The Nazareth District Court on Sunday revoked the tenders won by dozens of Arab Israeli families to build homes in Afula, months after a spate of racially charged protests rocked the northern city.
Court president Justice Avraham Avraham said in his decision that the 48 Arab families violated housing tender rules by coordinating their bids on several of the 50 lots for homes in a planned neighborhood next to the Afula Illit neighborhood in an effort to fix prices for the homes.
“The coordination between bidders severely damages the principle of equality,” Avraham said in his decision. “The bidders joined forces to coordinate their proposed prices in an effort to unfairly divide the market among themselves.”
He noted that a number of bids for adjacent properties, won by separate families, went for the identical amount of NIS 255,555 ($68,000).
Police launched an investigation into the tenders in December after hundreds of the city’s residents protested the decision to award construction rights to the Arab families.
The protesters, primarily Jewish residents of Afula, charged the bids were a deliberate effort to ensure the new neighborhood would be exclusively populated by Arab residents, and demanded the tenders be disqualified.
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Additionally, residents said the bids should be disqualified because they were all won by residents of Arab villages in the area, and not by residents of the city. They demanded that preference be given to Afula residents in all future land projects.
The Afula protesters also expressed objections to the idea of an all-Arab neighborhood in the city.
Signs reading “The mayor has betrayed us; he wants to build a mosque” and “Afula in danger” were seen at two separate protests in the city last December.
Among the demonstrators at a December 27 rally were senior officials from the Afula and Nazareth Illit city councils, as well as David Suissa, the chief of staff to Housing Minister Yoav Galant, the Haaretz daily reported at the time. Suissa, who lives in Afula, has faced public calls for dismissal over his participation in previous demonstrations on the issue.
That demonstration, according to the report, was also attended by Bentzi Gopstein, the head of the controversial anti-Arab Lehava group, who was greeted by cheers including “Kahane lives.” Meir Kahane was a virulently anti-Arab rabbi whose Kach party was banned from the Knesset over incitement to racial hatred, but whose ideology still inspires many Jewish extremists.
Justice Avraham, however, firmly denied his Sunday decision was influenced by racial or tribal concerns.
“The decision in no way was influenced by the fact that all of the tender winners were Arab,” he wrote, dismissing claims of discrimination as “irrelevant to the litigation presented to the court.”
Arab MKs in response slammed the ruling as “shameful,” saying it was “in keeping with the spirit of segregation of Bezalel Smotrich,” the right-wing lawmaker who last month caused a storm when he proposed that Arabs and Jews be segregated in Israel’s maternity rooms.
A Sunday statement from the Joint (Arab) List — the coalition of the Knesset’s Arab parties — accused the Nazareth court of capitulating to the “roars of hatred from the protesters who don’t want Arabs in Afula.”
Joint List Member of Knesset Aida Touma-Sliman also issued a statement rejecting Avraham’s claims that his ruling was not racially motivated.
“The revoking of the Afula tender is just one example of the racial segregation in Israel,” she said. “There are approximately 900 communities where Arabs are not allowed to live, and today, the court handed Afula the seal of approval to be an Arab-free city where racial segregation has been officially legislated.
“The court’s claim of illegality on the part of the bidders is nothing but a lame excuse by racists who endorse the discrimination, segregation and oppression of the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel,” Touma-Sliman added.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.