Police officers standing guard outside Beit Yonatan
Police officers standing guard outside Beit Yonatan in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. Photo by Gil Cohen Magen
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The Housing and Construction Ministry has transferred NIS 5 million from the public housing budget and other funds in order to finance security for Jewish enclaves in East Jerusalem. The ministry noted the move was ordered by the Finance Ministry, which said social welfare needs were not harmed by the transfer of funds.

Security for the Jewish enclaves in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem has been provided since the early 1990s by the Housing Ministry, which maintains a large and expensive security force for this purpose under police supervision. The security force budget has grown substantially over the past 20 years as Jewish residences have spread in the eastern part of the city and as violence - in response to the Jewish presence - has intensified.

A court petition filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel opposing the use of private security guards to protect the Jewish residents contended that, in 1991, the annual security budget to protect these residents was NIS 7 million. This then ballooned to NIS 54 million in 2010 and NIS 76 million last year.

Due to police demands for additional funding near the end of last year, however, the Housing Ministry needed to find an additional NIS 5 million to fund security expenses, meaning that the full amount spent in 2011 on the enclave security was NIS 81 million.

The Finance Ministry refused to provide the additional NIS 5 million and instead asked the Knesset Finance Committee to approve the transfer of funds from the Housing Ministry budget.

Housing Ministry sources have said the money is being taken from the ministry's budget for security at public institutions, for urban renewal and for maintenance at public housing projects. Ministry sources complained that the cut would hurt what they said was already limited funding for social welfare needs. The Knesset Finance Committee approved the budget transfer last month.

The Housing Ministry issued a statement saying: "Of course, the Housing Ministry strenuously objected to [the transfer]. It should be noted that the debate took place without notice." (Housing Ministry representatives were not present at the session. )

The Finance Ministry said: "Following an increase in security expenses in East Jerusalem, which are within the area of responsibility of the Housing and Construction Ministry, the Finance Ministry transferred NIS 5 million from various [budget] lines to security in East Jerusalem. The budgets that were transferred do not relate at all to public housing or to funds from the sale of public housing units."