As dozens of demonstrators chanted outside the Israel Lands Authority in
Jerusalem on Wednesday morning, Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Attias
(Shas) announced “historic changes” to the ILA and the way contractors are
charged for building on government-owned land.
One of the central claims
of the month-long social protest movement sweeping the country is that the
Israel Lands Authority is needlessly charging contractors exorbitant amounts for
land that belongs to the government, and those costs are passed on to the
citizens in the form of high rent and a superfluous amount of luxury apartments,
which is the only way for contractors to make a profit.
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“Land is not a
way to make money,” Attias said at an impromptu press conference on Wednesday
before he met with the National Housing Committee. “The minute the land isn’t
for profit, we can give serious solutions to the populations of students and
young couples, and free up land for use,” he said.
Attias announced that
he would request a number of changes, including not charging any money for land
destined for student dormitories, and awarding tenders to contractors who present projects with the lowest
price per apartment, rather than the current policy of awarding tenders to
contractors who offer the highest bid.
Additionally, Attias pledged to
change the criteria for “priced by inhabitant” apartments, which offer
affordable apartments to people who meet certain criteria, such as army service,
employment, and children.
Previously, the criteria for
priced-by-inhabitant apartments has been based on the number of children and has
heavily favored haredim with large families.
priced-by-inhabitant apartments would also receive a 50 percent
The criteria for priced-by-inhabitant apartments that Attias
recommended will be divided into three groups: 20% for couples with no children,
35% for couples with one child, and the remainder for couples with two or more
children. There will be no preference for couples with more than three children,
as opposed to previous criteria, which was awarded to families with six, seven
or eight children.
The criteria will also require inhabitants to have
performed army duty, national service or civil service.
Merav Cohen (Jerusalem Awakening) said the proposals were “a step in the right
direction.” She added that the criteria should include a provision that
residents must work if they are able, which would also be a blow to haredi
residents, many of whom receive subsidies for studying in
“There is no reason for the state to subsidize someone who
doesn’t work,” said Cohen.
The promise of free land for student housing
is significant compared to previous student housing projects in the center of
the country, where the land price for each apartment is between NIS 100,000 and
NIS 130,000, said Attias. He also plans to offer incentives to contractors who
build in weaker areas, including cities such as Lod or in the
The idea of awarding tenders based on the lowest price per
apartment rather than the highest bidder is something that activist groups like
Jerusalem Awakening have been demonstrating for over the years.
contractors compete to pay the highest price, it encourages them to build luxury
apartments in order to make a profit.
The public is then left with a
surplus of luxury apartments and a lack of affordable apartments.
criteria are expected to be approved this week by the Finance Ministry, and are
in the process of being presented to the courts and to the Trajtenberg
Committee, which is examining the requests of the social protest movement. The
committee ill not approve requests until it examines the proposals.
gives the ILA a green light to change the system, so the system can help the
citizens of Israel,” said Attias. “The goal of these decisions is not to fold up
the tents,” he added.
MK Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism) was not
surprised at the decision, nor did he think the Finance Ministry would agree to
the proposed changes.
“I told Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu last week
over the Knesset podium that he could have done what we have been imploring him
to do for the nation in a respectable manner, and now he’s doing it with shame
and in the midst of public protest,” he said. “He could have spared himself had
he understood that the state is not a supermarket, whose owner is constantly
seeking to increase its gains. Yes, the welfare needs to be funded, but that is
where the gains must be going to.”
As for the reforms Attias announced, “I
wish I could believe they would actually happen, I don’t thing the Treasury will
agree to them. [The ILA] brings in NIS 14 billion a year, I doubt they’ll give
that up,” said Eichler.
To Eichler, the proposed change of criterion – to
no longer prefer families with many children – is a result of the state’s
“It’s obvious the secular state will do whatever
it can to harm the haredim,” he said.
When The Jerusalem Post pointed out
that the changes were led by Attias, a haredi member of the Shas party, Eichler
stated that they were not really his decisions, but rather came from the Finance
“This just proves we are in the most severe exile
yet,” he said.
“But why are we agreeing to them? Because we are
realistic, and believe that if there is lots of money for secular people, the
haredim will receive a bit. So by the same logic, if the market is flooded with
apartments for secular people, haredim will get a bit. But if the secular people
only get a bit, haredim will get none.”
Activists demonstrating outside
the ILA chanting “Attias, this is your fault!” and “Bibi, wake up, the public is
in the streets!” tried to forcefully enter the building, though they were
stopped by police. There were no arrests.
The protest leaders generally
supported Attias’s suggestions, but believed there was still a lot of work to be
New Spirit director Elisheva Mazya took a “wait and see” approach
to the changes in the criteria, and worried that the spate of houses currently
in the approval process for “priced by inhabitant” buildings would still use the
old criteria. “It’s sort of a step in the right direction, but we don’t believe
anything until we see it in writing,” she told the Post.
Itai Gutler, the
head of the Hebrew University student union, denounced Atias for presenting the
changes without meeting with the activists to hear their demands.
Aviv tent-city spokesman Roee Neuman said the demonstrators needed a bigger
“This is not big enough, and we need something more serious than
this,” he said on Wednesday night. Cohen added that the activists would have
like to see more suggestions for public housing.