Justices: Why Can't Galilee Bedouin Be Chicken Farmers?

High Court orders Agriculture Ministry, Poultry Council to set clear and egalitarian criteria for state subsidies

The High Court of Justice yesterday ordered the Agriculture Ministry and Poultry Council to set egalitarian criteria for allocating subsidies for egg-producing communities, and show why the Bedouin village of Aramsha on the northern border is being excluded.

The directive was issued in response to a petition claiming the state refuses to allocate subsidies to Galilee Bedouin farmers for egg production and marketing, while Jewish chicken farmers in the region receive them under the Galilee law.

The petition, filed in 2008 by the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Rights on behalf of chicken farmers in Aramsha, said the state discriminated against the Arab minority. The petition demands egalitarian criteria for subsidies for all Galilee communities.

In 2001, Iyad Magis, of Aramsha, applied to participate in the quota program for manufacture and sell eggs. Under the program, farmers receive a subsidy if they produce no more than the number of eggs in the quota. The Poultry Council denied Magis' request, saying his village, near the Lebanese border, was not included in the list of entitled communities.

In 2006 Magis reapplied and was again denied, for the same reason. The council told him the list of villages was set by the agriculture minister, based on a committee's recommendations. The committee's list included 11 all-Jewish communities near the Israel-Lebanon border.

The Galilee Law (1988 ) stipulates that Galilee farmers are given priority in egg quotas and subsidies, on the basis of a list determined by the law as well as the cabinet.

The law entitles eligible chicken farmers to hundreds of millions of shekels in subsidies annually, and is intended to develop the Galilee and encourage people to settle there. Some 3,000 Galilee farmers receive these benefits, two-thirds of them near the northern border.

Attorney Sausen Zahar of Adalah wrote in the petition that excluding Aramsha from the list of villages is discrimination against an ethnic minority.

She said the Galilee Law and the list of villages eligible for egg quotas infringe on the local Arab farmers' constitutional rights to equality and freedom of occupation and property.

The state responded to the petition in September 2008 saying, "The status quo ... by which Arab farmers are not entitled to egg quotas is improper and unworthy."

The response said in 2009 that national quotas would be increased by about 5 percent, and the ministry was formulating criteria for allocating quotas to new manufacturers, including Arabs.

Despite this, the situation has not changed. The state's representatives told the court yesterday the matter was still being looked into.

Magis said Aramsha fulfills all the requirements for egg quotas and the only reason it was being denied was nationalist discrimination. In the adjacent Jewish-Arab community Ya'ara, for example, egg quotas were allocated exclusively to the Jewish farmers, he said.