The Israeli parliament has passed a law that could prevent Palestinian citizens of Israel from living in almost half of the country’s small villages and towns. The law, which was approved on Tuesday, expands the power of “admissions committees” to screen applicants for housing units and plots of land in Jewish Israeli “community towns” built on state land.
The admissions committees law was first enacted in 2011 and applied to about 700 community towns in the Negev and Galilee regions, where most of the Palestinian population resides. The new law extends the scope of the committees to another 300 towns across the country, affecting about 40 percent of all community towns in Israel.
The law does not explicitly allow the committees to reject candidates based on their race, religion, nationality, or other protected characteristics. However, it does allow them to reject candidates who do not fit the “social and cultural fabric” of the community, a vague criterion that has been used to exclude Palestinians and other minorities from living in these towns.
Human rights groups have condemned the law as a racist and discriminatory measure that violates the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up about 20 percent of the country’s population. They have also challenged the law in court, arguing that it contradicts Israel’s Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, which guarantees equality and freedom of residence to all citizens.
In 2012, the Israeli Supreme Court heard a petition filed by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and other civil society organizations against the admissions committees law. The court split in its decision, with four justices ruling that the law was unconstitutional and five justices ruling that it was too early to judge its impact. The court gave the state five years to monitor and report on the implementation of the law.
However, according to Adalah, the state failed to provide any meaningful data or oversight on the admissions committees’ activities. Instead, it submitted a report based on a sample of only 15 towns, which showed that 57 percent of the committees rejected at least one candidate between 2014 and 2017. The report also revealed that some of the reasons for rejection included “lack of suitability to cooperative life” and “lack of connection to the town’s way of life”.
Adalah said that the report confirmed its fears that the admissions committees were being used as a tool to exclude Palestinians and other undesired groups from living in these towns. It also said that the expansion of the law would further entrench segregation and inequality in Israel.
“The justices have thus proved once again that the occupied cannot expect justice from the occupier’s court,” Adalah said in a statement. “The decision, weaving baseless legal interpretation with decontextualized facts, makes it clear that there is no crime which the high court justices will not find a way to legitimize.”
The law has also drawn criticism from international human rights organizations and foreign governments. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) called the law a “dangerous step” that must be reversed. “The damage this decision will inflict on people’s homes and source of livelihoods is irredeemable. People could be made homeless overnight with nowhere for them to go,” Caroline Ort, NRC’s country director for Palestine, said.
The European Union also expressed its concern over the law and urged Israel to respect its obligations under international law. “Such legislation risks further undermining prospects for a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians based on two states living side by side in peace and security,” an EU spokesperson said.