Palestinian Refugee Resettlement: Learning from the Israeli Development Town and Mass Immigration Experience of the 1950's and 1990's

David Newman

prepared for Palestinian Refugee ResearchNet, July 2000

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With the impending establishment of the Palestinian State, one of the first tasks to be carried out by the new State Authorities will be the construction and development of an adequate housing supply for the Palestinian refugees - both those residing in crowded and sub-standard conditions within the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as those living elsewhere who take up the option of returning to the new State. Current estimates of the numbers of Palestinian who will opt to return are varied, ranging from 500,000 by the year 2010 (Palestinian Bureau of Statistics) to 700,000 (the Palestinian Ministry of Planning) at a rate of approximately 100,000 per year, although the actual rate of return will be dependent on the extent to which economic development takes place. Given the fact that of the approximately three million Palestinian residing, at present, within the West Bank and Gaza Strip, many of them in poor housing conditions, it will be necessary to create housing for between 50-80,000 people per annum over the first five years, while the actual figure could end up being even larger. Given an average famiyl sixe of 4-5 people per household, it will be necessary to build approximately 15-20,000 housing units per annum at the very least, with the figure rising to as much as 25-30,000 housing units if the initial refugee return is significantly larger than expected. Neither does this take into account the fact that the Palestinian population is growing at a rapid rate due to natural growth, approximately 3.8 percent per annum (100,000 additional people each year) and that many families will require larger housing units than those they presently occupy.

The need to provide a supply of mass housing is not simply an issue of physical construction. It requires an overview of the entire regional planning process in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a public sphere activity which is undeveloped at present and which has also suffered, over thirty years of Israeli control, from lack of adequate zoning, environmental and construction standards. Planning requires the location and distribution of new housing sites and/or completely new urban developments to tie in, as much as is possible, with the present distribution of the settlement network - both urban and rural -, enabling the future development of a settlement hierarchy which can function as efficiently as possible with adequate physical infrastructure (roads, electricity and sewage, communications networks) while, at the same time, avoiding unnecessary duplication of services if, and where, they already exist. Good planning also requires adequate attention being paid to the social fabric of new communities, the availability of economic and employment opportunities within a relatively short commuting distance from the place of residence, and the need to prevent wholesale destruction of the environment and very sensitive ecological balance which, as of now, is already in a poor state throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

While political objectives may dictate the necessity to construct a relatively large number of housing units in a short a time as possible, it is essential that the Palestinian Authorities take account of the long-term costs - be they social, economic and/or environmental - which may arise from a non-integrated approach to the overall process of planning and construction. This is even more the case given the relatively small area of the Palestinian State (assumingthat at its largest it will be no larger than the equivalent total area of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, approximately 5,000 square kilometers) and the high population densities, reaching acute and almost unmanageable proportions in the Gaza Strip.

During its fifty-year history, the State of Israel has taken in large numbers of immigrants, with peak periods being experienced in the years immediately following the establishment of the State in 1948, and again during the early 1990's with the mass influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. In the first instance, the Jewish population of the country was doubled from approximately 600,000 inhabitants to over 1.2 million in the space of four years, while in the latter case, the entire population of Israel (excluding the West Bank and Gaza Strip) increased by nearly a fifth (from five to six million) also in the relatively short time period of five years. While the social and economic conditions of the country were very different in these two time periods, there are nevertheless a number of lessons to be learnt from each of these periods of mass immigration which can serve as pointers - do's and do not's - for the Palestinian State in dealing with the absorption of large numbers of Palestinian refugees - not only in terms of the process through which dwelling units are constructed but also in terms of the long term social, economic, regional and environmental impacts. This paper will discuss the process through which housing was provided in Israel during these two periods of mass immigration, focusing on the social and economic constraints of each time period, and the extent to which lessons learnt from the first period (the 1950's) were taken into account during the second period (the 1990's). Finally, the paper will draw on the lessons from both periods of mass immigration to focus on some of the pitfalls to be avoided by the Palestinian Authorities in their desire to rehouse large numbers of Palestinians, at the same time taking into account the difference in political cultural, ethnic and social stratification, and the physical extent of the area within which such housing solutions can be implemented.

This analysis assumes the unlimited right of return of Palestinian refugees to the new Palestinian State, but does not deal with Palestinian repatriation within the borders of the State of Israel. Whether such repatriation will take place or not is unclear at the moment and, even if it were to take place it would probably be on a limited scale and would be dealt with by the Israeli housing authorities. As such, it is not relevant for the purposes of this paper.

The 1950's Experience and the Establishment of the Development Towns

Between 1948 - 1952, the State of Israel absorbed some 600,000 Jewish immigrants. The immediate problem for the State authorities was to provide them with sufficient and adequate housing. In the short term, this was dealt with through the establishment of transit camps, consisting of tents and/or prefabricated huts, while many of the new immigrants took over the abandoned properties of the Palestinian refugees. In the long term, the State planners founded a series of new, "development", towns dispersed throughout the country, but mostly in the peripheral regions of the Galilee in the North and the Negev in the south in an attempt, not only to provide housing solutions to the rapid influx of immigrants, but also as a means of providing integrated socio-economic solutions where, it was hoped, the settlers

Between 1948-1963, nearly thirty new towns were constructed, the majority of them during the 1950's as a means of settling the mass immigration which had arrived in the years immediately following the establishment of the State of Israel. In 1997, these towns encompassed a population of approximately 800,000 inhabitants, some eighteen percent of the country’s population. Israeli governments and planners have generally favored a settlement policy promoting population dispersal, and over the years have combined a mixture of planning policies and investment incentives to persuade both population and industries to locate in the epripheral regions of the country. This policy however, ahs only been successful in times of mass immigration, when there was a high degree of government intervention in the planning and housing construction process, or as the result of the flow of resources and population during periods of "national emergency". The founding of the development towns in the negev and galilee regions during the 1950’s was the direct result of mass immigration and the government’s desire to bolster the demographic composition of these regions.

The government became directly involved in construction, especially in these peripheral regions where the new development towns and villages became the new homes of penniless immigrants. During periods of mass immigration, the State is able to intervene and determine just "where" people should live, as contrasted to periods of little -or no- immigration when the private market begins to take over. But the private sector is unable to cater for the immediate housing needs of hundreds of thousands of people who arrive in a short period of time. Huge amounts of capital investment is necessary for the creation of new towns or neighborhoods, including the large infrastructural costs, for populations who arrive with little, if any, disposable resources of their own. The development towns were mostly built on public lands with the State taking on the responsibility for planning and infrastructure costs. In the first stages of development, much of the construction activity, such as land reclamation, road building, construction of housing, also provided crucial employment opportunities for the immigrants. The existing housing and construction companies commenced the building of permanent housing but it soon became obvious that this task was beyond their capabilities. The government then assumed responsibility, first through the creation of a Housing Division in the Ministry of Public Works, later to become a separate and autonomous Ministry of Housing.

The impact of the State housing agencies was of major significance in the establishment and continued management of the development towns. These state agencies provided the finance for the construction of the housing, as well as being actively and directly involved in the planning, zoning and subcontracting of these developments. The mass construction activity was highly centralized and, as such, tended to take on uniform characteristics throughout the country, both in terms of the type of buildings, as well as the social composition of the residents. Local authorities, to the extent they attempted to do so, were largely unable to make changes or modifications. In the few cases where the local authorities pressed their demands, the State Agencies simply commenced construction beyond the existing municipal limits in new neighborhoods which were eventually annexed to the city, or awarded separate independent municipal status. The fact that all this activity was centralized also meant that the residents of these new townships and neighborhoods could be brought from anywhere, not just from the local region, thus enabling the State to redirect new immigrants to whichever location they so desired and, as discussed below, also achieve the political objective of population dispersal away from the metropolitan center of the country and into the peripheral regions. Thus the Northern and Southern districts of the country received a disproportionate share of the public housing and new residents of the country during this period.

At the national level, it was considered ideologically "positive" to disperse the new immigrants throughout the existing urban network, not only because it enabled the use of existing infrastructure, services and roads, and thus reduced the costs vis a vis the establishment of the new development towns on virgin sites, but also because it was seen as contributing to the social mix of new and old settlers. However, at the local level itself, this was not always met by such strong support by the existing residents, because of what was perceived as their "oriental" customs and their lower levels of social and economic development. Within the rural sector, spatial segregation between the existing farming communities and the new ones was strongly maintained, in many cases separate schools and other social support services being set up for the two populations. It was a classic case of a NIMBY ("not in my backyard") syndrome, where national objectives of state formation were approved throughout the country (it was the politically correct thing to do) but opposition to the implementation of these objectives was met at the local level as, and when, it affected existing residents in their own neighborhoods.

The need to build speedily resulted in the construction of dwelling units which, in a relatively short space of time, were too small and inadequate. Many of the first immigrant dwelling units were no larger than an average of 30 square meters, including one or two rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. As economic conditions improved later, so too was the size of the average dwelling unit, but only after many of the immigrant families - most of whom had large families - suffered from overcrowded and difficult conditions. Between 1951-1961, public housing agencies and companies built about 75 percent of the dwelling units, although the public sectors share in the investment was a little over fifty percent, indicating that the public housing stock was of a poorer quality than that of the private sector and that it largely catered to the lower income and penniless groups.

Despite the major government activity involved in providing adequate housing, by the end of 1951, one fifth of the country's population still lived in the temporary units which had been provided for them. There was a backlog of housing for a quarter of a million people, giving rise to a national housing crisis. It took a further six to seven years before this backlog was finally solved, during which period many of the immigrants lived in shanty town type conditions under great hardship while, at the same time new immigrants continued to pour into the country, thus creating even further demand for housing. The need to meet this demand as quickly as possible, and with the limited resources even of the State, meant that both the physical conditions and size of the dwelling units, as well as the social support services, were kept to the minimum and were far from adequate.

The dispersal of the development towns throughout the peripheral regions not only provided immediate housing solutions, but also played an important political role in the battle for demographic hegemony between Arabs and Jews, with the State authorities attempting to achieve a Jewish majority not only at the nation-wide level, but in each and every region, especially those which retained a large concentration of Palestinian-Arab residents. Whereas the agricultural communities - the kibbutzirn and the moshavim - had been (and continued to be during the 1950's) a means through which the Jewish state extended its control over ever larger expanses of territory on behalf of self defined national political objectives, these communities never amounted to more than a relatively miniscule proportion of the population. In terms of creating demographic superiority, the State used the development towns, and the absolute control it had over determining where the new, penniless, immigrants would be housed, as a means of achieving this political objective throughout the country.

It took a few years until the government realized that it was not sufficient just to build housing stock, but that it had to provide for the long term economic development of these communities. This became even more important as the first phase of construction was completed and the immigrants who had been employed on the building sites now found themselves without jobs. Despite the high levels of government subsidies and tax benefits to enterpreneurs, the development towns have continued to suffer from a lack of afequate employment opportunities. Factoris areconstantly closing down in these towns, resulting in the highest levels of unemployment in the country and, in turn, to greater welfare dependency and out-migration of the residents. This has been a socio-economic and demographic pattern which has chaarcterised the development towns almost from their inception and through until the present period.

In the long term, Israel's development towns were transformed into the main geographic and social cores of poverty and disempowerment within the Jewish community. They became centers of ethnic discontent as a result of their high levels of unemployment, their distance - both geographic and political - from the center of power and decision- making, and their general treatment by the Ashkenazic political and social elites who perceived the residents of these communities in a paternalistic fashion, as people who needed to be "civilized" into the workings of a modem, European, form of culture and Statehood. The peripheral geographic location of most of these towns meant that the residents suffered from a situation of "double peripherality", unlike their counterparts who settled in the poverty neighborhoods of Tel Aviv and who were able to find alternative employment sources within the wider metropolitan region, despite the fact that they too suffered from similar social and cultural estrangement.

In a country where the two national groups - Jews and Arabs - are highly segregated in their own towns, villages and urban neighborhoods, the settling of the new immigrants in the development towns only served to strengthen the ethnic segregation of different communities within the Jewish community. Prior to the establishment of the development towns, there was no clear spatial distinction between the "old timer" and "newer" settlers amongst the Jewish immigrants to Palestine. The fact that the development towns were constructed as a means of providing housing for the many new immigrants, together with the fact that the vast majority of the new immigrants were from North Africa and Asian countries, resulted in the emergence of a highly segregated landscape. The immigrants, most of whom were unskilled or were unable to find employment whatsoever, were also of lower income and, as such, the public housing projects of the 1950's - be they the establishment of new neighborhoods in existing towns or the establishment of new development towns in the periphery of the country - were transformed into homogeneous ethnic and lower income class neighborhoods.

In addition to the social and ethnic structural problems, the establishment of the development towns left their mark on the wider settlement landscape. In retrospectr, too many separate and independent towns were established, rather than focusing on a fewer number of large twons. As such they competed with each other, often in a relatively small geographic space, for scarce public sector and industrial resources, while — until the arrival of the Russian immigration of the 1990’s — most of them failed to grow beyond the critical threshold stages which would have facilitated a more efficient and cost effective delivery of municipal services. It is therefore not surpising that from the mid-1950’s onwards, greater attention was given to expanding and consolidating the existing urban and rural network, rather than creating additional urban centers (the two exceptions being the towns of Arad in the south, and karmiel in the north, both of which were founded in the early 1960’s). It also explains why, during the epriod of mass Russian immigration in the 1990’s, the idea of creating entirewly new towns was never considered by the planners or policy makers.

Learning from the Past? The Russian Immigration of the 1990's.

The mass immigration of residents from the former Soviet Union during the 1990's resulted in the arrival of XXXX people during the decade. Between 1990-1996 alone, 700,000 new immigrants arrived. By the end of 1995, Israel’s population had reached 5.6 million inhabitants, a five percent annual growth during the years 1990 and 1991, 2.7% growth in 1992, and over ten percent growth during the first half of the decade. Given the development town experience of the previous forty years, Israeli politicians and planners were wary about the way in which these immigrants should be absorbed and provided with housing and employment opportunities. Despite the fact that the 1980's had been a period of relatively little immigration and the private sector construction companies had become more involved in providing for the changing housing and residential patterns of the country's population, it nevertheless required the State, once again, to provide the means for finding an instant solution to the mass housing needs of such a large population. For a relatively short period of time, caravan estates were set up as a short term, transition, phase, but these were phased out within two to three years, not least because the planners and policy makers were aware of the long term resentment against the State held by those immigrants of the 1950's who had had to endure a number of years in the temporary encampments of that period. Moreover, the greater sophistication of the construction industry in the 1990's meant that relatively high quality housing could be provided within a relatively short time period, given the funding and support of the public agencies. The government enabled the Housing Ministry and Planning Authorities to operate according to Emergency Laws, reducing much of the beauracratic delays of zoning and planning committees, bringing about the initial privatization of land, but, at the same time, paying scant attention to, and in some cases even blatantly ignoring, the environmental and ecological impact of this mass development. Emergency construction regulations focused on the need for speed. The authorization process for new plans was reduced to a maximum of sixty days, the transfer of land to the contracting construction companies was made for only 20-30 percent of its real value (or at no charge whatsoever in the case of the development towns of the periphery), and the government signed comitments to purchase all unsold housing units from the construction companies.

Unlike the 1950's experience, completely new towns were not constructed. Instead, resources were poured into the establishment of new neighborhoods within the existing urban communities, with a major focus on the development towns of the periphery. However, this time, given a more realistic assessment of the economic and employment needs of the immigrant population, resources were also poured into creating housing in new neighborhoods and suburbs in the major metropolitan centers. The existing stock of empty and available rental accommodation in the private sector was also mapped and incentives were given to home owners to rent out their accommodation rather than keep it empty. The increased pressure on the housing stock resulted in a rise in rental prices in the private sector, thus making it worthwhile for these properties to be rented out, but it also resulted in exploitation of many of the new immigrants who were overcharged and ended up using most of their available resources for accommodation expenses. A system of "direct absorption" was put into operation, whereby many of the immigrants were able to choose their own residence in the private market from a stock of available housing and were provided with rent subsidies and other assistance during the initial period of acclimatization. The Ministry of Absorption, together with the Jewish Agency, covered the cost of rent for the first year. In this way, while the State still was responsible for mass construction throughout the country, it was able to pass over some of the responsibility to the private market which became a more active partner in the absorption process than had been the case during the 1950's.

From 1989-1991, the number of housing starts throughout the country rose from 20,000 to 84,000. Approximately 130,000 housing units were completed during 1990-1992. In effect, the establishment of new residential units and neighborhoods within the existing towns served to expand the overall housing stock available, not just for the new immigrants but for the entire population. The 1980's and 1990's was a period of rapid change within the Israeli housing market, with many of the country's residents seeking to improve their living conditions, either through leaving the towns altogether and moving to the many new suburban and exurban communities which were springing up throughout the country and where residents were able to purchase plots of land and construct their own large detached houses, or through exchanging their relatively smaller urban apartments for larger and more modem apartments in the new neighborhoods. Unlike the public housing of the 1950's, the new residential units were built at much higher standards - both in terms of facilities available and the average size of the unit itself. While in the 1950's the dwelling units had been built at standards which, even then, were below the national average, many of the units constructed in the early 1990's were built at standards which were equivalent to, and in many cases even better than, the existing housing stock, especially in the development towns.

While many of the new neighborhoods had been inhabited exclusively by the new immigrants during the 1950’s, this time it was not exclusively so. By creating alternative models of absorption, the immigrants were provided with a choice, some of them opting to use the 'direct absorption" process within existing rental accommodation, others preferring to be directed to the new developments - mostly in the periphery - by the State. It was accepted by the State planners that, while the mass Russian immigration had provided the State with yet another opportunity of increasing the demographic presence in the periphery and the development towns, this could not be an exclusive policy and that many of the immigrants should be allowed to move into the private housing sector within the metropolitan center if they so desired, not least because there were better employment opportunities in these areas. Thus, many of them chose to reside within the metropolitan center of the country, despite the higher costs involved, while others preferred to use their available resources in such a way as to pay less rent and reside in the new neighborhoods which had been established in the development towns and other peripheral locations. Others still rented accommodation within the older parts of the existing urban locations, enabling veteran residents to move out of their older dwelling units and improve their living conditions by moving into the new neighborhoods. As such, many of the new residential developments became much more mixed than had been the case in the 1950's, populated by both recently arrived immigrants from the former Soviet Union, as well as veteran residents who were improving their physical living conditions. Similarly, the older parts of the existing towns also experienced a mix, as the property vacated by residents desiring to improve their living condition was then taken up by the immigrant population.

As far as the development towns of the periphery were concerned, many of them experienced an increase in their population by a third, and in some extreme cases almost doubling, in the space of only three-four years, thus exerting strong pressures on the existing physical and social infrastructure. The fact that the Russian immigrant population was largely composed of small, often one-parent families, often accompanied by an elder relative, a pattern which could not have been more different than the existing ethnic composition of the development towns and the poorer neighborhoods of the metropolitan center where the average family size was large and young, also meant that the type of social and welfare support which existed within these communities was often incompatible with the needs of the newly arrived population.

Thus, the influx of the new immigrants placed a severe strain on the municipal buidgets and service infrastructures, While municipalities were obligated to provide basic services to ne whouseholds, they were unable to support this increased spending because the newcomers were either unemployed or undergoing retraining courses, which meant that they were mostly exempt from local taxation. In addition, new immigrants are entiteld to a variety of tax concessions during their first years in the country. Many local authorities protested to the central government that they would be unable to provide even these basic municipal services to the newcomers if they did not receive increased fiscal assistance.

The arrival of the Russian immigrants had a major impact on the social composition of the development towns. Until the 1990’s, these places had remained the focus of Mizrahi (Jews from north African and Asian origin) underprivilege throughout the country. During the 1980's, these groups began to undergo a process of local empowerment, becoming much more active in the management and administration of their own local authorities, as well as playing a more active role in the party politics at the national level. Sectoral, ethnic, parties looked to the development towns as an important power base during periods of elections, bringing out the anti-establishment resentment which these populations retained, blaming the Ashkenazi elites for their economic and social predicaments. Many of the new neighborhoods were almost immediately transformed into homogeneousr ethnic communities, with Russian becoming the spoken language within the immediate vicinity, Russian language newspapers being sold at the local shops, while food outlets began catering to the eating habits of this new population. Within a short period of time, Russian became the third spoken language of the country - after the two official languages of Hebrew and Arabic.

The Russian immigrants looked with disdain at their new neighbors within the development towns, perceiving them as "oriental", "uncultured and uneducated" and not to be mixed with. Despite their residential location in many of these peripheral locations, the Russian immigrants saw their lot as being with that of the secular European elites, the Ashkenazi population. At both the local and national level, they formed their own political parties, often wresting power away from the veteran populations and bringing about a great deal of friction and tension. At the national level, the political parties set up for the Russian immigrants gained a significant number of seats in both the 1996 and 1999 elections, attaining a place in the coalition governments and even ministerial positions. Overall, the integration and adaptation of the Russian immigrant population into the social, economic and political system took place almost immediately, as compared with the North African and Asian immigrants of the 1950's, who have only recently began to undergo a process of empowerment.

In many cases tensions and frictions developed between the veteran North African and Asian residents of the development towns with their newly arrived Russian neighbors. The former saw the latter as having benefited from conditions and assistance which were far superior to those they themselves had received during the 1950's, the fact that this was due to the vastly improved economic condition of the State, plus the fact that the authorities did not want to repeat the mistakes of the 1950's, was irrelevant to the veteran residents who saw this as yet another way by which the lot of the "Europeans" had been preferred to those of "Eastern" extraction. Another source of friction was the fact that the Russian immigration was almost entirely secular, in many cases non-Jewish altogether, while the veteran population was largely traditional and, in many cases, overtly religious and orthodox. The introduction of secular lifestyles by the newly arrived immigrants became the focus for much localized conflict in these towns and neighborhoods.

As in the 1950’s, the arrival of the mass Russian immigration served a number of longer-term structural political objectives. In the first place, they enabled many of the development towns, which had been experiencing stagnation, or even net demographic migration outflow, to undergo sudden and rapid growth, thus reaching the sort of size thresholds which, given the necessary resources, enables them to provide a fuller and wider range of public and municipal services. Net migration patterns show that, in the long term, the development towns had displayed more out-migration than in- migration, as the younger generations left these places in search of better economic and social opportunities in the metropolitan center of the country. The initial inflow of the Russian immigrants changed this picture almost overnight, providing a new opportunity for the government planners to check the decline of the outlying populations. The National Plan for Immigrant Absorption proposed increasing the relative weight of the population in the southern region alone from seven percent (317,000 in 1989) to nine percent (550,000 by 1995). The population of the Tel Aviv region would, according to this same plan, decline from 23 percent to 19.7 percent during this same period. At the same time, there were first indications that some of these newly arrived inhabitants are, having become acclimatized to their new country of residence, already beginning to move away from the peripheral locations and into the metropolitan center of the country. At the same time, the vastly improved transportation and communications infrastructure of the country has served to reduce the distance between so-called "peripheral" locations and the metropolitan center of the country, enabling residents of many of the development towns to commute daily into the metropolitan area while enjoying the lower housing costs of the periphery. The vast improvement in the country’s rail network which ahs taken place during the latter part of the 1990’s is also expected to have a structural impact on commuting patterns and distances of the Israeli population, making the metropolitan center more accessible to residents of the peripheral regions.

Despite the increase of the Israeli population by nearly a fifth during the first half of the 1990's, the average rate of unemployment did not rise significantly beyond the national average of 8-10 percent. This was partly because the Russian immigrants created their own sources of demand, coupled with the fact that this is a highly educated population, many of whom were integrated into the high tech and international market sectors which have experienced growth in Israel during the past decade. At the same time, the high percentage of skilled manpower, such as doctors, engineers, academics and arts professionals, was too great for the Israeli marketplace to absorb, while many Israeli employers (public and private sector) argued that the levels of technology brought from the former Soviet union was not sufficiently advanced to attain an equivalent job in Israel. Many of the newcomers underwent retraining programs.

As in the 1950's, the settling of the Russian immigrants fulfilled wider political objectives of the State. Not only did the new immigrants bring about major demographic growth within the development towns, they also served to change the Jewish-Arab balance of the population, at both the national and local levels. Due to the available empty housing in many of the development towns, some of them - particularly those in the north of the country - had become targets for the local Arab-Palestinian populations who suffered from a lack of adequate housing in their own towns and villages. The influx of mass Russian immigration enabled the authorities to "fill" up the available housing with Jewish immigrants and thus prevent what was seen by many of the Israeli policy makers and planners as the undesired "infiltration" of Arab residents into these towns. This was particularly apparent in some of the older towns, which prior to 1948 had been entirely populated by the local Arab population and which during the first forty years of Statehood had become characterized as having a "mixed" Jewish-Arab population, albeit within increasingly segregated neighborhoods. It was also apparent within some of the development towns in the north of the country which were surrounded by Arab towns and villages which were experiencing rapid demographic growth but lacked the opportunities (because of government planning policy) to undertake their own physical expansion. A classic example was the case of Upper (Jewish) Nazareth where, during the 1980's, many of the available dwelling units were inhabited by Arab residents of Lower (Arab) Nazareth. This had resulted in sporadic incidents of anti-Arab incitement and racism by some of the more extreme elements within Upper Nazareth who desired to maintain a total ethnic separation between the two towns. The influx of the Russian immigrants meant that all available apartments were now taken up, while new neighborhoods were also constructed to cater for the sudden increase in demand for housing.

Despite the problems encountered, the asborption of the Russian immigration has been relatively successful, especially when compared with the experience of the 1950’s and the initial establishment of the development towns. Social and economic integration has been much more rapid, while the expansion of the existing development towns, many of which had stagnated for over two decades, has helped bring about a partial rejuvenation of these places, although many social and employment problems still exist. At the same time, the influx of the new immigrants has, in many places, brought about new social and inter-ethnic tensions which have only served to add to the heterogeneity of the Israeli Jewish population, at both the local and national levels.

Overall, the mass immigration of the 1990’s has had a major impact on the growth of the settlement network. Nearly every urban community has experienced substantial population growth, although the overall dispersal and size hierarchy of settlements has remained much the same. But growth has brought with it a number of functional and structural problems. Investment in industrial and employment infrastructure is necessary to prevent out-migration from the development towns. Should this occur, the the effect on these towns would be devastating, with vacant housing, underused service infrastructures, bringing about even worse conditions than existed prior to the arrival of the immigrants.

Some Lessons for Palestinian Refugee Repatriation

The Israeli experience of mass resettlement in both the 1950's and 1990's brings with it a number of lessons which need to be considered by the Palestinian Authorities in preparing for the need to rehouse hundreds of thousands of refugees. Most of the immigrants in the 1950’s arrived from the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa, while a smaller ammount arrived as holocaust survivors from Europe. The immigrants arrived destitute, lacking housing, jobs and financial resources. While the "pull" factor of the new Jewish homeland played a role in their decision to come to palestine, the major impetus for their move was the "push" factors and the feelings of insecurity in their place of origin. By contrast, most Palestinian refugee repatriation would be "pull" migration, with refugees in Syria and Jordan likely to flow to the new Palestinian State in modest numbers, the intensity of the flow being shaped, in a large part, by comparative economic opportunity. Based on this reality alone, it would seem that the Russian model, encouraging flexible and timely response by the construction sector largely on the edges of the existing urban areas, is a more relevant approach to refugee absorption than the development town model of the 1950’s. the one exception to this may be the case of the Palestinian refugees in lebanon who may be subject to greater "push" factors than those residing in either Jordan or Syria.

While the economic conditions of the new Palestinian State vis a vis the refugees are more similar to the conditions which prevailed in Israel of the early 1950's, the methods of construction and the available technology are those of the 1990's. The Israeli experience has shown that it is not sufficient simply to focus on the process of physical construction but equally, if no more so, to understand the social, economic and environmental implications of the construction process. The long term social and economic consequences of mass building, rather than the obvious short term benefits to be gained from simply providing the physical housing infrastructure - be it improving the housing stock and conditions for those still residing in refugee camps, or providing adequate housing for those returning to a Palestinian state from elsewhere - must be taken into account. It is also important to take account of the fact that the total land area in question - whatever the ultimate territorial configuration of the Palestinian State - will be about one quarter of the size of Israel, with a population of between a third to one half (depending on the number of refugees who return from outside Palestine) resulting in extremely high population densities. There will be little choice but to focus on urban and high rise developments if any areas of open land are to be retained - possibly in the Jordan valley and/or in the southern reaches of the West Bank region.

But given the small areal extent, it will not be necessary to provide employment opportunities within every community as the journey to work - including those who continue to commute from the Gaza Strip and West Bank into Israel - can be accomplished in almost every case within a maximum journey time of one hour to ninety minutes. Given a scenario of open boundaries between a Palestinian State and Israel, many residents of both the Gaza Strip and West Bank would probably continue to commute into Israel, certainly during the earlier phases of Statehood when the necessary investment in economic and employment infrastructure has not yet taken effect, despite the obvious neo-colonial implications of this type of economic relationship. Paradoxically, the construction, by the Israeli authorities, of the bypass roads to serve the Israeli settlements, has brought about a significant improvement in many of the West Bank roads, thus facilitating more rapid means of commuting for the Palestinian population.

Although the Palestinian population is internally more homogeneous than the different waves of Jewish immigration to Israel, it is essential that the Palestinian Planning Agencies do not fall into the trap of creating new neighborhoods to be populated entirely by specific population groups. There are at least four different population groups which can be identified, namely the veteran residents of the West Bank and Gaza who have remained in their homes, some of whom have become well established in both social and economic terms; the refugee population who remain in refugee camps within the West Bank and Gaza; the refugee population in the refugee camps in neighboring countries but who have not been subject to Israeli rule; and the refugee population - first, second and third generations - who reside elsewhere in the world and have established themselves, attained citizenship in their country of residence, but retain a strong Palestinian identity and attachment. The immediate needs of construction are for the population residing within the refugee camps, first and foremost within the West Bank and Gaza, and secondly within the neighboring countries. While any form of permanent construction will be a vast improvement on their existing living conditions, it is essential that the planners do not fall into the trap of the Israeli planners of the 1950's, namely in their haste to provide adequate housing, the dwelling units were built at small and sub-standard levels and thus create feelings of dissatisfaction and resentment against the State Authorities. Given the fact that there is not the immediate need to provide housing within the short term, it is advisable for refugee repatriation to be planned in accordance with the pace of construction activity, so that it will not be necessary to build temporary tent or caravan sites - which may even worse than the conditions in many of the existing refugee camps which have taken on characteristics of partial permanency - within which refugees will quickly become dissatisfied.

It is also essential for the right mix to be found between the public and private sector construction. This may be particularly problematic with respect to the West Bank and Gaza Strip given the large number of separate donor organizations, all of which are ready to contribute towards refugee resettlement. It is essential to create a system of coordination which will enable these donor organizations to cooperate and invest in joint projects but, at the same time, without creating an over-centralized and rigid planning framework. Given this institutional setup, it will be more likely for relatively small scale housing projects, rather than wholescale new towns, to be developed.

Whichever type of housing development is pursued, the construction of new neighborhoods, perhaps even a completely new town, should be planned with a view to the overall housing conditions within the new Palestinian State and should not only be seen as providing an immediate solution to the problem of refugees. Construction at higher standards in some places may bring about a filtering down process within the housing market, with veteran residents of the West Bank towns seeking to improve their living conditions, enabling some of the refugee population to move into the newly vacated accommodation in the older parts of the towns, this being a first step in the process of social and economic integration into the new State. This will also allow for greater social mix, rather than the concentration of all the refugees in separate housing developments (some of which will be unavoidable whatever happens) and thus reducing the possibility of future tensions based on feelings of economic inequality and discrimination.

It is also important to provide alternative means of refugee housing and absorption, enabling the client population to choose the method which is best suited to them, rather than imposing a single centralized mode of operation. To the extent that the private rental sector has available accommodation there is no reason why those requiring resettling should not be encouraged to receive rental subsidies and take up residence, rather than moving exclusively into the new housing estates which will be built. The extent to which alternatives exist will largely depend on the available resources of the refugee families which may, in turn, be dependent on the extent to which refugees recive some form of compensation package as part of the repatriation process. Another possibility may also be the transfer of the housing stock of some of the Israeli settlements to the Palestinian State, in which case there would be some very high quality detached housing available, perhaps as a means by which veteran residents of the towns would improve their own living conditions, creating new availability within the towns themselves. However, this assumes that some, if not all, of the settlements will actually be evacuated as part of the final agreement, and that Israel will agree to sell, or transfer, these settlements to the Palestinian State rather than destroy them as happened following the evacuation of the settlements in Northern Sinai in 1982.

At the regional level, it may be necessary to establish a small number of completely new urban developments, in which case, the location of these towns relative to the existing urban infrastructure is critical. Given the Israeli experience, it is preferrable to establish a small number of relatively large towns, each of which will quickly reach the appropriate size thresholds necessary for the efficient delivery of a municipal service system. It is essential to avoid the situation whereby new towns will compete with the existing towns, or with each other, for the allocation of scarce public resources. As such, a town in the southern, less densely populated, area of the West Bank, or in the Jordan valley (climatic conditions allowing) would be the most suitable location for the establishment of completely new urban developments.


Selected Bibliography

Berler, A. (1970) New Towns in Israel. Israel Universities Press: Jerusalem.

Coon, A. (1994) Town Planning Under Conditions of Military Occupation.

Efrat, E (1989) Development Towns in Israel: Past or Future? Achiasaf Press: Tel Aviv.

Efrat, E. (1998) Physical Planning prospects in Israel during 50 Years of Statehood. Galda & Wilch Verlag: Berlin.

Falah, G (1996) 'Living together apart: Residential segregation in mixed Arab-Jewish cities in Israel', Urban Studies, Vol 33, 823-857.

Falah, G & Newman, D (1995) `Small state behaviour: On the formation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip', Canadian Geographer, 39 (3), 219-234

Gonen, A. (1995) Between City and Suburb: Urban Residential Patterns and Processes in Israel. Avebury Press: Aldershot.

Israel, National Council for Planning and Construction (1991) Integrated Outline Plan for Construction and Development for Immigrant Absorption - Tama 31. Ministry of Interior, Jerusalem. Two Volumes (In Hebrew).

Lipshitz, G (1998) 'Spatial patterns of internal migration to and from development towns in Israel', In In 0. Yiftachel & A. Meir (eds) Ethnic Frontiers and Peripheries: Landscapes of Development and Inequality in Israel. Westview Press: Boulder, Co. pp. 171-188.

Newman, D. (1998) 'Population as security: the Arab-Israeli struggle for demographic hegemony', In N. Poku & D. T. Graham (eds) Redefining Security: Population Movements and National Security. Praeger: London. Pp. 163-186.

Newman, D & Falah, G. (1996) `State formation and the geography of Palestinian self determination', Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie (TESG), 87 (1), 60-72.

Newman, D, Gradus, Y & Levinson, E (1995) The Impact of Mass Immigration on Urban Settlements in the Negev 1989-1991. Negev Center for Regional Development, Working Paper No. 3. Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel.

Peled, Y (1998) 'Mizrahi Jews and Palestinian Arabs: exclusionist attitudes in development towns'. In In 0. Yiftachel & A. Meir (eds) Ethnic Frontiers and Peripheries:

Landscapes of Development and Inequality in Israel. Westview Press: Boulder, Co. pp. 87-113.

Shachar, A.S (1971) Israel's development towns: evaluation of national urbanization policy', Journal of the American Institute of Planners, Vol 10, 271-291.

Shachar, A.S & Lipshitz, G (1981) 'Regional inequalities in Israel', Environment and Planning A, Vol 13, 436-473.

Yiftachel, 0 (1998) 'The internal frontier: territorial control and ethnic relations in Israel', In 0. Yiftachel & A. Meir (eds) Ethnic Frontiers and Peripheries: Landscapes of Development and Inequality in Israel. Westview Press: Boulder, Co. pp. 39-68.


Executive Summary

Housing options:

    1. The Palestinian Authority should undertake an immediate mapping of existing accomodation, to include the size, facilities and availability of rental accomodation. The Authority should offer rent subsidies to refugees, and tax benefits to homeowners, so that any existing dwelling units become available on the hosuing market immediately
    2. New housing estates at the edges of existing urban centers should be preferred to the construction of completely new towns.
    3. Construction of new dwelling units should take account of the overall housing conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, resulting in an integrated housing solution, rather than the needs of the refugees alone.
    4. Refugees should be allowed to choose between alternative housing solutions, dependent on their available resources. This should include both the private and public sector of the housing market.
    5. Public sector construction should not build dwelling units which are too small for the average family size. Such a solution, based on the need for "immediacy" will only result in longer term dissatisfaction and may give rise to social problems.

Employment options:

    1. Given the relatively small areal extent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it is not necessary to create employment opportunities for all the refugees within immediate proximity to their new place of residence.
    2. Commuting to work, be it within the Palestinian State, or to Israel or Jordan, is an option which must be examined. But it must be undertaken in tandem with the improvement and expansion of the transportation and road infrastructure.
    3. Where completely new housing estates are constructed, the refugees can be gainfully employed in the construction work itself. However, this is a short term solution which will cease to exist as soon as the dwelling units are complete.
    4. In new housing estates, the new communities will create some of their own employment opportunities — in shopping centers, public services etc;. The residents of these new estates should be preferred in the competition for employment in these places.

Social structure:

    1. In order to avoid the sort of social problems which have accompanied both periods of mass immigration rehousing in Israel, it is important to attempt to create a wider spatial mixing of Palestinian refugees with veteran residents, rather than the creation of homogeneous housing estates to be inhabited only by returning refugees.
    2. The construction of high quality housing should enable veteran residents of the West Bank and Gaza State to improve their living conditions, while vacating their existing dwelling units for the benefit of those refugees desiring to live within the older cores of the existing towns. This will enable greater mixing in both new and old areas of housing.

Environmental considerations:

    1. To the extent that it is possible, mass construction should not be allowed to damage even further the delicate ecological and environmental conditions which exist in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
    2. No construction plans should be approved by the Planning Authorities without adequate sewage, transportation and noise considerations.
    3. It is essential to preserve the few remaining open spaces in the region, in particular the Jordan Valley and the southern portion of the West Bank. Any planning of new housing developments should take this into consideration.

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2000 Palestinian Development Research Net (PRRN)
The page was last modified on October 31st, 2000 by Marc Lanteigne and Rex Brynen.