Don't Host Them

Will inhabitants of the development towns speak out, for the first time in their history, in a courageous and independent voice and tell the pullout foes 'Go away'?

Here is a test of maturity for the inhabitants of the development towns: Will they agree to host the tens of thousands of Jewish settlers in their next demonstration on Tuesday? Will they play the role the Jewish settlers in the territories have destined for them in their cynical game of exploitation?

Or will they speak out, for the first time in their history, in a courageous and independent voice and tell their uninvited guests: Go away. Don't you dare play your manipulative game on our backs. We did not hear a word form you for years, it never occurred to you to give us any help during our difficult years, so don't expect solidarity from us now. We, who more than any other sector of society have paid the scandalous price that your project has cost, do not want you now in our boundaries. In Netivot, Ofakim and Sderot, where the settlers are intending to invade on Tuesday there should indeed be rallies, rallies of joy, to celebrate the evacuation of the settlements.

This call is liable to fall on deaf ears. The behavior of most of the inhabitants of the development towns over the years has made them responsible for their own failings to a certain extent because they have never demanded that the nurturing of the monster that has grown at their expense be stopped. Most of the inhabitants of Ofakim, Sderot and Netivot submissively accepted the shocking discrimination against them compared to the Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip. Now, when the settlers are intending to exploit them for their own needs, they have an opportunity to make their voice heard, but only a courageous group of students from Sapir College has done so thus far, as Nir Hasson has reported in Haaretz.

It is not by chance that the thousands of evacuees from Gush Katif have been asked to move to one of those development towns. This could have been their finest hour; an opportunity at long last to make some kind of positive contribution to society and truly help their neighbors, the inhabitants of the development towns. Had the huge budgets for the evacuation been directed to relocating the settlers into the development towns, they could have changed their depressed visage. But the settlers only want a house-with-a-garden and a view of the sea - heaven forfend in a development town. How much obsequiousness and self-abasement there was on the face of Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal, the host, in front of the cameras when the heads of the Yesha (the settlers' acronym for the territories of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, which is Hebrew means "salvation") visited his office. Did they ever visit it before? Did they come to discuss the unemployment with him? To express solidarity with the victims of the Qassams? The settlers' bear hug is an intentional and criminal exploitation of weakness. One minute after the disengagement they will forget the development towns.

The truth is painfully simple: The condition of the development towns could have been immeasurably better, were it not for the settlements. An investigation by Haaretz about two years ago revealed that for every shekel per inhabitant that the government invests within the Green Line (pre-Six Day War borders), it invests double per capita for every resident of the settlements in the territories. The exceptional civilian cost of the settlements is estimated at at least NIS 2.5 billion per annum; the interior minister is responsible for NIS 75 million a year as "security grants"; the extra expenditures on the health system in the settlements amount to at least NIS 75 million a year including clinics in settlements where there are only a few dozen inhabitants; the massive investment in education in the settlements has yielded success rates on the matriculation exams that could only be dreamed of in the development towns: about 70 percent as compared to 47 percent.

The figures of the Adva Center on Equality and Social Justice in Israel for 2001 also show that the government has invested in the inhabitants of the settlements in the territories more than double what it has inside Israel. In 2001, the balancing grant to the Gaza settlements came to NIS 22,238,000. To this were added "the minister's reserves" and an "Oslo grant" that came to millions of shekels more. Thus, the development towns became places stricken with unemployment while in the settlements, unemployment rates are low. And we haven't even mentioned the tax breaks, the scandalous breaks in housing and about how about 60 percent of the families in the settlements earn their living from the government payroll.

Nor has the Defense Ministry pinched pennies: In 2001, for example, it transferred NIS 6.6 million to the Gaza settlements. Thus Sderot has remained vulnerable as compared to the fortified Kfar Darom and the settlers' children are accompanied to after-school activities by battalions of soldiers.

A similar situation prevails in the area of law enforcement: The inhabitants of the development towns could watch their neighbors build half a settlement without authorization whereas they need a permit to close a balcony, and how the very active Immigration Police does not set foot in the no-man's-land next to them, which is full of foreign workers.

"The Price of Arrogance," the book by Dr. Shlomo Swersky, also notes that the settlements were built a priori to standards far higher than the low standards to which the development towns were built, a fact that has attracted members of the middle class to them who did not go to the development towns.

But the inhabitants of the development towns suffered from a blindness that prevented from seeing these facts. Perhaps now, when the settlers inundate their unemployment-stricken towns, someone will remember all of this and protest. Perhaps the courageous inhabitants will arise and say: Go away. Here we are celebrating your evacuation.

That will only do us good.