Israel is currently suffering from a horrific wave of terrorism. However, below the radar, Israel has been suffering from increasing lawlessness for quite some time.
These two developments violently converged recently on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv, when a terrorist, an Israeli Arab who lived in an illegal house in Arara, murdered three civilians in cold blood on a quiet Friday afternoon.
The heinous attack in Tel Aviv is a bitter result of the progressive Israeli surrender of sovereignty in the Arab sector. One that could possibly have been stopped had the rule of law been upheld consistently and throughout the country.
This surge of lawlessness includes everything from seizing land, illegal construction and agricultural theft to protection rackets and corruption. Here is a small example of how entrenched this lawlessness is: In the town of Arabeh in the north, fines for illegal construction imposed by the regional development committee on town residents were offset by the town, which gave them a discount on arnona (municipal tax) equivalent to the amount of the fine.
What’s happening on the ground is massive illegal construction in the Arab sector, in the south, center and north of the country.
In the Negev, the illegal seizure of state land spreads over 200,000 acres in the area between Beersheba, Arad and Dimona. One just has to look at Google Earth to see more than 1,000 villages, hamlets and illegal outposts that expand exponentially each year, taking more and more land, encouraging even more Beduin to leave their legal dwellings and venture into the “business” of stealing land and illegal building.
In the center, one only has to venture into Taiba, Tira, Kalansuwa or Jaljulya to see the lack of enforcement of building codes, in stark contrast to the strict enforcement in place in neighboring towns of Kfar Saba or Hod Hasharon.
In the north there are an estimated 30,000 illegal structures. The threat of violent protests and general strikes should the government start to enforce the law is very real. This is based on the experience of the last demolition of an illegal home in the north, which happened in Kfar Kana in 2013, where fire bombs, burning tires and rioting coincided with a three-day general strike.
However, illegal construction is only a symptom of a much wider problem: The failure of the State of Israel to impose the law equally, on all its citizens, throughout the land. This has led to rates of serious crime in the Arab sector increasing dramatically.
Tax evasion is rampant, with hundreds of thousands of citizens not paying municipal taxes and/or income taxes. There are over 25,000 illegal weapons of all kinds in the Arab sector, and their elected officials incite against Israel day and night.
For a decade, we have warned about the loss of sovereignty in the Arab sector. It should be clear to all that sovereignty is not a theoretical issue. When it is not enforced, it no longer exists. The unbelievably high numbers of illegally built structures is not only a good example but a major source and enabler of lawlessness. The facts speak for themselves: There are more than 110,000 illegally built homes in the Arab sector that have been conveniently ignored.
For decades, the State of Israel has been content to turn a blind eye to this severe phenomenon, and to take shortcuts in maintaining the rule of law. The price is now being paid by all citizens of the State of Israel, including members of the Arab sector.
A timely but unfortunate example is the amount of illegal construction in the town of Arara, where the terrorist who carried out the attack in Tel Aviv lived. Out of 4,368 homes there, 942 are illegally built – over 20 percent.
It is argued by some that the true reason for the illegal construction is that Israel does not approve building plans.
So here are the facts: the municipal plan for Arara, approved in 2006, enables the construction of thousands of additional housing units – a fact that pulls the rug out from under those that claim discrimination.
It now seems to be clear, even to the government, that changes need to be made.
Only a few days before the terrorist attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a NIS 15 billion development plan for Israel’s minorities, stating, “The cabinet agreed to invest more than 15 billion shekels [$3.9 billion] into Israel’s Arab sector, much of which was to be earmarked for improving law enforcement in the sector.”
Netanyahu went on to say that “Israel will enforce its laws and its sovereignty over all parts of the state – the Galilee, the Negev, the Triangle and everywhere else.
“At the same time,” he emphasized, “the plan will strengthen law enforcement in the minority sector with an emphasis on illegal construction.”
Following the prime minister’s appointment of ministers Yariv Levin and Ze’ev Elkin to the committee to ensure localities meet minimum law enforcement standards to receive land development budgets, the usual chorus of Arab MKs and their minions railed against the idea that development money be dependent on abiding by the law. When MK and leader of the Joint List Ayman Odeh, brought a gospel of “equal citizenship for all” from the Knesset podium, instead what he is actually pushing is for continued special privileges and entitlement, that, in his terms, translates into free land, no zoning restrictions and zero law enforcement. If he was interested in real equality, he would call for a total halt in illegal behavior in the Arab sector he represents and stand shoulder to shoulder with Prime Minister Netanyahu and call for greater law enforcement not only for the benefit of Israel as a whole but for the benefit of his voters and their continued integration into Israeli society.
The strength of the naysayers in the Arab sector has always been their threat to ensure fire, hail and brimstone if the government actually enforced the law. This now needs to be called out for what it is: a serious threat to the state, that needs to be faced and halted for the good of all the people of Israel. As Netanyahu said, “We cannot accept two states within Israel.... [T]here cannot be a lawful state for some and [a] lawless [one] for others.” We should now ensure the plan is implemented to return Israeli sovereignty to the Arab towns and villages once and for all. (JTA ) The writer works for the Regavim research and legal advocacy organization.