Al-Ahram Weekly Online – 28 February 2002
Adel Kaadan, a 44-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel, made headlines around the world two years ago when he won a lengthy court battle with his government.
After five years of legal argument, the judges ordered that he be allowed to buy a plot of land in one of the hundreds of Israeli communities open only to Jews.
His victory was seen by the French news agency, Agence France Presse, as meaning that Arabs could now “live anywhere they choose in the Jewish state.” Human rights groups hailed the Supreme Court ruling as the end of apartheid in Israel.
But next week, on the second anniversary of the decision, Kaadan, his wife Iman and their four young daughters will have nothing to celebrate. They are still barred from the Jewish settlement of Katzir; and the court appears in no hurry to enforce its ruling.
Katzir is a short drive from the Kaadans’ home in the Arab northern town of Baqa Al-Gharbiya, located on the Green Line that separates Israel from the occupied West Bank. But while the two communities are physically close they are miles apart in appearance, resources and amenities.
Overcrowded Baqa, with its 25,000 inhabitants, has cracked, potholed streets which regularly flood with sewage. There is no leisure centre or public park, and space is at such a premium that buildings almost touch. The local council is so short of funds that its workers have not been paid for months.
The school attended by the Kaadan children is barely fit for habitation. It has small, crumbling temporary classrooms, each packed with 40 children, which lack the most basic equipment. The leaking, asbestos-filled walls have been blamed for a spate of cancer deaths among pupils over the last decade.
Katzir is the product of a different vision. It and a dozen other mitzpim (“lookout settlements”) were established by the current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the early 1980s, when he was infrastructure minister.
In a scheme known as the Star Points Plan, he sprinkled these small outposts along the Green Line to erode the distinction between Israel and the occupied territories and to break up the dominant Palestinian presence in the area.
Located on a hilltop, Katzir has clean air and dramatic views across the surrounding countryside. Each house has an immaculate lawn, and the newly-asphalted roads are lined with colourful beds of flowers. The community has a swimming pool, a community centre and children’s playgrounds.
The spacious school, with average class sizes of fewer than 20 pupils, has more than enough computers to go round. It also gets extra money from the government to pay for after- school programmes and events.
“My daughters must leave school at midday and then have nothing to do in Baqa for the rest of the day apart from watch TV,” said Kaadan, a nurse at a hospital in the city of Hadera. “I pay the same taxes as the residents of Katzir but my children don’t get the same education or opportunities.”
He added: “There is an assumption among the Jews that we cannot appreciate beautiful things. Parks and pavements are good enough for places like Katzir but Arabs like us don’t need nice things. It’s simple racism.”
The opposition of Israel’s Jewish citizens to overturning 50 years of segregation and discrimination is deep-seated. The fact that Katzir was designed to keep watch over the Palestinian population but not let them join as residents only adds to the determined resistance.
Katzir’s mayor, Dov Sandrov, said on Israeli radio last week of the Kaadans’ application: “I would not be surprised if one day it is revealed that the ones standing behind this affair are the people of the Palestinian Authority and the funds are from Iranian and Saudi sources.”
Even the court that ruled in the Kaadans’ favour in March 2000 admitted its reluctance to challenge the status quo. Judge Aharon Barak described the judgment as the most difficult ever made by an Israeli court.
But the demand from Israel’s one million Palestinian citizens for change has been growing. After decades of land confiscation policies by the state, they own only three per cent of the land despite comprising a fifth of the population.
Israeli planning decisions have also failed to take account of the seven-fold growth in the Arab population since Israel’s creation in 1948. The minority has not been allowed to establish a single new community in more than five decades, leading to severe overcrowding in towns and villages.
The 93 per cent of land which is state-owned has been put at the almost exclusive disposal of the Jewish population. Farming co-operatives such as the kibbutzim and moshavim, development towns for immigrants and the luxury mitzpim like Katzir almost never accept Arabs.
In the case of Katzir, as with other communities, this has been achieved by establishing local selection committees to vet applicants. When the Kaadans applied in 1995 to buy a plot of land in a heavily subsidised government “build your own home” scheme, they were told the community was only for Jews. An incensed Kaadan went straight to his lawyers.
Although the family finally won the court’s backing in 2000, the hilltop community refuses to abide by the decision.
Dr Uri Davis, whose human rights association Al-Bayt helped the Kaadans, said: “The problem was that the court didn’t insist on an immediate remedy for the Kaadans. When it came to implementation, giving them a plot of land, the judges fudged. And now Katzir is dragging its feet for as long as it can.”
In April last year the Kaadans returned to court to seek enforcement. The judges ordered that Katzir provide in writing its admission criteria and then re-interview the family. The judges made it clear that they expected the Kaadans to be accepted unless there were overwhelming reasons for refusal.
But in late November Katzir rejected them again, this time basing their decision on one of the new criteria: the family, they said, failed on grounds of “social and communal compatibility.”
Dan Yakir, the Kaadans’ lawyer, said: “This new justification for barring them was just a fancy way of dressing up the old discrimination.”
Yakir believes that there is a long struggle ahead but that the courts will eventually be forced to uphold the Kaadans’ right to a plot. This month he wrote to the state prosecutor insisting that the government bypass the Katzir selection committee and allocate land directly to the Kaadans.
Other lawyers, however, are not convinced that the case marks significant progress for Israel’s Arab citizens.
Marwan Dalal, of the Adalah legal centre for Israel’s Arab minority, said the judges in their original ruling made no mention of the historic injustice done to the Palestinian people in the confiscation of their lands.
“For academics and constitutional lawyers this is a landmark case. But in practice it will change very little,” he said. “Even if the Kaadans are eventually allowed into Katzir it will not create a precedent. Other families will each have to fight to make the same case again.”
Adel Kaadan is equally pessimistic. He says that when he applied seven years ago to Katzir the subsidised plots cost just $16,000. Today, the price is over $100,000.
“I know that if Katzir is ever forced to accept me the committee will insist I pay the full $100,000. They know I can’t afford it. What I will do then I don’t know.”