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Bill to connect illegally built homes to power grid clears first Knesset vote

Proposal backed by coalition’s Ra’am party approved 61-48; 130,000 Arab Israelis live in illegally built homes that cannot be connected to national grid

An unrecognized Bedouin village in the Negev, April 1, 2014 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
An unrecognized Bedouin village in the Negev, April 1, 2014 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A bill that would allow thousands of illegally built homes in Arab Israeli communities to be connected to the power grid cleared its first Knesset reading on Monday.

The proposal, sponsored by Ra’am MK Walid Taha, was approved with 61 votes in favor and 48 against.

The bill will now go to the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, which is led by Taha. The panel needs to okay the measure before it can come up for the second and third plenum readings it must pass to become law.

Monday’s vote came after Taha and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked reached an agreement last month to allow the bill to advance, after a spat between the two over the proposal held it up.

The law being pushed by Ra’am, an Islamist party in the coalition, would allow the Israel Electric Corporation to connect some homes to the grid even if they were built without permits. It would also let the company replace illegal and dangerous makeshift power grids prevalent in some areas with regulated legal connections.

Around 130,000 Arab Israelis live in illegally built homes in cities across the country that cannot be connected to the national grid, under existing legislation. Arab Israelis blame outdated urban plans that classify open land as “agricultural” rather than residential, while the Israeli right criticize what they call lawlessness in Arab communities.

Ra’am MK Walid Taha attends a Knesset Arrangements Committee meeting on June 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

It remains unclear how many homes would be connected to the national grid by the legislation. An analysis done by the left-wing Sikkuy nonprofit found that only around 1,050 Arab homes fit the criteria under the new law to be connected to electricity.

Some homes will also likely be connected in ultra-Orthodox communities, where illegal construction is also rampant. Committee members from ultra-Orthodox parties also expressed support for the law.

The law will seemingly not cover illegally built homes in Israeli West Bank outposts, which has sparked ire from some of Shaked’s allies in the settlement movement.

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