Wednesday’s emergency Knesset meeting about recent attacks on Jewish communities in mixed cities

Today (26 May) we participated in an emergency Knesset hearing to discuss the explosion of lawlessness throughout Israel in recent weeks. The hearing, organized by Regavim and MK Amichai Chikli of Yemina, was attended by many Members of Knesset, local leaders, civil organizations, and residents of mixed cities.

In his remarks, Meir Deutsch, Regavim’s Director General, criticized the Police: “Even if we accept that the Police was surprised by these riots, we must not accept that they will be surprised by the next round [of violence].”

“For many years, Regavim has warned that failures in law enforcement against seemingly isolated and unrelated issues – such as illegal construction, protection rackets, drug trafficking, and violence and dangerous behavior on the country’s roads – results in an atmosphere of chaos and the erosion of governance. Where there is no governance, there is anarchy, and almost inevitably – full scale war that threatens the existence of the State.

“The anarchy that began in Jerusalem with lynches, rock and incendiary attacks and vandalism, spread to blocking of roads from the north to the south of the country, and then to attacks against Jewish residents in mixed neighborhoods [where Arabs and Jews live side-by-side]”.

Deutsch said that he came to Lod at the beginning of the riots, answering calls for help from regular citizens whose lives had been turned upside down and were now under threat. Regavim suspended normal operations to focus its energies and expertise on Lod, purchasing equipment to protect besieged residents and the volunteers who came to their aid, and setting up a ‘situation room’ to answer hundreds of calls for help and thousands of offers of assistance that poured in from around the country.

“Every IDF soldier knows that every training exercise, and certainly every operational incident, is immediately followed up with an internal investigation; this is how we learn, how we improve our preparedness and our operational capabilities. It’s how we learn the lessons necessary to do better next time. For the first 72 hours of the riots, the Police did not function, and Lod residents, whose lives were at serious risk, were left to protect themselves, by themselves. Then volunteers came from all over the country to help, and only then did the Police step in.

“Even if the Israel Police did not anticipate riots of this sort or this magnitude, what are they doing to learn the lessons that will prevent a recurrence? Where is the self-examination by the Police, the Minister of Public Security, the Prime Minister? As things now stand, the next outburst of violence is only a matter of time”.

Deutsch called on the government to formulate a comprehensive and adequately-funded plan to restore law and order and to bring governance to the Negev, the Gallil, and cities throughout Israel through equal and universal enforcement of the law.

Illegal construction

In an attempt to garner Arab parties’ support, the Israeli left is now seeking the total repeal of Amendment 116, better known as the Kaminitz Law, which seeks to address the epidemic of illegal construction.

Illegal construction on public and private land is a national epidemic that has been ravaging the Israeli landscape for far too long. Each year, thousands of structures spring up in violation of Israel’s Planning and Construction Law; current estimates number them in the hundreds of thousands.

This wildcat construction threatens the prospects for planned, organized construction and development, stymies formulation of long-range planning policy and stunts efforts to develop modern national and local infrastructure, but first and foremost, it endangers the resolution of Israel’s housing crisis, which is particularly acute in the minority sector.

Despite often repeated claims to the contrary, the majority of Arab settlements in Israel have municipal master plans that enable legal construction and development. On the other hand, most of the land in these communities is privately owned, and illegal construction is both widespread and unenforced, resulting in a supply-demand imbalance that prevents the implementation of existing development plans.

A special committee, headed by Deputy Attorney General (Civil Affairs) Erez Kaminitz, presented a comprehensive, in-depth analysis of the phenomenon of illegal construction and its devastating impact on the Knesset in January 2016, and proposed a series of legislative amendments that would vastly improve the state’s ability to address the problems and more efficiently enforce Israel’s Planning and Construction Law.

These proposed amendments, known collectively as Amendment 116 but commonly referred to as the Kaminitz Law, were ratified by the 20th Knesset in 2017 and incorporated in Chapter 10 (“Oversight, Enforcement and Penalties”) of Israel’s Planning and Construction Law.

Amendment 116 mandates stiff penalties for illegal construction and places efficient enforcement tools and significantly enhanced authority in the hands of inspectors, including the authority to issue work-stop and administrative demolition orders that cut through lengthy, complex legal procedures that had been required in the past. Hefty administrative fines were instituted as a deterrent to new illegal construction, and municipalities were empowered to act swiftly and decisively against offenders. In addition, the Kaminitz Law required the relevant authorities to revamp demolition priorities, carry out more efficient mapping and reporting of construction violations, and more.

According to data presented to the Knesset in December 2019, in the two years following the Kaminitz Law’s implementation, common construction offenses were reduced by 41 percent, and serious construction offenses were slashed by 75 percent.

Since the Kaminitz Law’s ratification, the Joint Arab List Party has waged an unrelenting battle to repeal it: In 2019, they conditioned their recommendation to the president of a candidate to form a government on the law’s repeal. In another attempt in late 2019, they conditioned their vote on the dissolution of the Knesset upon the repeal of the Kaminitz Law. In October 2020, an attempt by Knesset member Gadeer Mreeh (Yesh Atid-Telem) to legislate a “suspension” of the law pending approval of master plans for Arab municipalities was defeated.

Bowing to this incessant political pressure, in November 2020 then-Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn announced that the attorney general had reached an agreement with the Justice Ministry, the Treasury and the Joint List to institute a two-year enforcement moratorium against existing residential structures in Arab and Druze municipalities and structures in the agricultural sector eligible for legalization. The agreement also calls for expedited planning and registration activity during the moratorium period.

Nissenkorn’s “agreement” amounts to a severe limitation of the provisions of the law and a dangerous circumvention of the Knesset’s authority. It undermines the basic concepts of legislative democracy and the rule of law, protects offenders and encourages offenses. But that is apparently not enough: Left-wing parties, in an attempt to garner the support of the Arab parties for the coalition-building mandate, are now seeking the total repeal of the law.

This would restore the status quo ante, resulting in a complete reversal of the progress that has been made since 2017 against illegal construction. It would once again deprive municipal authorities of the ability to act effectively against construction criminals, making it difficult to promote stable, long-term planning policy for responsible utilization of Israel’s limited land reserves and severely impairing the state’s ability to develop national and local construction and infrastructure plans—particularly in the minority communities that suffer most from development inequity.

The Zionist parties must act in every way to prevent the repeal of the Kaminitz Law, and work to strengthen the rule of law in general. Israel’s Planning and Construction Law, including Amendment 116, was designed to create a rational land-use policy that will ensure a healthy future for all citizens of Israel.

This article by Regavim’s Director General, Meir Deutsch, appeared in the Jerusalem Post on April 12, 2021