Thousands of words have been written about the political folly of including 75 percent of the West Bank settlements within the map of national priority zones, but almost nothing has been said about the alarming social distortions entailed by the measure. The settlements do not meet any of the criteria for benefits. Most of them are not far from the center of the country and their socioeconomic situation is just fine. Central Bureau of Statistics data indicate that family income levels in the settlements are about 10 percent above the national average, that unemployment is 1.5 percent below the national average and that the settlements have the highest rate of matriculation exam eligibility in the country. All this is despite the fact that one third of the settlers are ultra-Orthodox - a community that is considered below-average economically.
The settlers, who see themselves as an elite group, will doubtlessly attribute these figures to their exceptional values and sense of mission. But the truth is that the settlements have been a national priority area since 1977 (with the exception of the three years of the Rabin government, for which Netanyahu generally compensated). For 30 years they have enjoyed benefits in every area. While throughout Israel teachers receive laughable salaries and contend with classes of 40 or more students, schools in the settlements have classes with no more than 21 students and an abundance of higher-paid positions for teachers and counselors - not to mention the fully subsidized longer school day, afterschool activities and busing. This may be why the settlements tend not to join the strikes by budget-challenged municipalities.
Even those who see the settlers as pioneers who created something out of nothing cannot deny that it is nonsensical to include the settlements in the national priority map. The government's boast that 40 percent of Israel's Arab communities are also on the map is risible. Precisely how does it propose to close the gap between the development towns and the Arab communities on one hand and the settlers on the other, if all are considered equal in the allocation of benefits despite their huge differences?
This distortion is not new. In the past, too, there were unjust divisions of resources - between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, between kibbutzim and development towns or poor urban neighborhoods. But then, the deprived populations developed anger and hatred for the kibbutzim, which to them symbolized the unequal allocation of resources. Those who face discrimination today do not protest against the settlers, who on the whole are privileged "white" folks. This is because the disadvantaged populations have only become even weaker and even when they fought they remained behind, trapped in the struggle to survive, while the settlers (and the wealthy) have thrived at their expense.
Another reason is that the left has been less bothered by economic and social justice, viewing the settlements as an obstacle to peace rather than to an egalitarian, just society. Politicians and the media discuss the foreign-policy aspect of the settlements but not their social impact. In addition, the left is less proficient at incitement and lacks a leader with the rhetorical powers of Menachem Begin, who managed to turn the anger of the dispossessed toward the kibbutzim.
A contributing factor is the fraudulent methods used by the government to establish the settlements. Any attempt, even by cabinet ministers, to obtain accurate data on the money given to them is doomed to failure. Everything is concealed within general budgetary items, so that the discrimination remains a secret. Kibbutzim are scattered throughout the country, while the settlements are in an area that most Israelis don't visit. So they are far from what might be an observant eye, and also far from what might be a jealous heart.
The new priority map will leave intact both the settlers' superior standard of living and the inferior status of development towns, poor neighborhoods and Arab communities. It will also further weaken the middle class, which pays for it all: those who may still live in the center of the country, but whose quality of life is gradually growing farther from that of the settlers' Garden of Eden. It's a shame, because the settlement experience has shown that with big money and unlimited support communities with good people who want to succeed and have a sense of mission will indeed flourish - in the Negev, the Galilee and the Arab Triangle too.
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