Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Land Use and Home Demolitions in Israel

Land use in Israel is both a symptom and a mechanism of Israeli militarization. Israel's security establishment exercises virtually unchecked control of many, if not all, public resources. In the case of land, however, the virtually unquestioned and unsupervised appropriation of land by the military has also been integral to Israel's still ongoing dispossession of Palestinians. Earmarking huge tracts as designated "for security purposes" has served as a means of criminalizing the presence of the people living on, and off of, these lands. This is one of the major implications of the fact, reported in passing in the following item by Zafrir Rinat, that "the army is going south". In doing so (while exploiting, as the item points out, relative land shortages in heavily populated Jewish areas) the military is once again criminalizing, and undermining subsistence for, a large population of Bedouin from the environs of these new military bases. The hugely disproportionate land use allowed
the "defense forces", accordingly joins the state-created legal maze known as the "Israel Land Administration" (Minhal Mekarke'ei Yisrael), in evicting and dispossessing Arabs, barring them from living on and off of the land, and making most of the land – both in Israel and the occupied territories – available to Jews only. A close look at the matrix of practices, regulations and legal tools allocating lands in Israel reveal a compound of militarization and racism that, in my view, epitomize the nature of the so-called Jewish democracy.

Rela Mazali

As a current example of this phenomena, last week, in the unrecognized village of Wadi Na'am, a unique and environmentally sustainable straw bale mosque which would double as a community center, received a demolition order. Mahmoud Jarbeau, a resident of Wadi Na'am, active duty Israeli soldier, and builder of the mosque, was informed that it will be destroyed on Thursday, November 19th.

Wadi Na'am is located right next to Romat Chovav, the enormous petro-chemical plant referred to in the article. This demolition order is part of an ongoing effort on the part of the Israeli state to reclaim Wadi Na'am's land. However, despite the noxious conditions, the residents refuse to leave unless they receive another piece of land. They refuse to be unwillingly urbanized.

BUSTAN (the organization I work for) and the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages (RCUV) are coordinating an on-site vigil and protest against the demolition. Appended below is the press release, including how to contact officials to protest this demolition.

--Rebecca Vilkomerson



w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m


Last update - 04:27 17/11/2008
How did IDF gain control over half of the country?
By Zafrir Rinat, Haaretz COrrespondent

Some countries have an army, and some armies, like the Israel Defense Forces,have a country. According to a recent study on the defense establishment and land in Israel, various defense bodies lord over half the land. The army tops the list, but they all largely do as they please with respect to planning and development.

The result is that while the rest of the country adopts orderly processes, starting from national and regional master plans, much of the state land remains managed separately. The existence of this kingdom may be essential, but its size and management methods have yet to face serious public scrutiny. The study, "A Land in Khaki: Geographic Dimension of Defense in Israel," was written by geographers Amiram Oren and Rafi Regev and published by Carmel Publishing. Oren has been researching how the defense establishment's activities affect the planning of land use, the environment and the property sector.

In Israel's infancy, they write, the defense establishment built on the foundation of the British army bases. It expanded its land holdings by turning areas into training zones and by building new bases. The Knesset allowed this expansion to proceed practically unfettered. It did set up a planning procedure by committee - whose deliberations were confidential, and whose membership was limited.

After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Israeli defense forces substantially increased, and the army built a great many more installations and training zones. Even after the withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank, it continues to spread out. In addition to the small and medium-sized bases, the defense establishment has several mega bases and operational areas, each covering tens of thousands of dunams, mostly in the south.

Close to 9 million dunams (about one third of Israel's land area and two thirds of the Negev) are used for training and equipment trials. Army bases and training zones occupy a quarter of Judea and Samaria.

The upshot is that over the years, Oren and Regev write, there was no civilian supervision over the size, location and number of regions allocated to the defense establishment. The planning authorities know nothing of the true needs of the defense establishment but tends to approve requests anyway.

Yet in this small, densely populated country, is the army making optimal use of the land? Over the past 20 years, the army has vacated several bases in population centers, to reduce costs - and prevent friction between the army and the civilian population in cities that are expanding toward the army's facilities.

One example of the army's approach to property is the IDF's plan to transfer training facilities at Tzrifin, near Tel Aviv, to a new base being built in the Negev. The new base is beside the Ramat Hovav industrial zone.

The army did everything in its power to oppose the development plans for Tzrifin, and ultimately caused the land to be rezoned from agriculture to urban development. That move boosted the property value of the land, a move the army evidently hoped would at least pay for relocating the gigantic base.

"In this case, one can say unequivocally that the Defense Ministry deviated from the lawmakers' intentions concerning how it might protect army assets," states the new study. "When opposing plans, the defense establishment's motives should be pragmatic, relating to a plan's infringement on a defense installation - and not in order to upgrade a plan."

"A Land in Khaki" also discusses the assumption that Israel is direly short of land. In fact, the researchers say, the defense establishment actually has vast available land resources, and tremendous freedom in its use of that land.

"In keeping with the decisions of the Israeli government," responded a Defense Ministry spokesperson, "the defense establishment operates within the framework of its authority, in coordination with the Israel Lands Administration, the Finance Ministry and other ministries, for the relocation of IDF bases from city centers."

The Open Landscape Institution, which operates under the wing of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, promotes the preservation of open areas. Its latest report on the status of open areas in Israel, published this month, cites the case of Shooting Range 24, south of Rishon Letzion. This land is practically the only natural sandy area in the region.

"The land being vacated should be earmarked for environmental purposes," states the report. But it won't be, because it's going to be developed to finance moving the bases.

The defense establishment also influences land beyond its direct control and can thwart plans by invoking its on special planning status. Usually the army gets antsy about civilian plans next to its installations.

For instance, the defense establishment objects to a commercial company adding floors to a building next to a defense installation in the Dan region. People on the company's upper floors could spy on the army installation, the army argues. A compromise was reached: The wall facing the installation would have no windows and no antennas would be installed above it.

In another instance, the defense establishment objected to a developer building a high-rise apartment building because the top four stories would encroach on the microwave communication band between the Defense Ministry building in Tel Aviv and other army installations.

Again a compromise was found. The building has a communication relay station on its roof, to prevent the disruption of military communication, and IDF technicians have free access.

During the last two decades, as land prices climb, the army has been abandoning the cities, and pressure has mounted on the defense establishment to stop ignoring the planning systems and to coordinate with the planning authorities in zoning. The courts, which have also addressed several motions against the construction of military installations, also urge coordination.

"A Land in Khaki" concludes that in the near future, most training areas will remain their current size. But along the coast, and in high demand areas, military facilities may shrink as the cities expand. The bases will serve as land reserves for urban development.

Anyway, the army is moving south. This study's main recommendation is that the army adapt to the reality of Israeli civilian society, which is in dire need of land. The public is well aware of Israel's security needs, but coordination is possible.

The study also urges change to the anachronistic clauses in the law that give the defense establishment uncontrolled freedom of action.

The amendments should safeguard the needs of the defense establishment and serve transparency, too. In other words, the army will have to prove that it is using the land efficiently and for some genuine need.

The Knesset has already begun this amendment process, but so far no bills have been passed.

Press Release

Contacts: Mahmod Jarbeau at 057-466-2331 (Hebrew, Arabic) —resident of Wadi Na'am, served nine years in the Israeli military, director of the project
Ra'ed Al Mickawi 052-371-1801 (Hebrew, Arabic, English)—Director of BUSTAN
Dr. Yeela Livnat Ra'anan 054-748-7005 (English, Hebrew)—RCUV

Wadi Na'am, Israel-- The first mud and straw-bale built mosque in Israel received demolition orders late last week in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Wadi al Na'am. On Tuesday, Mahmoud Jarbeau, who lives in Wadi Na'am and has served in the Israeli Army for nine years, received notice that the mosque/community center which he is building will be destroyed on Thursday, November 19th.

BUSTAN (www.bustan.org) and the Regional Council for Unrecognized Villages (www.rcuv.net) are coordinating protests against the demolition. Israeli and international volunteers will be on site to protest and witness the demolition if it occurs.

There are 80,000 Bedouin Arabs currently living in 45 unrecognized villages in Israel that lack basic infrastructure, health care, electricity, and water access. Local Bedouins as well as Christian, Muslim, and Jewish volunteers from Israel, the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Africa have contributed to building the mosque over the last four months.

The mosque, which was built with environmentally sustainable materials, cost approximately 140,000 shekels to build, according to Jarbeau. He built the mosque both as a place of worship and as a center for the preservation of Bedouin heritage that is threatened by Israel's policies of forced urbanization, as exemplified by the threatened demolition.

please fax or call the following officials to protest the demolition:

Itzhak HaKohen, the Minister of Religious Service
Fax: 02 6706157. izchakec@knesset.gov.il

Meir Shitrit, the Minister of Interior
Fax: 02 6408920. mshitrit@knesset.gov.il

Zeev Boim, the Minster of Housing and Construction, and Minister responsible for the Israeli Land Authority, and the Bedouin Minority.
Fax: 02-6496062. zaevb@knesset.gov.il


Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
Jewish Peace News archive and blog: http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com
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