|M.Sc Student||Avischai Smadar|
|Subject||Illegal Construction in the Arab Sectorin Israel Case Study|
|Department||Department of Architecture and Town Planning||Supervisor||Professor Emeritus Rachelle Alterman|
In this thesis we focus on the phenomenon of illegal construction in Israel’s Arab sector through a case study of the town of Um-El-Fahem (UEF). In UEF, like in most Arab town- villages in Israel, the land system is traditional and residential construction is usually undertaken by each private family. We found a mismatch between the amount of land zoned for residential use by the existing (old) plans, and the needs generated by natural population growth as well as the pattern of development customary in the Arab sector. Several new plans are under preparation of review by the planning authorities, but the review process has taken many years. The majority of the construction in recent years in Um-el-Fahem (UEF) is therefore illegal in strict terms, in that it does not have a legal building permit as required by Israeli law.
We propose that the question of legality in UEF should be conceived - for the purpose of our research - not as a "yes or no" situation, but rather as a question of degrees of legality. We proposed three major degrees of legality: "Strictly legal” - with a legal building permit; “quasi-legal” - without a legal permit but within an area where plans are currently in the pipeline and would likely re-zone the area as residential; and “blatantly illegal” - construction without much chance of receiving a building permit in the foreseeable future, often on land zoned agricultural, road reserves, etc.
Our empirical research in UEF sought to measure the extent of illegal development. We found that there was no consistent registration through the years of illegal construction or enforcement notices, but there was a reasonably consistent listing of applications for building permits. We therefore decided to rely on air photos that were taken at intervals of a few years, counting the number of new units visible, and compared this number with the number of applications for building permits. We hypothesized that much of the new construction would have to be in the “quasi-legal” category - and in recent years, the municipality would give its silent consent to this practice by demanding a deposit on building fees that will be payable once a permit could be issued legally. It seems that the district planning authorities - in charge of plan approval and national enforcement policy - have had a policy of not enforcing demolition orders in the “quasi-legal” category.
Our findings confirm this hypothesis in part: In the village core area, strictly legal construction declined from 90% in the 1970’s to 40% in the late 1980’s. While the rate of submission of applications was considerably higher in both periods (109% and 75% respectively), it did decline in the late 1980’s - perhaps because the fees for permit submission were higher. In the outskirts area, the rate of submission of permit applications rose with time, covering the great majority of new construction (there, enforcement may have been more strict and the families more affluent). We offer several recommendations for legal and policy changes in order that illegal development in Israel’s Arab sector be better understood and prevented.