Court: Okay for WIZO Settlement Division to build on behalf of state

Two NGOs protested a law that allows WIZO to skirt around pre-existing legislation.

HOUSES IN the Jewish community of Efrat (photo credit: REUTERS)
HOUSES IN the Jewish community of Efrat
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The High Court of Justice upheld on Wednesday the authority of World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division to act as a construction arm of the government.
The ruling breathed new life into the organization, which had been operating for the last few years on a per project basis as it waited for the results of the legal proceedings.
The Knesset in 2015 passed a law giving empowering the Settlement Division to act on behalf of the government, to circumvent a Justice Ministry edict restricting its operations.
Two nongovernmental organizations, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, petitioned the High Court against the law.
The court on Wednesday ruled that the government did have the authority to delegate construction project to the Settlement Division. It also dismissed the NGOs’ argument that communal development in Israel should not be in the hands of an organization that has historically been dedicated to Jewish growth.
Justice Uri Shoham said he understood the NGOs’ apprehension.
Gael Greenwald, who heads the Settlement Division, said, “I am very happy the court decided that the [Knesset] law is correct.
“We are going to strengthen settlement everywhere in Israel, from the North to the South, in order to ensure that this very important issue of [communal development] will be done in a proper way,” Greenwald said.
From 1967 to the mid-1990s, the division focused almost exclusively on building in Area C of the West Bank. But in the last two decades it has expanded its work to include the periphery, i.e. the Negev and the Galilee.
To highlight the shift in its focus, it has now taken on a new name, the Rural Growth and Development Division.
Adalah and ACRI said in response that they were concerned the Settlement Division would discriminate against Israel Arabs with regard to housing and land.
The court ruling gives the state leave to delegate its authority to a body “that is implementing a policy of racial segregation against Arab citizens,” the NGOs said.
Greenwald said that his organizations works with Israeli Druse and Arab villages.
“But we are part of the World Zionist Organization. We operate in Israel, which is a Jewish state. We have to recognize the rights of every citizen, but let’s not forget that we live in a Jewish land,” he said.