How Israeli Arabs Can Achieve a Just Distribution of Resources

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A view of Nazareth in northern Israel.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Honestly, how much more can you squeeze out of a dried-up old lemon? Research presented at a recent conference by the NGOs Sikkuy ("Opportunity") and Injaz, the Center for Professional Arab Local Governance in Israel, claims that even if Arab regional councils collected taxes to the same extent that Jewish ones do, this would only close the gap between them by 10 percent. If there are no industrial zones in Arab communities, how can a few drops fill the gap? For Jewish locales, more than 50% of tax revenues come from commerce and industry, whereas in Arab communities such revenues amount to only 22% of the total.

The data on the disparity came to light as result of a study conducted by Michal Belikoff and Safa Ali Aghbariya from the two aforementioned organizations. Thus, in one fell swoop, the entire conception whereby all Arabs do is walk around all day in their pajamas, evade their property taxes and condemn themselves to live in poverty, collapsed. This accusation amounts to blaming the victim, which is the twin brother of discrimination. This is how one clears one’s conscience and continues to maintain a policy of discrimination.

The real problem is that industrial zones are erected right next to Arab communities, but great care is always taken to retain them within the jurisdiction of Jewish communities, funneling property taxes to the latter. This is exactly the case in Sakhnin where taxes on a big complex go to the Misgav local authority, in Kafr Qasem, where revenues of an industrial park go to Rosh Ha’ayin, and in a (Arab) Nazareth where an elaborate government building complex pays property taxes to (Jewish) Upper Nazareth - but one more cause for joy in the eyes of racist Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gapso.

The Arabs are fighting for construction of industrial parks in their jurisdictions, but attorney Kais Nasser who is helping with efforts can offer no positive tidings. He relates that it took 22 years of planning to get one approved for the town of Kalansua. When I heard about this rosy statistic, I became furious at Palestinians who after only 100 years of conflict are already anxious to have their own state. So, dear Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, please fill out a request form for receiving a state and set the alarm clock, based on the Kalansua example, for 300 years in the future. That might justify your pestering.

The other side of the coin is that some Arab regional council heads view the desiccated lemon as a source of political appointments. Most senior positions are tailor-made for appointees from their own close circles. If a suitable candidate for a job cannot be found within one’s clan, the position is frozen. When a truly suitable candidate is available, the tender is cancelled, since the old guard might be undermined by such a person. He is more dynamic, and replaces their old ways of doing things by much more effective strategies. In several Arab regional councils, even when headed by well-educated individuals, power is concentrated and any creativity or initiative is discouraged.

Nevertheless, there is cause for optimism. When one sees a senior government official such as Aiman Saif, the Director of the Authority for Economic Development of the Minorities Sector in the Prime Minister’s Office, a Druze and Circassian at the Prime Minister’s Office, one detects a new model of a senior Arab official. Saif is a groundbreaker, an authentic representative of the needs of the Arab population who is no sycophant. He uses his position as a lever to advance the lives of citizens, who happen to be his own people.

Saif, who in my community seems a bit of a supernatural phenomenon, said at the conference that there is a government directive that stipulates that no expansion of regional industrial parks can proceed without the addition of Arab regional councils. What’s this? Has the Messiah arrived?

Ultimately, it's you who determines how others will treat you. If you set a bad example, such as the terrible governance at some Arab regional councils, then the state authorities will gladly act accordingly. If regional councils decide to follow the lead of Aiman Saif, the state will be obliged, perhaps unwillingly, to change direction. The national authorities currently have no tools for dealing with the imperative for justice. Justice these days is akin to the face of a cute baby - even the last of the racist would have a hard time ignoring it.

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