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    Monday, March 20 2000 07:39 13 Adar II 5760

    Adel Ka'adan and his family say they will observe the Jewish holidays with respect while keeping their own customs at home.
    Photo by Sarit Uziely

    Community fair
    By Eetta Prince-Gibson

    (March 20) -- The recent High Court ruling, which stated, that a settlement could not bar Arabs from living there has been met with various reactions --

    The Ka'adans from Baka al-Gharbiya just wanted to improve the quality of their lives and send their children to better schools.

    Nearly five years ago, Adel Ka'adan, 44, a registered nurse at Hillel Yaffe Hospital, and his wife Iman, 33, a teacher-housewife, saw an advertisement for plots of land at a reduced cost in the Build-Your-Own-Home neighborhood of Katzir, a community of 2,000 residents high on a hill over Nahal Irron, not far from Hadera.

    But when the Ka'adans tried to obtain the necessary registration forms, they were politely, but firmly, told that they should not even apply.

    Arabs, they were told, could not buy a plot in Katzir.

    The Jewish Agency established Katzir in 1985 on ground it had obtained from the Israel Lands Administration. As in most communal settlements, in Katzir there is a community association which is responsible for much of the daily functioning of the settlement and has had until now sole discretion to accept or reject prospective members.

    Since the Jewish Agency is responsible for settling Jews in Israel, and since the community association accepts only Jews - Arabs have been effectively barred from buying homes in communal settlements.

    "The advertisement was for everyone," Adel recalls. "It didn't say it was just for Jews. It said for Israeli citizens. I am a citizen, too."

    The Ka'adans, represented by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), took their case to the High Court of Justice.

    2 weeks ago, after four years, the court ruled 4-1 that the government had broken the law when it allocated state-owned land to the Jewish Agency to build a community settlement that barred Arabs from building homes there.

    According to ACRI attorney Dan Yakir, the ruling is revolutionary.

    "It is the first time that the court said very clearly: the State of Israel, which considers itself both democratic and Jewish, cannot accept and will not accept discrimination against Arabs. The court is emphasizing the universalistic values in Judaism - that to act in accordance with Jewish values is to act with justice and equality."

    The full implications of the ruling are still unclear and it has yet to be tested. But the court's decision may prove to be the catalyst for deep changes in the meanings of Zionism, Judaism, and the Jewish State.

    A DUSTY path leads up a small hill to the Ka'adans' home in Baka-al-Gharbiya. They have pasted bumper stickers reading: "A Whole Generation Wants Peace" and "Friend, I remember" on a nearby wall.

    The house, large, bright and modern, is still under construction.

    "I had started to think that the court would never hand down a decision," Adel says, looking a bit uncomfortable. "So we renovated our house here in Baka al-Gharbiya. Soon, I hope, we'll move to Katzir."

    Their three daughters, aged two, five, and 10, watch television downstairs. Fresh flowers and plants decorate the large living room, but the newly painted walls are still bare.

    Iman, nearly seven months pregnant, sits down heavily. "When we applied to Katzir," she recalls, "we didn't think about ideology. We just thought about our children.

    "In Baka al-Gharbiya, there are 40 students in each class, and the walls are full of asbestos. And the government has promised a computer to every child, but there are no computers in the classrooms here.

    "In Katzir, there are 17 children in each classroom, with two teachers. And there are plenty of computers. We want that for our daughters, too."

    Adel explains that, as a registered nurse, he has had numerous opportunities to see how Jews live, and he expects no less for himself and his children.

    "Yes, we have a nice home here," he acknowledges, "but we want to give our children more than just a nice home. We want to raise our children in a positive environment.

    "The environment in Baka al-Gharbiya is depressing, and our children can't grow and develop. We want them to have interesting after-school activities, a green park to play in, a community center and a sports field - like they do in Katzir and in other Jewish communities. I have to drive my daughter for nearly an hour to take her to ballet lessons."

    Although he says he had experienced rejection and racism before, Adel claims he was surprised when he and Iman were told they should not even bother to apply for the land in Katzir.

    "For more than 27 years, I have worked in the Jewish sector, in the hospitals. I am a dedicated nurse. My patients love me, and I treat them with love and respect. Am I good enough to treat Jews when they are sick in the Hillel Yaffe Hospital, but not good enough to be their neighbor in Katzir? That is racism, pure and simple."

    BUT DUBBI Sandrov, head of the combined Katzir-Harish council, doesn't think of himself as a racist, and he doesn't think that the Ka'adans should come to live in Katzir.

    "Of course we will obey the court's ruling," Sandrov says, but adds that the ruling "is open to interpretation and it's not clear that the Ka'adans will be coming here any time soon."

    He implies he intends to generate political support for his position, although he refuses to be specific.

    While his secretary phones MKs and public officials, Sandrov chooses his words carefully.

    "We're not racists here," he insists. "This case isn't about the rights of individuals to live wherever they choose. It's about the rights of communities of people to live according to their values. It's about the meaning of living in a Jewish state."

    Katzir, according to Sandrov, is largely homogenous. The community association has carefully chosen its members to preserve the community's character and style.

    "We wanted the community to be Israeli, made up of people who served in the army, are committed to Zionism, and share our values and way of life," Sandrov says.

    In fact, he continues, the selection process is actually good for both the applicant and the community.

    "We prevent a lot of heartache and disappointment by not accepting people who don't fit in. Our biblical sources tell us, 'Do not place a obstacle in front of a blind man.' "

    Furthermore, he adds, Katzir has recently decided to accept large numbers of new immigrants, who live on the next hill, several minutes' drive away.

    "Absorbing new immigrants is part of our Zionist commitment, it is important to us here in Katzir," he says.

    THE STREETS of Katzir are wide and well paved, with numerous speedbumps and lyrical names. The large stucco houses are painted in Mediterranean shades of ochre, rose, and aquamarine and are surrounded by rock gardens and well-tended lawns. Large windows open onto astounding views of the Irron valley and the surrounding hills.

    There is a large youth center, built by the Mifal Hapayis, and numerous small parks with jungle-gyms and swings.

    In a playground on Rehov Amirim, near the school to which the Ka'adans want to send their children, an impromptu parliament of mothers discusses the court's ruling. They, too, are wary, and refuse to be identified by their full names.

    "Everyone should live where they want to," says Orna, 34, a housewife and mother of three, who has lived in Katzir for five years. "I came here for the quality of life, so why shouldn't the Ka'adans?"

    "Because they are Arabs," retorts Heli, a 39-year-old teacher and a resident for 10 years. "They won't fit in. We're different, Arabs and Jews. We have different holidays and different customs. In communities like ours, people should have the same values and customs.

    "I don't think that haredim should live here, either. Arabs and Jews should live next to each other, in mutual respect, with equality, but separately."

    But the High Court specifically rejected the idea of separate but equal. Citing the United States' famous racial discrimination case, Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, (1954), Court President Aharon Barak wrote that separate but equal communities are "inherently unequal."

    "Equal?" scoffs Adel Ka'adan. "Look at the paved streets of Katzir, and look at the sewage running in the streets of Baka al-Gharbiya. Is that equality?"

    Sandrov, too, maintains that separate but equal could work, although he acknowledges that until now it has not. In fact, he admits, since its creation, Israel has not established even one communal settlement for Arabs on state land, while hundreds of such settlements have been established for Jews. And he also acknowledges that funding of Arab municipalities is less than the allocations to Jewish municipalities.

    "The Arabs should receive more equal treatment," Sandrov says. "It doesn't mean that they should come to live in Jewish communities. A small community like Katzir isn't like a city. People have to be able to live together."

    When completed, Katzir is scheduled to be home to 1,200 families, according to Sandrov. The court rejected Katzir's contention that its "special character" provided grounds for discrimination.

    ON REHOV YEKEV, high on Katzir's hill, a surveyor is measuring new lots. Danny (who also declined to be fully identified), a teacher in the regional high school, does not believe that the Ka'adans' motives are "innocent."

    "They came here on a political platform," he insists. "They already live in a villa. And the educational system in Baka al-Gharbiya is adequate. They are part of a larger plan. I know they are. Like the others."

    He gestures towards the distance, clearly referring to Uri Davis and Fathi Mahmid.

    Davis, a well-known left-wing activist, purchased a lot in Katzir in 1995.

    According to Davis, the community association's selection committee accepted him without any reservations.

    But Davis had purchased the plot for Fathi Mahmid, a wealthy contractor from Umm el-Fahm. Last spring, after his home was completed and he had received the necessary permits, Davis convened a press conference and formally transferred ownership of the home to Mahmid.

    Sandrov also believes that the Ka'adans are politically motivated. "They have a fine home in Baka al-Gharbiya. Why do they need to live here? They are certainly connected to political groups who want to take over lands in this area." Sandrov points to a large aerial map of the Irron area.

    "We are the minority here! Jews make up only two percent of the population here. Look - most of this land is owned by Arabs, and the only big towns and cities are all Arab."

    In fact, Katzir was established as part of a plan by Ariel Sharon. It is one of eight settlements running from north to south along the Green Line, intended to create a buffer between the Arabs of the West Bank and the Arabs of Israel and to prevent expansion and encroachment by Arabs onto state-owned lands. Kochav Yair, home to Prime Minister Ehud Barak, is one of these eight settlements.

    "Why is it an 'encroachment' when I want to live somewhere?" Iman asks, rhetorically. "I was born in Fureidis, and my mother and father owned lands in Tantura. But those lands were taken over by Israel in 1948 and in 1950, and we were left with nothing.

    "We have rebuilt our lives, and we know that we can never get our lands back. I can accept that, but why can't the Jews allow me to live wherever I want?"

    Salai Meridor, Chairman of the Jewish Agency, thinks the High Court of Justice has made a terrible mistake.

    "This is the Middle East, not the Mid-West," says Meridor. "The Jews are a minority in these areas, and we will lose them. This is suicidal. The Arab-Israeli conflict is not over."

    "The court has said that we must give land to Arabs," says Sandrov. "But what would happen if an Arab sold land to a Jew? There is a fatwa [Islamic religious ruling] prohibiting it. Doesn't that tell us that the conflict isn't over?"

    Sandrov insists that, as an educator, he believes in coexistence and that he and his family, along with many members of Katzir, have warm relationships with many of the Arabs in the region.

    But warm relationships between communities are not enough, Adel insists.

    "I grew up in Baka al-Gharbiya and even participated in Hashomer Hatza'ir activities. But I demand more than that. I want equality - for myself, for my family, and for Arabs in Israel...

    "Don't the Jews understand? We Arabs have been loyal citizens of the state, waiting for equality. But how long should we wait? Young Arabs are bitter and angry."

    And so, Adel says, he has persevered in his struggle.

    "I say struggle," he emphasizes, "and not fight. I don't think of this as a war, because if there is a war, there are winners and losers. I don't think that Katzir has lost because it has gained us as members."

    Not surprisingly, responses to the court's ruling have been divided. Justice Minister Yossi Beilin (One Israel) called for the complete dismantling of the Jewish Agency; Meretz called the decision "historic"; and Likud Whip Ruby Rivlin claims that it signals the "end of Zionism and the end of the Jewish state."

    Says Netta Ziv, formerly of ACRI, who first brought the case to the High Court: "The court has ruled that when the Jewishness of the state conflicts with democratic principles, democracy must take precedence. This is a wonderful ruling for the future of Israel."

    Rivlin responds: "In the past, whenever there was a conflict between the Jewishness and the democratic character of the state, we gave our Judaism precedence. This ruling is a tragedy for the Jewish People."

    THE ARAB community's reaction has been tepid. According to Hassan Jabareen, executive director of Adallah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, the Ka'adans may have advanced their personal status, but they have done little for the cause of Israeli Arabs.

    "The Ka'adans are seeking to integrate into Israeli society," says Jabareen, "but most Arabs in Israel do not want to integrate. We want to remain a cultural and national minority. We also want to remain separate - but we demand to be equal. The Katzir case does nothing to advance the Arab collective."

    The court ruling stresses that the decision applies only to Katzir, and does not establish that the value of equality automatically trumps all other values.

    One reason the Ka'adans may not actually get to settle in Katzir has nothing to do with politics. When they tried to apply for the plot of land nearly five years ago, it cost $17,000. Today, the same land costs $91,000, and they have no way of raising that sum of money.

    But there are other reasons, too. Sandrov insists that the ruling can be interpreted in different ways, some of which preclude their joining the community.

    Since it took four-and-a-half years until it made its decision, the court was obviously aware of the mines that lay along the route of this case.

    Justice Barak was widely quoted as saying that this was the most difficult judicial dilemma he has ever faced.

    "We are taking the first step in a sensitive and difficult journey," he wrote in the decision. "It is wise to proceed slowly, so that we do not stumble and fall."

    But the Ka'adans are excited and in a hurry. In the next few days, they say, they will register to live in Katzir.

    Sandrov is concerned. "I'm not just worried about our community. As an educator, I am worried about the Ka'adans, too. What will it be like for them to come here?"

    Iman is optimistic. "I hope they will accept us there. Not everyone said no, there were people in Katzir who thought we should be allowed to come to live. If people really care about co-existence, they will look at our children and at their children, and they will accept us."

    "How will they live among us?" Sandrov asks. "Will they respect our Jewish holidays? Don't they want to keep their own traditions and culture?"

    Iman is confident. "I will observe the Jewish holidays with respect, and I will be happy that my children know Hebrew and know more about Jewish customs and holidays. And I will keep my own culture, too, within our home. Just like the Jews, who lived in Christian and Moslem countries, where they were the minority."

    What about Independence Day?

    "We are not political people," Adel responds. "There is pain when we think about the events of 1948, but it is over. It is time to put aside the pain, bitterness, and sadness, and to live together in equality."

    "It's almost Purim," Iman adds. "Maybe next year, my children will dress up in costume and go to the Purim party at Katzir."

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