TAYBE, January 23 (JMCC) - As the third largest Palestinian city in Israel
prepares to hear the verdict in its appeal to the Israeli state about housing rights and development, residents of Taybe
continue to suffer under urban planning laws they say are discriminatory.
“Not only is the state not giving us the ability to live on this land, even the land that is in our hands, the state is trying to take away,” Zuheir Tibi, the head of the Taybe Popular Committee, explained.
With a population of 36,000 residents, Taybe suffers from a systematic lack of services, including most notably the Israeli state’s refusal to grant building permits to residents, despite their desire to build in state-sanctioned housing areas.
As a result, the city has filed an appeal in Israeli court that will be heard on January 25. The appeal demands that the state grant the building permits required to satisfy the natural growth of Taybe residents, and that the municipal “Master Plan” takes into account the city’s needs.
“It’s a very important lawsuit and it’s a principled one,” said Tibi, explaining that in the previous court session, the judge put the onus on the Israeli government to explain why it wanted to demolish houses in Taybe, and why it hadn’t put forth a comprehensive zoning plan for the city.
“[The judge] also froze the demolition orders. It was very encouraging,” Tibi added.
Up until 2006, Israel granted 220 building permits each year to Taybe residents. Over the past four years, only between 40 and 60 permits have been issued annually.
In addition, since 1993, Taybe residents have not been given one additional dunum of land, despite population growth. Today, only 3.5 percent of land in the city is not owned by the state.
“It’s really difficult. I have roots here, but I can’t get a house where I was born,” explained Yousef, a 40-year-old Taybe resident who, like many of his neighbors, is unable to legally build a home because he can’t get a permit.
“The land is ours. It’s ours officially; we have the papers. But the state policy is making it worse,” Yousef added.
According to Tibi, the majority of houses in Taybe – as is the case in most other Palestinian cities inside Israel – are built without permits because residents have no other options.
“The chance that a regular person in Taybe will receive a building permit is almost zero. This is why many people build illegally; they have no choice. It’s either you don’t have anywhere to live or you build without permission on land that is designated for houses,” he said.
Taybe is considered part of the Triangle, an area with a dense concentration of Palestinian-majority cities bordering the Green Line, the internationally recognized armistice line between Israel proper and the West Bank
Israeli foreign minister and leader of the far-right Yisrael Beitenu
party Avigdor Lieberman has advocated transferring cities in the Triangle to Palestinian control, thereby stripping Palestinians inside Israel of their citizenship, in exchange for annexing Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
“The Israeli government is trying to restrain our population and trying to create an uprising amidst the Arab population. They are preparing the ground for transfer,” Tibi said. “They treat the Arab population as an enemy and not as citizens.”
In addition to hostile rhetoric on the part of Israeli politicians, the government has used national projects and the expansion of Jewish-only neighborhoods to create barriers for Palestinian citizens and their communities, Tibi said.
In fact, Taybe is unable to expand because it is contained on all sides by a combination of natural barriers and national projects: a mine, a major highway, a stream, land zoned as green space, and new apartment complexes in the Jewish community of Tzur Yitzhak. Electricity lines also cut through the community, while gas pipes have been laid directly under residents’ homes.
“Why are all the national projects on Arab lands? This road could have been moved. The gas line could have been moved. The state is using national projects only on Arab lands,” said Tibi, as he stood on a hill overlooking the city, a municipal zoning map in-hand.
“We need a real plan that caters to the needs of Taybe’s people.”