Activists: Housing problem is far worse in Arab sector

Galilee Society NGO says housing issues have been a concern for the Arab sector for years but received scant media coverage.

July 21, 2011 18:38
4 minute read.
Tel Aviv housing prices tent protest

Tel Aviv housing prices tent protest 58. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

The tent city rent protests that have spread across the country – and seized the headlines – have hardly seen any activists from the Arab sector, which makes up some 20 percent of the population.

According to community activists, the housing crisis in the Arab sector is significantly worse than that among Israeli Jews, but is caused by factors completely unrelated to those bringing the crowds to the tent cities.

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Dr. Anaya Bana of the Eilaboun-based Arab Center for Alternative Planning said that so far all the demands of the rent protests “are things that are not that relevant to the Arab sector. In Arab villages, the building is very different, and our desires are different.”

She also said that since most of the land in the Arab sector is privately owned, it is very difficult for the state to free up land for building projects.

Bana said that public housing only exists in a few cities such as Nazareth and Tarshiha, and that the paucity of building permits severely hedge in Arab communities.

“All of the concepts facing us are different. Those who don’t own land that is zoned for building have nowhere to go. So there is a much more serious problem [in the Arab sector]. It’s not just about the real estate prices, its about the fact that there isn’t anywhere for people to go.”

She added, “If I live in Majdal Krum, I can’t just go and live in the moshavim next door, they won’t accept me. The issue of where to go is hard. All of the people can choose to live somewhere else, but where can they go?” Bana also said there aren’t that many building projects or residential buildings going up, describing new construction in the Arab sector as mainly being that of families building houses on privately owned land. Those who don’t own their own land find themselves in a serious bind, she added.

Many who do own land find that they can’t attain permits, and end up building illegally – often facing the threat of state eviction from their property.

Hanan Youseef of the Arab Israeli NGO “The Galilee Society,” also said that the real estate problem is much more serious in the Arab sector, and includes problems not faced by Jews.

“The problem is more serious than that in the Jewish sector; it’s not the high prices of the apartments, the problem is the serious lack of available housing which is so severe that in another 10 years half of the public won’t have a place of their own to live.”

Youseef cited a report compiled in 2010 by the organization that found that 55.2% of the Arab public cannot meet their housing needs, and that over the next decade, 46.8% of Arab families will not be able to build any housing that could help meet their needs. The same study found that only 22.6% of Arab families have access to public parks in their communities.

The organization issued a press release this week in which they offered their support of the rent protests, but added that housing issues have been a concern for the Arab sector for years, and they have received scant media coverage.

“We support the young people who have finally decided to abandon their indifference and have their voices heard.

This voice, the Arab public in Israel has tried to have their voices heard on this issue for years, but we did not manage to gain any attention, the young people in the Arab society have no possibility of building apartments or finding apartments to rent in most cities in the country.”

The statement added that the shortage forces young Arabs to look for housing in the nearby mixed cities, but they often find that “the doors are closed in their faces because they are Arab.”

Nadine Neshef of the Arab Youth Organization “Baladna,” said that the Israeli press shouldn’t expect to see crowds of young Arab students emulating their Jewish counterparts and setting up tent cities in the towns and villages of the Arab sector.

“The issues for young people in the Arab sector are much different than the high price of finding an apartment in the big city.”

While Neshef did mention a protest held by a single Arab man at the entrance to the Galilee village of Tamra this week, he added “you won’t see Arab students taking part [in this protest] because most Arab students who study in universities in the study go back home to their village at the end of the school day.”

Neshef added that due to government “freezing” of state lands they have terrible difficulty finding land to build houses in their communities, and don’t believe that living in Jewish areas meets their communal needs.

Meanwhile, ahead of a planned rent-protest rally in Tel Aviv Saturday, tent city protest leader Daphni Leef said that the movement has reached out to activists in the Arab community in Jaffa, but she could not confirm if any were planning on attending.

Also Thursday, a group of Haredi and Arab residents of the Galilee announced plans to hold a tent protest at the Mount Meron junction. Organizers said the protest is in response to the rising housing costs in the Galilee.

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