In the wake of the decision to finalize the evacuation of Amona, the government has begun to actively crack down on the widespread phenomenon of illegal Arab building on state and private land. Over the past week, the government confirmed that 34 such buildings had been demolished, mostly in southern Israel. The demolitions were conducted with large police forces present in order to prevent rioting, which in the end did not ensue.
Nineteen of the buildings were actually demolished by Arabs themselves before Israeli wrecking crews arrived. Nearly all the buildings were in the Negev; two were in Arab neighborhoods of Yerushalayim. Two other Yerushalayim homes slated to be demolished were left standing after residents presented documentation showing that they were in the process of legalizing ownership.
The issue of illegal building – in which empty land is appropriated for the construction of homes and businesses – received great attention in recent weeks, as Amona residents faced forced eviction from their homes based on the claims of absentee Arabs who said the land belonged to their families before the 1967 Six Day War. Forty-some families agreed to leave their homes willingly, pending the construction of caravans on another part of the Amona hilltop, within 45 days.
But the incident focused the spotlight on the much larger issue of illegal Arab construction on land owned by Jews and on state land. According to experts, there are some 50,000 such buildings, and the state has in the past done little to halt the phenomenon. In the wake of the Amona decision, Yerushalayim Mayor Nir Barkat instructed the city’s legal advisor to begin proceedings for the demolition of thousands of illegally built structures occupied by Arabs in the city. Many of the buildings are located on land belonging to the Official Receiver of the State, an office that administers property on behalf of absentee owners. In a letter to State Attorney Avichai Mandelblit, Barkat said that the demolition of homes in Amona gives the city a green light to demolish homes in his city illegally built by Arabs on state land and privately owned Jewish land. City officials said that hundreds of demolition orders have already been distributed.
Commenting on the developments, the Regavim group, an Israeli watchdog that works to prevent illegal Arab building, told the 404 new sites that “after long years when there was practically no enforcement, we have come to the point where the government is finally doing its job, and we are very happy about this. Let us hope that this week’s actions are just a first step to imposition of true Israeli sovereignty throughout the country.”