Sderot Planning to Launch Strike in Protest of State Funding Shortfalls

Treasury decision comes after government cuts NIS 65 million in funding to the city over past three years, making it impossible to function properly, Sderot Mayor David Buskila says.

The Sderot municipality will launch an open-ended strike Sunday to protest the Finance Ministry's decision to withhold funds until the rocket-battered Negev city agrees to accept an outside comptroller to streamline its budget.

The treasury decision came after the government cut NIS 65 million in funding to the city over the past three years, making it impossible for it to function properly, Sderot Mayor David Buskila said yesterday.

David Buskilla
Eli Hershkowitz

As part of the strike, municipal departments will not be open to the public and no municipal services will be provided. Sderot's municipal workers are to stage a demonstration Sunday outside the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem.

"The State of Israel abandoned Sderot one day after Operation Cast Lead," Buskila said, referring to the Israel Defense Forces invasion of the Gaza Strip in 2008 in an effort to stop rocket attacks on Sderot and other targets.

Buskila said he wants the government to continue giving his city the funding it received in 2008. "It is inconceivable that Sderot, which for 10 years endured ceaseless terror attacks, will be unable to rehabilitate its people," he said.

The Finance Ministry said Sderot was at fault for rejecting an outside comptroller to oversee the city's finances, but Buskila accused Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz of backtracking on his agreement to exempt Sderot from the requirement to take one on.

"In light of Sderot's situation, the Finance Ministry proposed formulating a streamlining plan, even though the city does not meet the criteria for such a plan," the treasury said in a statement. "The municipality rejected the plan because it included the appointment of a comptroller sent by the Interior Ministry, as is customary in all streamlining plans."

The Finance Ministry said that as soon as the municipality agrees to take on a comptroller, it will provide "significant additional funding."

Buskila said he doesn't want to wait until the next rocket barrage before the government sends the funds he says it has promised.

"The feeling among the residents from what I hear in the city is that the finance minister will be more generous the next time a missile falls, but then it will be too late and the development we have achieved until now will be compromised," Buskila said.

Meanwhile, a controversy broke out over whether municipal workers will be forced to take part in the strike.

City workers said the municipality's director general, Shimon Peretz, told them yesterday they would have a day's vacation docked and be called in for a hearing if they did not attend the demonstration Sunday.

Peretz denied making the comments, saying: "I did not say those words. Everything I said to the employees was so they would wake up and take part in the struggle of the municipality, which is first and foremost the struggle of the employees."

Buskila said no employees would be forced to protest the budget cuts.

"We think the workers would all want to be heard and to protest," he said. "Any workers who think they shouldn't strike will be assigned municipal duties. We won't force anyone to strike or demonstrate."