Photo credit: Meir Elipur

Today, we participated in an emergency meeting organized by the Land of Israel Caucus in the Knesset to demand security and safety for the Negev.

Meir Deutsch, Regavim’s Director General, spoke to the Members of Knesset about the Negev predicament, and explained why Bedouin settlements that have been legalized are, in effect, still squatter camps.

The retrospective legalizations have not provided appropriate solutions for the Bedouin residents, nor have they solved the root problem of the loss of governance in the Negev.

The government decision to approve three Bedouin settlements and to connect illegal structures to the electricity grid could either lead to the regulating of settlement in the Negev and the Galilee, or the exact opposite: the abandonment of these areas. The devil is always in the details.

Regulating Bedouin settlements in the Negev and merging them into legal towns – yes. Encouraging more lawlessness – no.

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Regavim has also been at the forefront against Ra’am’s Electricity Law, which endangers the rule of law. Ra’am, headed by MK Mansour Abbas, has threatened to dismantle the government coalition if its proposed amendment to the Electricity Law, which seeks to connect tens of thousands of illegal structures to the national electricity grid, is not passed.

The legislative amendment seeks to connect existing and all future illegal structures. This extortionate bill endangers the rule of law and national planning and construction policy. And it’s clear that approval of this law will result in a surge in illegal construction.

One of the state’s most effective tools against the national epidemic of illegal construction is the existing ban on connecting structures erected without a permit to the electricity grid.

Although there’s a certain degree of logic in approving electrical connections for structures for which the government intends to approve permits, a wholesale whitewashing of illegal construction would be a disaster.

Structures that lack permits should meet basic criteria to be approved:

  1. Only structures built before 2018 and the enactment of the Kaminitz Law, which included clear and enforceable criteria for construction.
  2. Only structures for which a detailed outline plan has been submitted by the state, and not by various entities such as local authorities.
  3. A bank guarantee of NIS 40,000 should be deposited. If the plan is not approved and a building permit is not obtained, the guarantee will be forfeited.
  4. If judicial or administrative orders of demolition for the structures haven’t been issued.
  5. The connection will be temporary; permanent electrical connection will be contingent on approval of the state’s plan and issuance of a building permit.

The start of a new year gives us a unique opportunity to thank you for your support, encouragement and partnership.

This past year presented a new set of challenges. Lockdowns and social distancing, along with a volatile and exceptionally challenging political environment, forced us to find new, creative solutions in order to continue our important work. Despite it all, we are gratified by the progress we have made and the successes we have had in our fight to protect our national resources.

  • With your help, we protected our brothers and sisters in Lod and other mixed cities.
  • Our meticulously researched and carefully crafted strategic plan for the protection of state land in Area C and the Negev has taken center stage in the public discourse.
  • We prevented the repeal of the Kaminitz Law.
  • We blocked political deals that would have spelled disaster for the Negev.
  • We helped strengthen and empower regional land protection departments.
  • We successfully blocked highly polluting projects, and more.

All of our activities sent one message, loud and clear: The land of our forefathers – and of our children and grandchildren – is a good and beautiful land.

Throughout the year, and particularly at this time of year, we at Regavim share our success and our vision for the future with you, the partners who make our continued efforts possible. With your help and the help of the Almighty, we look forward to redoubling our efforts and achieving even more in the year ahead.

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Our newest report, tracking the Palestinian Authority’s use of illegal schools as a tactic of annexation, has been presented to the government, and will be available in English soon.

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Here’s a recent Israel Broadcasting Corp. video about the Negev, the 7th in a series already seen by thousands of Israelis:

Illegal construction near Misgav, northern Israel

Following a legislative initiative over a decade in the works, the Knesset last week passed the “Kaminitz Law,” granting the state greater authority when it comes to enforcement with regard to construction violations throughout the country.

The legislation, known as amendment 109 of the Planning and Building Law, which passed 43-33 in a special session held during the Knesset’s Passover recess, is a game changer.

The new law was introduced by the government following recommendations by a committee led by deputy attorney-general Erez Kaminitz, who sought ways to deal with the plague of illegal building in Israel.

The law gives the National Building Supervision Unit the power to supervise the work of the local municipalities, which until today went unchecked.

What you had was a phenomenon in which local mayors would simply ignore building violations.

The law also provides building inspectors with greater authority to stop illegal building dead in its tracks as soon as the construction commences. In addition the law calls for a huge increase in fines for building without a permit.

Our organization, Regavim, has been working on passing this type of legislation from the very beginning to help change the situation on the ground when it comes to the enforcement of building laws in this country.

The law also lessens the bureaucratic nightmare prevalent for decades, in which those who knowingly build illegally were aware that if they played the “game” right, they could continue to make use of their illegal structures, whether homes, offices, or storage spaces, since appeal after appeal in the courts would lengthen the period of inaction, or lack of enforcement, for years at a time.

The Arab MKs are protesting against this new law, claiming that the state doesn’t allow the Arab population to build legally in their communities, hence they are forced to resort to illegal building. Regavim is aware of this recycled false narrative.

Taking a step back, obtaining a building permit throughout all of Israel is a multi-step process. Firstly, the National Building Planning Administration designs the overall layout of any given city or town.

Certain areas are designated for housing, other areas for open spaces, industry, agriculture etc.

Once that city plan is approved, the municipalities or private developers seeking to build in the recognized building areas must come forward with their detailed construction designs. The city then takes the detailed plan back to the building administration for final approval. Once that happens building can commence.

However, according to Regavim’s research, in 95% of the Arab towns and villages in northern Israel (where the majority of the Arab population resides), while the state has in fact put together long-term city plans, the local Arab municipalities don’t utilize those plans. It is for this reason that the residents of these areas are unable to obtain the proper building permits.

Whether it’s a lack of funds due to a failure to collect property taxes (arnona), or tensions between clans and tribes who fight over designated building areas, the municipal or private developers’ plans aren’t being brought for approval.

In other words, it’s not the state’s fault; the onus is on the local officials who aren’t taking responsibility for the construction demands of their populations.

As a result you get Arabs who resort to illegal building without approved plans. When the state points out the violations and seeks to demolish the illegal construction, it becomes the bad guy.

And that’s where the necessary new law comes into play – it allows for swift enforcement, before the above-mentioned scenarios can cause outbreaks of illegal construction.

As mentioned, while Arab MKs were critical of the new law, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed the exact opposite sentiment, showing his strong support for the legislation as a means to integrate the Arab population into Israeli society.

As he stated, “The government which I head has invested, and continues to invest more than any other [previous] government in the Arab sector in order to close the existing gaps – in education, wages, culture, as well as health.

“Israeli Arabs want to be a part of the State of Israel, they want to be a part of the prosperity of Israel’s economy, they want to be a part of the future of the State of Israel, of all the citizens of Israel, and therefore we are investing like no government before us has done. We want the integration of the Arab public into the State of Israel, but that also means integrating with the laws of the State of Israel.”

It’s important to note that the prime minister stressed that the new law wasn’t targeting Arabs only, but that enforcement of the law would be applied equally in all sectors.

“One state, one law, one enforcement. This is what we did today, and I thank you for the passage of this important law,” the prime minister concluded.

For Regavim the passage of the law was viewed as a major success. Leaders of the NGO said they were hopeful that law enforcement authorities would actively utilize the tools granted to them by the new legislation to strengthen the sovereignty of the State of Israel over all of its land.

This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post