JERUSALEM (Feb. 29)
The Cabinet decided without opposition today to authorize the requisition of 5000 acres of land in Galilee–half of it from Arab owners–for housing projects aimed at increasing the Jewish population of the region. The decision is expected to stir serious opposition among Arab landowners even though they would be “handsomely” compensated. Some Jewish landowners affected by the decision are also expected to object.
Housing Minister Avraham Ofer and Shmuel Toledano, the government’s advisor on Arab affairs, said the 5000 acres was the minimum area feasible for the projected new development. They recalled that original plans called for the requisition of much larger areas and that the Arab land in question was presently neither cultivated nor built upon.
Government sources said that compensation rates would not be based on the present condition of the land–described as “scrubland”–but on its potential value as housing sites. They said that “wherever possible” the Arab owners would be compensated with alternate land elsewhere but not far from their present holdings. There was no intention on the government’s part to evict Arabs from settled land, the sources insisted.
The land which the government intends to requisition is located near Nazareth and Illith (Upper Nazareth) and at Carmiel. Ofer said the plans called for the development of Carmiel from a village of 8000 to a township with a population of 35,000. New housing for Arabs in Maker village near Acre is included in the development plan. About 2500 dunams (625 acres) will be requisitioned for that purpose.
Another 4000 dunams (1000 acres) of land belonging to Jews on the outskirts of Safad will be taken over for new housing projects. The Safad Jews are expected to object as vociferously as the Arabs, government sources said.
BOUND TO HAVE POLITICAL REPERCUSSIONS
The Cabinet approved the plans without a vote since the requisition of land is within the statutory authority of the Finance Minister. Mapam ministers raised certain “technical” objections to the timing of the decision. But Mapam sources supported the plan since the party is interested in the development of Galilee and its kibbutz movement has established new settlements there recently.
Nevertheless, the requisition of land in Galilee, the region where most of Israel’s Arab population lives, is bound to have political repercussions and is expected to be used by Israel’s enemies as an example of alleged mistreatment of Israeli Arabs.
Countering such claims, Toledano told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today that the Cabinet’s latest decision should be viewed in the context of a series of decisions taken this week which represent a trend toward a more enlightened and liberalized treatment of Arabs in Israel. He mentioned among those decisions the army’s agreement to restrict its training programs in “Zone nine,” a 4500-dunam region farmed by local Arabs who do not possess ownership rights.
Other examples, he said, were Kfar Kassem an Arab village near Petach Tikya and Mailiye, a village near the northern border. Local Arabs there were offered alternative lands even though they have no proven ownership rights to the lands they have been cultivating. But because of local opposition, the authorities agreed to set up an appeals board; Toledano said.
In the northern Negev, a 1.5 million dunam (37,500 acres) tract of scrubland claimed by Bedouin tribes will be taken over, The Bedouins, who have no ownership rights, will be compensated at half the rate they would be entitled to if they actually held title to the land, government officials said.