Home » Jerusalem and Central Region » What is the major battle happening over the future of Kafr Kassem?

What is the major battle happening over the future of Kafr Kassem?

Officials from Kafr Kassem and the state’s land use enforcement authorities have acknowledged that there is significant illegal building in the area in question.

By Yonah Jeremy Bob (Jerusalem Post, July 15 2020)

The organization Regavim has sued a range of local and national agencies and ministries in the Central District Court for allegedly failing to enforce land use laws in an area near Kafr Kassem, 20 kilometers east of Tel Aviv. Around 100 businesses are being sued for their presence in the allegedly illegal commercial park.

Usually, land use is a small-time issue.

But this case delves deep into national debates about illegal building in various parts of the Arab sector and counter-accusations by Israeli-Arabs that the state fails to support them and drags its feet on building projects.

Regavim is known for highlighting illegal building by various Bedouin groups in the South and, in this case, Kafr Kassem in the Center. So its allegations could be viewed as having a clear agenda.

But no one denies most of the allegations.

Officials from Kafr Kassem and the state’s land use enforcement authorities have acknowledged that there is significant illegal building in the area in question.

Regavim divides the harm of illegal building into three main categories.

First, the group says, the illegal building undermines the rule of law and harms the environment and the balance of regional electricity and water.

Next, it says, the zone drives up rents and taxes for other nearby competitors since no one is collecting taxes from the businesses in the Kafr Kassem zone.

Finally, Regavim says, large trucks coming out of improperly paved and signed makeshift roads create traffic nightmares and have increased the number of traffic accidents in the area.

Kafr Kassem issued a statement saying that it has been cooperating and waiting for a long time with the local planning authorities to receive approvals for a combination of additional areas for residential growth and commercial business.

A representative for Kafr Kassem said it has been meeting approximately every two weeks with the planning authorities for two-and-a-half years, but is still inexplicably being made to wait for permits.

The official statement said that to provide for four additional residential neighborhoods, Kafr Kassem needs the taxes and business that it will reap from the planning authorities authorizing the existing industrial area.

A Kafr Kassem official did not want to specify which commercial businesses might be able to be grandfathered into the new plans as is, and which might have to move or make changes to their current structures to come into compliance with land use laws.

However, the official said that as community leaders, the municipality has a better chance at dialoguing with the businesses in the area in dispute.

He said that 400 parties have signed commitments that they will even move to a different spot or give up around 40% of the land they are using, once the authorities finish the land approval processes.

Kafr Kassem’s official statement also noted that it has submitted requests to divide up certain funds and resources more equitably with the nearby town of Rosh Ha’ayin. An official said Rosh Ha’ayin has reaped more than its share of benefits from a hi-tech zone that physically should have been considered part of Kafr Kassem.

A Regavim spokeswoman countered that many illegal structures in the industrial zone went up long before any planning process was initiated.

Also, the spokeswoman said it would be a blow to the rule of law if a large number of illegal businesses were simply grandfathered into new plans – though she did not oppose Kafr Kassem receiving approval for land use through the proper channels.

In addition, the Regavim official said that Rosh Ha’ayin was given the hi-tech zone because it enforced land use laws and collected taxes, whereas Kafr Kassem until now has been unreliable in both areas.

Moreover, Regavim said that the residential areas could be built without huge industrial areas which could irreparably harm the environment and potential agricultural land use.

Regavim also framed the battle as relating to a fight over the 2017 Kaminitz Law which increased enforcement against illegal land use, and which it said Israeli-Arab MKs have been trying to repeal.

A Kafr Kassem official implied that the key to the issue is dialogue.

The land use enforcement authority has said that the area in question is among the largest and hardest to police in the country. Still, it has said that it has taken a number of law enforcement actions, including demolishing dozens of illegal structures in 2018-2019 and issuing dozens of fines.

The local planning council has responded only that it is considering Kafr Kassem’s planning request, but without giving a deadline.

Regavim’s case is scheduled for a first hearing on September 17.

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