Environmental policies and spatial control: the case of the Arab localities development in Israel.

AuthorKhamaisi, Rassem


SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE 1990S, public and institutional awareness of the environmental problems in Israel have influenced the public agenda, spatial planning and zoning policies. The statutory planning system on all three levels-local, district and national--became more environmentally sensitive. In an attempt to limit urban sprawl, the planning system placed additional restrictions on the conversion of agriculture, forest and open spaces for development. The governmental system tried to assign universal spatial planning policies. In some cases, the implementation of the law differs depending on national and ethnic affiliation. The Arab minority in Israel, which constitutes about eighteen percent of the Israeli population, suffers more from the limitations of environmental spatial control policies than the Jewish majority. Essentially, this policy confines the spatial expansion of the Arab minority, however, it is officially justified by regressing to the excuse, that restrictions are necessary for the protection of the environment.

Consequently, the way in which the Arabs in Israel frame the control and regulative spatial planning policies, is rooted in the national territorial conflict. The Arabs in Israel claim that this spatial environmental planning policy is part of a policy of spatial control. Such a policy aims to limit their territory, confiscate their land, impose an urbanization process and disrupt their connection to the land.

This essay describes the mechanisms of territorial control. It studies the spatial statutory planning policies in Israel, according to national planning, as well as how the Arabs understand, perceive and explain these policies as part of their narratives. The paper will concentrate on explaining the role of the national plan for forests (National Plan number 22) in limiting urban development among the Arab representatives (heads of local authorities, land owners, planners and developers).

The essay consists of five parts. The first part presents a general theoretical framework for understanding the narratives according to national affiliation and public policy, which includes spatial planning. The second part provides a short presentation about the Arabs in Israel and their main problems with planning and environmental policies. The third part gives a description and analysis into the territorial mechanisms for spatial control. This includes policies, as well as how these policies deal with the Arabs in Israel. The fourth part of this paper presents a discussion that concentrates on the national forest plan and its environmental role. This is in addition to other national, district and local plans, which aim to crystallize environmental spatial policy and how Arabs relate to this policy. The paper concludes with a general discussion, which ultimately focuses upon the Arab perception of Israeli planning policies in general and environmental policies in particular. In addition, the author of this paper is a member of the planning staff, which prepares different plans on various levels. Some of the conclusions and explanations are derived from these experiences. In addition, selected data has been collected from plans and websites of governmental departments such as the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Interior and the Israeli Land Authority. In the preparation of this paper, interviews with representatives of Arab localities were conducted in order to understand the perceptions and attitudes towards the environmental policies, which applied in proximity to Arab Localities.


Today, the awareness of environmental issues has spread throughout states and communities in both developed and developing countries. These countries discovered that overpopulated areas, extensive development, geopolitical and national conflicts are potential sources of environmental problems. Spatial control is one of the instruments and tools to reduce these problems. It is implemented by statutory, restrictive and conservation planning, closing areas and confiscating private land. Consequently, spatial control has been used as a strategy and a policy in order to protect areas from environmental problems. In various states (regardless of level of democratization), there are ethnic, national, socio-economic, get-political and spatial conflicts. Conflicts are often a product of socio-cultural and get-political growth arising between the minority and the majority. The majority, which has the power to practice spatial control in order to reach spatial domination, uses different strategies and public policies to secure and strengthen their existence. This spatial conflict is very active in states which have national conflicts or which consist of divided communities along national or religious affiliations. The national group majority, which governs public institutions and organizations, uses those public policies to guide spatial policies.

The majority and the minority have different, and sometimes opposite, explanations and understandings of the causes of environmental problems. The majority feels that they have the legitimacy and the right to demand public policies and spatial control strategies. While the minority suffers from these policies and strategies, and feel no civic attachment to these polices. The majority does what they can to confine the development of the minority, and to secure the dependency of the minority upon the majority. Every community tries to present their attitude and narrative to convince other groups' members and other groups of its dominant right. In divided communities who suffer a conflict, every group has its reality and explanations based upon their understanding, myth, history and culture.

In Israel, there is a rooted national and geo-political conflict between Arabs and Jews. The two communities are living in deeply segregated and divided spaces. Each community has its own narrative, which includes radically different interpretations of history, reality and of the future. The Jewish majority places a huge effort on implementing territorial control and securing Jewish hegemony and domination. Ever since the establishment of the Israeli State, and during the British mandate period, the Jewish majority used the agriculture, forest plantation and open spaces as mechanisms to control the space, which existed around Arab localities. In the areas where the Arabs were surrounded by open space and forest territory, they felt like prisoners. In many cases, the government representatives explained the allocation of "green areas" (agricultural land, forest plantation and open space) as a necessary environmental consideration. This will be discussed in more detail below.


The relationship between the environmental and spatial control and planning amongst the Arabs in Israel was primarily affected by their situation in Israel. Their attitudes and behaviors toward the spatial and environmental planning was part of their socio-political status, and the threat that they felt these policies presented to their future development.

The Arabs in Israel are indigenous and native people. After 1948 they became enforced citizens of the new Israeli state. In the new Israeli state the Arab population was transformed from a majority into a minority. Most Arabs lived in small villages, which were mainly dependent upon agricultural, and which were located in the periphery of the new state, close to its boundaries. The Arab communities behaved according to traditional patterns (Khamaisi 2000), while the demographic construction of the pre-1948 Arab cities was gradually transformed into Jewish cities. On the other hand, the populations within the villages continued to experience a natural increase. This was separate from any immigration movements to the Arab villages. The absence of Arab only cities meant the absence of an upper and middle class tier of Arabs, which under natural development would have emerged from a normal urbanization process.

Alternatively, the new situation led to a truncated urbanization process among the Arabs in Israel (Gonen and Khamaisi 1992). Excluding Nazareth, all the Arab localities remained small villages. After the 1948 war, the core of the Arabs was absent (see Table number 1). The rest of the indigenous Arab population, which had fought against the establishment of the Israeli state, was later transformed into citizens of this state. However, the new Israeli government imposed military governors over Arab citizens, in order to limit and control their movements, between 1948 and 1966. The new situation created a geopolitical conflict between the new state and its citizens. The new state began to confiscate land from Arabs. The Jewish majority controlled the resources of land, whilst retaining political authority, thus determining resource allocation, enforcing mobility limitations upon Arabs and confining their spatial enlargements.

Geo-political and socio-cultural conflicts characterized the relationships between the Arabs, the central government and Jewish communities in the new state. This had a direct impact on the behavior of the Arab communities, and in particular upon their psychological health and self-perception. Ultimately, these feelings were directed towards preserving their traditional structures and planning policies within their own communities. The sense of collective "belonging" of the Arabs to the new state and central government was limited. The absence of belonging to the central Israeli government encouraged the continuation of the local traditional social structure, which was based on relative affiliation and kinship belonging. This was called the "Hamola." The Hamola formed the social structure, which characterized the new situation for Arab villagers within traditional communities. In the...

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