On May 12, 2020, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released “Israel: Discriminatory Land Policies Hem in Palestinians,” the latest installment in its decades-long campaign to assail Israel’s legitimacy. Timed to coincide with the observance of Nakba Day (May 15) – when anti-Israel activists mourn the establishment of the Jewish State as a “catastrophe” – HRW once again invents rights while embracing a 1948 agenda.
The document purports to demonstrate that Israeli planning policy is driven by an anti-Arab agenda that artificially creates a housing crisis for the country’s Arab citizens. In the words of Eric Goldstein, HRW’s acting Middle East executive director, “Israeli policy on both sides of the Green Line restricts Palestinians to dense population centers while maximizing the land available for Jewish communities” (emphasis added).
HRW ignores the inconvenient reality of urban planning in Israel: housing is a general problem, for Jews and Arabs alike. A February 2015 survey conducted in advance of national elections found that 47% of voters saw Israel’s housing crisis as having “a significant or very significant impact” on their vote. Moreover, only 18% of Israelis professed faith in the state’s housing planning, according to data released by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) in January 2020.
Moreover, according to the Israel Planning Administration (IPA), Israel has taken steps to address these concerns, including in Arab-majority villages and towns. Among the measures referenced in a letter to HRW is the approval of over 160,000 housing units in Israeli-Arab communities from 2012-2019, with over 25% of them approved in 2019 alone. Additionally, the IPA points out that 119 of 132 Israeli-Arab communities enjoy a “master plan,” necessary for expansion.
Another HRW attack is blasting Israel for not working to “accommodate natural population growth” in Israeli-Arab towns. Unfortunately for HRW, there is no obligation on the state to accommodate individual housing preferences. States must balance many factors when addressing the issues of housing, zoning, and planning, including public health and safety and environmental concerns. The housing issues in Israel related to high birth rates impact many parts of society, and is not limited to the Arab sector.
Lastly, HRW’s ignorance of the broader context of Israeli housing policy extends to its criticism of admissions committees, a hurdle that Jewish Israelis seeking residence in certain communities often do not clear themselves.
In other words, this latest HRW publication reveals more about the organization’s embrace of a Nakba narrative and agenda than it does about Israeli planning policy.