BEHIND THE HEADLINES Israeli Arab’s bid to buy land tests equality in Jewish state

JERUSALEM, May 25 (JTA) — A powerful legal team has lined up to block an Israeli Arab from purchasing property in a Jewish community — and Israel’s highest court does not want to touch the case. Leaders of Katzir, a small community in central Israel, maintain that they have the right to decide who can live there. “We have turned down the applications of a number of Jews,” Motti Bloch, the head of Katzir said in an interview. In fact, an Arab attorney already is living in Katzir, though he had to fight hard to get there. The current case involves Adel Ka’adan, who had appealed to the High Court of Justice three years ago, after his application to purchase a lot in Katzir was rejected. “We took the case because we regard it as discrimination to prevent an Arab citizen of Israel from purchasing real estate,” said Dan Yakir, an attorney with the Israeli Civil Rights Association, who is representing Ka’adan. Opposing him is a legal team representing Katzir, the Israel Lands Administration, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli Housing Ministry. At stake is the basic question of an Israeli Arab citizen’s civil rights — specifically, whether Jews and Arabs have equal opportunity to live where they desire. Ka’adan, 42, wants to move his family from the Arab village of Baka al- Gharbiya and relocate several miles north — a 10 minute drive — to Katzir. He was willing to meet all the legal requirements, pay $17,000 for the lot he was assigned after responding to a newspaper advertisement and start building his new home on a hilltop. “I am not a provoker,” Ka’adan said in an interview. “All I want is to improve my standard of living.” Since he interacts with Jews on a daily basis, Ka’adan never expected to encounter such resistance. Ka’adan is a medical assistant at the Hillel Jaffe Hospital in Hadera, treating Arabs and Jews alike. He speaks Hebrew fluently, with hardly an accent. “Just the other day one of my patients told me, ‘You are so nice, are you really an Arab?’ ” he said. Some 2,000 people live in Katzir, which was established in 1982, close to the Israeli Arab town of Umm el-Fahm, adjacent to the Green Line, Israel’s pre- 1967 border with the West Bank. Katzir lies in the heart of Nahal Iron, an area between Hadera and Afula, predominantly populated with Arabs. A highway that cuts through the area, known in Arabic as Wadi Ara, is a vital link between the north and the center of the country. “These are state lands, which belong to all the citizens of Israel,” Yakir said of Katzir. But the legal situation is not that simple. The lands of Katzir were originally owned by the state, but the Israel Land Administration leased them to the Jewish Agency, which in turn subleased them to the local residents. “There is no specific written ban on leasing land to Arabs,” said Yossi Sturm, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency. But the agency’s policy is to deal only with Jews, he added. “The agency raises money from world Jewry for the benefit of Jewish immigrants and settlers.” In Ka’adan’s view, subleasing the land through the Jewish Agency is “a trick to exclude Arabs” from the community. If the Israel Land Administration had subleased the land, he added, “they would have had no standing in turning down my application.” Echoing his client, Yakir said “our grudge is not against the Jewish Agency” but against the land administration. The president of Israel’s High Court of Justice, Aharon Barak, has described the case as “one of the most difficult and complex” he had ever come across. But rather than rule on the case, the court appointed a private lawyer, Yoram Barsela, to try to reach a compromise. In the meantime, the court ordered Katzir to “freeze” one lot for Ka’adan. If an agreement is reached, the matter will be returned to the court for legal approval. “With all due respect, the court is making its life too easy,” said Ze’ev Segal, a law professor at Tel Aviv University. “Rather than adopting clear and courageous guidelines, it is hiding behind a possible compromise.” Negotiations are long and slow. Barsela has convened the parties only once to discuss various compromise ideas. One solution would be for Ka’adan to purchase a house directly from the Housing Ministry on a nearby hill that is considered part of Katzir. The precedence for this solution was set by Tawfik Jabarin, an attorney from Umm el-Fahm who applied six years ago to live in Katzir. “I wanted to prevent the ‘Judaization’ of Wadi Ara,” Jabarin said in an interview. “I wanted to prove that I could live wherever I wanted.” Jabarin initially was turned down by Katzir, but when he threatened to appeal to the High Court, a solution was found by creating a transaction between Jabarin and the Housing Ministry — bypassing the problematic relationship with the Jewish Agency. But that option is not likely unless Ka’adan agrees to give up his lot which lies in the middle of Katzir, and accepts an alternative lot on the fringe of the community. Despite the Katzir leadership’s protestations that their opposition to Ka’adan does not amount to discrimination, it appears that the community would prefer that Arabs not move there. “Jewish-Arab coexistence may work in large cities, but not in a newly-born small settlement which is still in the process of growth,” said Bloch. “Ka’adan wants to live within us, and we are suggesting that we should live side by side.” Jabarin, who has lived in Katzir for the past two and half years, is still bitter. “People ask me, how it is to live with the Jews,” said Jabarin. “I tell them that the Jews live with me, because this is Arab land.”

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