Israel approves controversial law on house demolitions

AFP , Wednesday 5 Apr 2017

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Reuters)

Israel's parliament on Wednesday voted in favour of a controversial law against illegal constructions that detractors say will mostly target Arab homes built without required, but hard-to-get, permits.

The law, which has the backing of Prime Minister's Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government, was passed with 43 votes for the bill and 33 against.

Arab Israelis, descendants of the Palestinians who remained on their land after the 1948 creation of Israel, were quick to denounce the law.

The bill provides punishment of up to three years in jail, increases fines and reduces the powers of courts to postpone the date of demolition orders.

Arab Israelis, who make up around 17 percent of the population, say discrimination by Israel  makes it impossible for them to obtain planning permission to expand their communities.

The result is that many families resort to building homes without permission, leaving them liable to demolition.

The new law will also concern around 300,000 Palestinians living in Israeli-occupied east Jerusalem.

Druze lawmaker Abdullah Abu Maaruf accused the Israeli premier of wanting to "please the (political) right at whatever cost and at the expense of the Arabs".

The law threatens "50,000 Arab homes in which hundreds of thousands of people live", he told AFP.

Leaders of the Druze community, a minority among the Arab Israelis, called on their members of parliament to vote against the bill.

Israeli daily Haaretz says that 97 percent of demolition orders between 2012 and 2014 targeted Arab families.

Ir Amin, an Israeli anti-settlement non-governmental organisation, has reported a record 203 demolitions in east Jerusalem last year.

Palestinians make up 37 percent of the city's population, but only 15 percent of the area of east Jerusalem is considered suitable for Palestinian construction, it said.

In January, demolitions in an Arab Israeli village sparked violence in which a policeman and his alleged attacker were killed.

Earlier the same month, Arabs across Israel closed businesses and schools in a one-day strike to protest the demolitions.

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