Israel is refusing to pay the city of Umm al-Fahm for damage caused during last May’s riots, arguing that the damage was not incurred within the context of Jewish-Arab conflict, and that the damage was caused by the city’s own residents.
Haaretz has also learned that the state is further refusing to reveal which local authorities did receive such remuneration, part of the state’s agreement to compensate mixed Jewish-Arab cities in which riots erupted and property was damaged, under the aegis of the Property Tax and Compensation Fund Law. These included the city of Lod, where rioting was heavy.
Last May, along with the military operation in the Gaza Strip, widespread ethnic riots broke out across mixed cities, with violent incidents taking place between Jews and Arabs. Rioters in cities including Lod, Ramle, Acre, Jaffa, Jerusalem and Umm al-Fahm wrought destruction in public spaces and to private property. Local authorities subsequently appealed to Israel’s Tax Authority, asking to be compensated for damage caused to public property and municipality assets during the riots.
This was based on the law regulating property taxes and compensation paid for assets or to people hurt in the context of the Jewish-Arab conflict. One building that was damaged in Umm al-Fahm was connected to local policing. The building was torched and burned down. The municipality filed a complaint to the police about this incident, but this is still under investigation.
The state denied Umm al-Fahm’s request for compensation last November. “An examination of the evidence did not convince us that this was a result of violence associated with the conflict, since these were riots in which residents damaged the property of other city residents,” wrote the Tax Authority to Umm al-Fahm.
“Under these circumstances, the violence cannot be considered to be directed at someone for being Israeli.” The city appealed this decision to a committee at the Tax Authority, asking for information about payments made to other Arab local authorities and to mixed Jewish-Arab cities. The Authority refused to divulge these details, arguing that they were classified.
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Following this response, the Movement for Freedom of Information joined the effort to obtain the relevant figures. The Movement’s director, attorney Rachel Edry, and attorney Yaara Winkler appealed to the Tax Authority, asking for information about the local authorities which had requested compensation following the riots, including the identity of those who were refused. Their appeal has not been addressed yet.
"The Authority would do well not to hide behind clauses relating to classified information, which have no bearing on the requested information,” says the Movement. “The Movement, along with the Umm al-Fahm municipality, urges the Tax Authority to avoid legal proceedings and provide the information so that the public can judge its decisions regarding Arab communities.”
The Authority said in response that “this is an incident still under advisement by the appeals committee, so we cannot address the issue at this point. The Authority is obliged, through the property tax compensation fund, to examine each request and see whether it meets the conditions stipulated by the law. When these are met, compensation is awarded by law; otherwise, the request is denied and the plaintiff can appeal.”