Last week, as the fighting broke out on Israel's border with Lebanon, I received an irate anonymous email. The letter referred to an article published a few weeks back regarding the conclusions of an inter-ministerial committee discussing tax breaks to "peripheral" towns (outside central Israel).
TheMarker reported: "Kfar Vradim and Nahariya were expected to lose their beneficial tax status, but on the other hand, Israeli Arab towns in the Negev and Galilee were likely to gain tax breaks."
By now you've guessed the writer's beef: "It's good that the tax breaks are being taken from Nahariya and given to Arabs", he snorted in writing, as the websites reported the latest hail of Katyushas on Nahariya.
Maybe the writer was from Nahariya and we can understand him, but we don't agree. Not only because Nasrallah's katyushas are blind; Israeli Arab towns in the Galilee also took hits, and not only because the economic damage misses nobody, including the Arab companies and restaurants.
We couldn't agree mainly because if there is one clear conclusions raising from the attacks, it's that the term "periphery" has become meaningless, when it comes to national security. The entire state of Israel has become the "periphery".
Since the intifada broke out in late 2000, in fact, most of the risk to personal safety has been in central Israel, not the "periphery". Jerusalem, Afula, Hadera, Netanya and Tel Aviv have been far more dangerous than the towns in the north during the last four years, where the suicide bombers didn't trouble to tread.
Anybody trying to indulge in calculating the balance of wretchedness won't find that the northern towns have any real advantage over any other towns. And if you want to base tax breaks on danger, then the Nahariyans will find a lot of people from Haifa in line, and there are a lot more of them, too. In fact, if hazard to life is the criterion, then almost everybody in Israel deserves tax breaks. The geographical breakdown becomes nonsensical.
The gauge of security situation-related danger, or misery, has lost all value. The only gauge still remaining in favor of the "periphery" is that of economic woe.
The peripheral towns are poorer. They have less jobs to offer and are not attractive enough to attract strong residents. People don't want to live there, because it doesn't pay. Dimona or Ofakim are among the safest cities in Israel; nobody attacks them; but nobody's lining up to live there, either.
The risk to the pocket, not the self, is what's holding up development of the periphery. Therefore, the criterion for helping the periphery should be purely economic. Poorer towns should be supported through economic incentives such as tax credits amounting to 13% to 25% of pay (anybody earning NIS 10,000 would get a NIS 1,300 to NIS 2,500 discount on his tax bill). It matters not at all whether the beneficiary lives in a Jewish or Arab town. Strong towns that attract residents wouldn't get any breaks at all, however "peripheral" they are.
By that criterion, neither Kfar Vradim nor, apparently, Nahariya, would be entitled to any tax breaks at all.
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