Israeli Official Rules on Land Sales (AP) By GAVIN RABINOWITZ JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 01/27/05 12:20 PM)
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JERUSALEM - A Jewish group that owns hundreds of thousands of acres
of Israeli land must allow Arabs to buy the tracts, Justice Ministry
officials said Thursday, ending decades of sales to Jews only.
Until now, non-Jews have been barred from land tenders issued by the
quasi-government Jewish National Fund, an issue that raised the
thorny problem of Israel´s desire to be both a Jewish state and give
equal rights to its Arab minority.
The decision by Attorney General Meni Mazuz to allow non-Jews to buy
the fund´s land - originally purchased using donations from Jews
around the world - provoked an outcry among hard-line Israelis, who
called for his firing.
Israeli Arabs criticized another part of the decision - compensating
the JNF with state land for parcels of land it sells to non-Jews.
Mazuz made the decision in a meeting Wednesday with members of the
JNF and the Israel Lands Authority ahead of a Supreme Court hearing
on the issue of the selective sales, the Justice Ministry said.
The ILA, a body which holds all government land, is responsible for
the JNF sales as well.
"The attorney general is convinced that the Israel Lands Authority,
as a government body, is obligated to uphold the principles of
equality. This obligation includes the marketing of lands belonging
to the JNF," the statement said.
However, Mazuz also said that in any case where a non-Jew buys JNF
land, the government would compensate the organization with state-
owned tracts "so as not to harm the goals of the JNF ... to settle
Jews on its land."
The JNF, founded in 1901 to buy plots in then-Ottoman-ruled
Palestine, describes itself as "the caretaker of the land of Israel,
on behalf of its owners - Jewish people everywhere."
To a large extent, land owned by the JNF defined the early borders of
the state of Israel.
Hard-line Israelis slammed Mazuz for the decision.
"He is using the law to commit a crime," said lawmaker Arieh Eldad,
from the ultra-nationalist National Union Party.
"For more than 100 years, money has been collected from Jews all over
the world. ... As a small child, we would put money into the small
blue boxes every Friday because they explained to us they were buying
land for Jews in Israel," Eldad said.
"Now, along comes the attorney general and steals the money from me
and my grandfather and decided to give it to the Arabs," Eldad said,
calling on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to fire Mazuz.
The JNF played down the decision, calling it a procedural matter.
"I do not know of any dramatic, historic decisions," Yehiel Leket, a
JNF director, told Israel Army Radio.
Leket said Mazuz merely voiced his support for "practical measures so
we can avoid being subject to the Supreme Court or legal rulings."
Arab Israeli lawmakers also condemned the move, saying the provision
to compensate the JNF from state-held land was another means of
continuing the discrimination.
Mazuz and the JNF have "institutionalized a decision to continue with
this racist policy , but in politically correct language," said
lawmaker Azmi Bishara.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, one of the Supreme Court
petitioners, welcomed the decision but also expressed concern over
the reimbursement idea. (Copyright 2005 Associated Press. 01/27/05)
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