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Rahat, the only Bedouin settlement big enough to merit the designation of "a city," with a population of 40,000 residents, has only one bank branch (Mercantile-Discount). No other bank is willing to open a branch there. An estimated 10,000 people live in the surrounding area.

A group of residents is now working through the community action organization Yedid to persuade the banks to change their minds.

The group sent letters, assisted by MK Haim Oron (Meretz) who is an area resident, to Bank Hapoalim CEO Zvi Ziv, to Bank Leumi CEO Galia Maor, and to Eli Yones, CEO of Mizrahi-Tefahot bank. Bank Hapoalim suggested the residents of Rahat avail themselves of the Hapoalim branch in the "nearby" town of Netivot, according to its letter. Yedid noted that Netivot is 35 kilometers away. Hapoalim suggested taking advantage of its Internet and phone services and wrote that it was not economically worthwhile to open a branch in Rahat.

Mizrahi-Tefahot wrote that Rahat is not included in the development plans for the bank.

Rahat residents are furious: Not only is there no regular public transportation to any of the cities to which the various banks referred the residents, but Internet availability and computer skills in the town are limited.

Residents note that much smaller towns have more than one bank branch. For example, Ofakim, which has half of Rahat's population, has three banks.

The letters to the various banks emphasized the economic viability for the banks of opening branches in Rahat: it has a market that is open round-the-clock, a mall, a well-developed industrial zone and several shops.

The letter also noted that the communities around Rahat create business potential.

Sources in Yedid are working on a law that will state that public institutions must be present in every town of 30,000 residents or more, including bank branches.