Criticism and praise for plan to build new Arab town near Acre

City would serve as a model that could be replicated in other areas in the country professor tells the 'Post.'

The Jezzar Pasha Mosque in Acre (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Jezzar Pasha Mosque in Acre
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A reported plan to construct an Arab city just east of Acre has drawn conflicting responses, with some rejecting the assignment of the future city to a specific ethnic group, and others congratulating the move to facilitate change in Arab society.
The National Council for Planning and Building is scheduled to discuss next week the approval of the city, which the Israel Lands Authority began planning four years ago, according to a Sunday report in Haaretz.
The city would be the first non-Beduin Arab city to be erected in Israel since its establishment. It is planned to have a population of 40,000, and would be connected to a planned train line between Acre and Karmiel.
Prof. Rassem Khamaisi of the Geography and Environmental Studies Department at the University of Haifa, who heads the Jewish-Arab Center head, has been involved in the planning for the new city. He told The Jerusalem Post that the city would be developed mostly on a state-owned forest area.
This city would serve as a model that could be replicated in other areas in the country, he said, noting its great importance for the Arab public. Its proximity to a train line would help develop Arab communities in the area, he added.
Khamaisi insists that the plan be passed despite expected objections, noting that it is of great importance for the Arab public, and added that it is backed by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Prof. Sammy Smooha, a sociologist from the University of Haifa, told the Post that the construction the city “is a great idea.”
“New Arab towns and villages for the Arab population are highly needed, and the new city will attract Arab young couples and middle class Arabs,” he said.
“The new city should serve as a precedent to other housing solutions, including state-supported new neighborhoods in Arab towns and villages and in Jewish cities, as well as new mixed Arab-Jewish towns,” he said.
Such a move would facilitate change in Arab society, lessening the traditional lifestyle, and turn it into a society that is “less trapped in hamula [clan] and religious ties,” he added.
Regarding the location of the future city in the western Galilee, Smooha thinks it is a good choice, as 60 percent of Israeli Arabs live in the area, and added that “its proximity to highways is another advantage.”
“These housing solutions intend to slow down the migration of Arabs to Jewish towns,” Smooha added of the plan.
Ari Briggs, international relations director of Regavim, an NGO seeking to ensure responsible, legal and accountable use of national land, told the Post that he does not understand the idea of building a new Arab city, and wondered why a city has to be defined on an ethnic basis.
“Everyone should have the ability to be involved in the tender process and purchase apartments,” argued Briggs.
“The claim that Israeli Arab towns don’t have enough land to build on is not true, based on our research that shows that there is enough room in current residential-zoned areas to continue building until 2040,” he added.
“It is also important to note that there are no restrictions on Arab citizens of Israel to live in any town or city in Israel, so speaking of a shortage of Arab housing makes no sense,” Briggs asserted.
Asked about Regavim’s argument that the state should not be supporting building for a specific ethnic group, Khamaisi responded that “Regavim is against Arab building everywhere.”
In any case, he argued, “Jews have more options than Arabs.”
The idea of continuing to build in existing Arab towns hinders the modernization and advancement of Arab society from its traditional structure, he added.
The Post contacted the Acre Municipality, but it did not want to comment on the planned project.