Enlarged Jerusalem Budget Gives Little to Local Arabs

Meretz councilor decries inequality, while city officials say there’s 'good news' for East Jerusalem residents.

The East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Jerusalem municipality approved an enlarged budget on Wednesday, after a lengthy conflict with the government that had led to a shutdown of city services. There was no increase, however, in several budget items aimed at closing gaps between Arab East Jerusalem and the Jewish west side.

Two weeks ago, the city and the government came to an agreement on increased funding to the city by 700 million shekels ($190 million), which Mayor Nir Barkat portrayed as a victory over the treasury. The treasury, however, claims that the final increase was not that far from what had been offered the city before the shutdown of services, and that most of the increase was at the expense of other government ministries. The total budget approved by the city’s Finance Committee was 7.3 billion shekels.

The city stressed the enhanced budgets for improving the city’s appearance (66 million shekels) education (124 million shekels) and planning and urban renewal (323 million shekels).

But the opposition parties stressed other items. For example, the budget for planning in the Palestinian neighborhoods of Isawiya and Ras al-Amud, some 300,000 shekels, was canceled. This means yet another delay in drawing up a master plan for these neighborhoods, which would help counter the illegal construction and demolitions there

The budget does, however, include funding for building plans in the area of Arab a-Sawahra.

The education budget for East Jerusalem (the Arab Education branch), 18 million shekels, is still much smaller than the budget for state education (54 million) and ultra-Orthodox education (37.4 million). The budget holds no great news for classroom construction in East Jerusalem, which is an acute problem. Only 1.5 million shekels was allocated for the Arab sector, compared to 9.5 million shekels for the state sector and 21 million shekels for Haredi schools.

“The minimum we could have expected was that the Jerusalem municipality would approve plans for Palestinian neighborhoods to give residents some hope that someday they’d be able to get building permits and live without fear of bulldozers destroying their homes,” said Meretz City Councilor Laura Wharton. “The worst disdain is for the younger generation. The city executive today approved investing five times more for Israeli children than for Palestinian children. How can we not look like occupiers? What kind of neighbors are we?”

The municipality responded, “We regret that Haaretz is searching high and low for those few clauses in which there was supposedly a decrease, and ignores a budget of 7 billion from which all the residents of the city and the eastern part of the city benefit, which includes advances in infrastructure, culture, education, sanitation, playgrounds, welfare and more.

“The new budget brings good news for the Arab sector, like a substantial rise in the budget for sanitation, a significant rise in the budget for renting school buildings, [and] a broadening of the plan to prevent school dropouts,” the city maintained. East Jerusalem is also getting more funding for public parks, road paving, a pool in Beit Hanina and a plan to increase employment, said the municipality.