Claiming that there is ongoing government-directed discrimination against them, the heads of Druze and Circassian local authorities have announced that they will demonstrate outside the Knesset on Thursday during the swearing-in of the new government, under the banner: “You’ve betrayed us, brother!”
Among other demands, they ask that the government transfer 202 million shekels ($57.5 million) earmarked to aid the Druze and Circassian communities, as approved by the cabinet in January.
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The protest will go ahead even though the Prime Minister’s Office said that acting director-general Ronen Peretz reached an agreement with them on Monday. Officials said that there was an agreement to transfer 130 million shekels, as well as to develop a new five-year plan aimed at closing socio-economic gaps between these communities and the rest of the country.
It’s not clear though when the remaining 72 million shekels that were part of the approved budget will be transferred to these local authorities.
The forum of Druze local authorities noted that a previous five-year plan ended last year and has not been renewed since. They demanded an increase in the budget the state provides through the Interior Ministry to weaker local authorities, so that it equalizes the amounts transferred to other local authorities in the same socio-economic bracket.
There was also a demand to amend the “Kaminitz Law,” which cracks down on illegal building with harsher penalties, and to amend the nation-state law, which would establish the standing of these communities’ citizens as citizens with equal rights.
This week, dozens of Druze and Circassian citizens demonstrated at the Azrieli intersection in Tel Aviv, while last week dozens blocked access to Highway 6, claiming a policy of ongoing discrimination by the government. The head of the forum of Druze local authorities, Jaber Hamoud, said that during the coronavirus crisis these authorities have lost 50 percent of their revenues from property taxes, noting that unemployment in these communities had risen to 30 percent.
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Hamoud demanded putting a stop to the meaningless phrase “brothers” and to the issuing of empty promises, asking that the allocated budget be transferred immediately. “The drying up of budgets is but another example of the discriminatory policies the government follows with regard to the Druze and Circassians, particularly evident since the passing of the nation-state law,” Hamoud added.
The head of the Daliyat al-Carmel council, Rafik Halabi, explained in conversation with Haaretz that their grievance relates not only to the missing budget. “We are marginal citizens, at the margins of human rights instead of at the center,” he said. “Add to this the nation-state law and the Kaminitz Law and you can understand that it’s not about a few million shekels more, but about far deeper issues.”
The Interior Ministry says that they’ve reached an agreement with the heads of these local authorities, setting up a monitoring team that would be responsible for transferring 90 million shekels from the ministry. They also agreed to set up a plan for the development and empowerment of Druze and Circassian communities in 2020, headed by Lior Farber, the acting head of the Department of Home Affairs, Planning and Development at the Prime Minister’s Office. “Due to the situation of the local authorities and the prolonged duration of an interim government we’ve experienced, it was not possible to prepare a new five-year plan” said ministry officials.