While the international community often focuses on the legal status of Jewish construction in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, two Israeli government initiatives–a proposed transfer of Israeli land near Jericho to Palestinians and a law that would retroactively legalize tens of thousands of Bedouin structures in the south–are highlighting the issue of illegal Arab building across Israel.
The proposed Prawer Law, which would retroactively legalize tens of thousands of Bedouin structures, has angered anti-settlements NGOs because it stipulates that several thousand Bedouin must relocate from positions in close proximity to Ramat Hovav, a site that has been deemed unsuitable for residential zoning due to the pollutants emitted from the factories.
At the forefront of tackling this issue is Regavim, an NGO that tracks illegal Arab building and prosecutes it in Israeli courts.
A Civil Administration for Judea and Samaria proposal to transfer 2,000 dunams (500 acres) of Israeli land to Palestinians near Jericho, in the Jewish-controlled Jordan Valley, represents the continuation of a pattern in which Arabs living in Areas A and B, which are under Palestinian municipal authority, are being legally permitted to relocate to large tracts of land in Area C, areas designated for Jewish residence under full Israeli control.
The move is being criticized by Jewish regional councils for being conducted at a time when Arabs can build almost at will in Areas A and B, while permits for Jewish building in Area C are being severely restricted as a result of what many believe to be the Israeli government’s efforts to pacify the international community.
“If a Jewish family puts up a patio on a house–anywhere in Israel–without a permit, municipal authorities can come into your house and get you to tear it down,” Ari Briggs, the director of Regavim, told JNS.org.
“Jews are forced to adhere to a very strict building framework, while Arabs in many parts of the country are given a free hand. And this is exactly the opposite view that the international community has of Israel,” Briggs said.
Regavim–whose name comes from the Hebrew word “regev,” meaning a small patch of land, originating from a Zionist poem about reclaiming the land of Israel “dunam by dunam, regev by regev”–works to track illegal Arab building across Israel, with a particular focus on the Negev in the south of the country, the Galil in the north, and in Judea and Samaria.
While dozens of NGOs focus on relatively limited incidents of illegal Jewish building, Regavim is the only NGO focusing its energies on the rampant pattern of illegal Arab building taking place across the country.
Currently, Regavim has 30 cases being tried in Israeli courts, with up to 140 investigations being conducted at any time.
Many of Regavim’s current efforts are focusing on the south, where the largest numbers of illegal structures exist. The government is currently attempting to put a stop to illegal building, but those efforts give rise to controversy.