no public infrastructure can be built. The plan approved by the Regional Planning Authority, and upheld by the National Council of Planning in February of 1999, recognized only East and West Kammaneh, but continued to consider the Al-Jelasi neighborhood as illegal.  


The majority of housing demolitions in Israel occur within the in the unrecognized villages that are home to more than 50,000 Arabs in the Negev and 10,000 Arabs. Most are Bedouin. 


In 1967, the Israeli government adopted a plan to “solve” the problem, creating seven Bedouin development towns. But the compensation provided to the inhabitants of the illegal villages insufficient to purchase land and finish a home in the new towns. Consequently, more than half of the people decided to remain in the unrecognized settlements. 


In the late 1970s, the Israeli Planning and Building department began demolishing houses in unrecognized villages. This process was intensified after the establishment of the Markovitz Commission in 1985, which ruled that more than 10,000 homes should be razed to the ground. Furthermore, the commission stated that houses marked for demolition could not be maintained, repaired, inherited, or connected with municipal services. It also recommended that a special government unit be established to destroy unlicensed buildings, without having to obtain court orders. 


In practice though, and largely because of prolonged legal action, many of the illegal homes are still standing. However, more than 100 unrecognized villages are located throughout the country, and the conditions inside them are generally pitiful. In one of the most modern countries in the Middle East, there is no electricity, no running water, no schools, no paved roads and no sanitary sewage facilities. New construction is illegal—even the installation of toilets. The villagers live in constant fear of the regional building inspectors, who use aerial photographs to reveal new construction. - (Albawaba-MEBG)

© 2000 Mena Report (

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