Mossawa hosts Knesset Finance Committee conference on equitable budget allocations to the Arab community

Date: 2016/12/06
The Mossawa Center conducted a Conference discussing the 2017-2018 state budget and allocations to the Arab community in the Knesset Finance Committee on Tuesday, 15 November 2016.

The Mossawa Center conducted a Conference discussing the 2017-2018 state budget and allocations to the Arab community in the Knesset Finance Committee on Tuesday, 15 November 2016. The conference was held in cooperation with the Knesset Finance Committee members MKs Dr. Ahmed Tibi and Dr. Basil Ghattas, the National Committee of Heads of Arab Local Councils, and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. The conference provided an important platform for the Arab community to inform the Knesset members on the persistent gaps in the state budget and the needs of the Arab minority. With the National Committee of Heads of Arab Local Councils, the Mossawa Center calls for equitable allocation of the state budget and resources, such as land and planning, to the Arab community.


The conference in the Knesset Finance Committee addressed the development needs in the Arab community.The Mossawa Center’s independent analysis found that Resolution 922, dictating the budget  allocationsfor 2016-2020, failed to address the most critical needs in the Arab sector. In particular, welfare, health, industrial zones, culture, and other economic issues are largely neglected, maintaining or expanding gaps between the Jewish and Arab sectors. Jafar Farah, Director of the Mossawa Center, explained that, while just 13.6% of Jewish Israelis live in poverty, “52% of Arab families live below the poverty line. The welfare plans to end poverty are not enough.” Resolution 922 fails to allocate funds to the Ministry of Welfare to address widespread poverty and unemployment in the Arab community.


Likewise, the approved plan does not address the shortage of industrial zones in Arab localities or public transportation options, which prevent many Arab citizens from accessing employment opportunities, higher education, and health centers. Bilal Mahajne, deputy mayor of Umm al-Fahem said, “We need to establish industrial zones. It elevates the quality of life and employment and improves Israel’s GDP.  We have many educated women and men, including in high tech, but, because we don’t have public transportation from our villages to Tel Aviv, they have to study something else in order to find a job near them.” The state development budget intends to develop joint industrial zones, but does not allocate enough funds. The Arab community also suffers from a severe housing crisis and poorly performing schools, leaving young people with a lower quality of life and few opportunities for advancement.


Discriminatory budget allocation has stymied growth in Arab localities. According to Mossawa’s analysis, improved preventative social services and greater attention to the Arab community’s economic needs would be far less costly to the Israeli government than delinquency and unemployment resulting from unaddressed poverty.


Minister of Religious Services, David Azulai, stated in the conference “I understand the demands of the Arab community and I am willing to cooperate with you to attain the budgets that you deserve. We need to check the issue of discrimination in the budget allocation from the Ministry of Interior”. Eran Nitsan, deputy head of budgets at the Ministry of Finance and head of the Special Authorizing Committee on Housing Projects (“Vatmal”), discussed the committee’s decision to approve housing projects in Tura`an, Basmat Taboun, Beer el Maksour, Jisr al-Zarqa, and Taybe, and the committee’s intention to approve additional housing projects in other Arab localities in the future. In addition, Nitsan addressed the issues presented by Mossawa at the conference and asked Arab organizations to turn to government offices to demand the allocation of the approved budgets, noting, “There is a government resolution to increase the percentage of matriculation certificate (“Bagrut”) holders in the Arab community, and a recommendation from the Ministry of Finance to re-distribute the budget, and you need to demand from the Ministry of Education to implement this resolution.”


Discussing the Ministry of Transportation, Nitsan added that the Arab community can “turn to the Ministry to implement the budget allocated for streets in Arab localities, and check the issue of industrial zones.” He also stressed the position of the Ministry of Finance to only develop existing joint industrial zones instead of building new industrial zones in Arab localities. Nitsan explained that a separate government resolution is needed to allocate the required funds to implement the recommendations of the committee.  The committee recommended examining discrimination in property tax and redistributing property tax income.  The agreement with the Ministry of Finance has led to the allocation of NIS 150 million to Arab local authorities in 2015, and NIS 200 million in 2016. This means that the budget for Arab local authorities will decline sharply to the 2014 level of funding.


The mayor of Arrabe, Ali Asleh, explained that budgets are insufficient for the development of Arab cities like Arrabe. Tamra mayor Dr. Suhail Diab and Ahmad Zoabi, head of Al-Batouf Regional Council, discussed the crisis of Arab local authorities in providing services and expansion of planning zones. Dr. Diab explained “Mitzpe Aviv, a small Jewish locality down the road from [Tamra], opposed construction projects. As a result, a project to build 5300 housing units in Tamra was frozen and the project lost its funding.” Dr. Diab demanded an intervention to resolve the issue.  Zoabi spoke about Arab regional councils’ and localities’ problems resulting from the distance between Arab localities. Naser SanAllah, deputy head of Deir el Asad’s local council, discussed the importance of regional planning and projects that lead to increased employment.  Other Arab local authorities and organizations represented at the conference include: Rahat, Haifa, Tira, Jiser el Zarqa, Iksal, Yafat al-Nasira, Women Against Violence, and the Follow Up Committee on Arab Education.


In addition to Arab local authorities, fifteen Knesset members participated in the conference, including: Dr. Jamal Zahalqa, Dr. Youssef Jabareen, Ayman Odeh, Masoud Ghanayem, Haneen Zoabi, Issawi Freij, Aida Touma Sliman, Osama Sa`adi, Talab Abu Arar, Dr. Abdullah Abu Maarouf, Dr. Dov Haneen, and Tamar Zandberg. Several MKs discussed issues they will follow up on: Dr. Youssef Jabareen discussed issues in education and higher education; Dr Jamal Zahalqa discussed the real allocation from the supplement budget; Dr. Dov Haneen discussed public transportation; Talab Abu Arar discussed issues in the Negev; and Ayman Odeh discussed negotiations with the Finance Ministry, stressing the need for social budgets and calling for trust-building between the Arab community and government institutions.  


Maria Jeries, head of the economic development unit at the Ministry of Interior, discussed a NIS 650 million development project in Arab local authorities, which will be developed in cooperation with Arab local authorities. The project will be launched after its budget is approved by the Ministry of Finance. Jeries added that sixteen Arab local authorities were chosen to participate in the Local Authorities Excellence Program.  


Director General of the Ministry of Civil Equality, Avi Cohen, discussed the importance of trust-building between the Arab community, its institutions, and Israeli ministries. In addition, Cohen pointed out to the Ministry’s allocation of additional funds for youth, women, and elderly, in addition to the allocations dictated in Resolution 922. 


Mossawa Center’s staff and representatives of Arab local authorities visited the offices of Knesset members and asked them to present the demands of the Arab community on the state budget. Ms. Areen Abdi, project coordinator at the Mossawa Center, stated, “The state budget is part of our rights. We have the right and the obligation to demand fair budget allocation. We also have the obligation to hold the government accountable for its responsibility to employ Arab women, who are waiting for a position at a local council, a school, or a factory.”


Mossawa Center’s Conference on the State Budget was a unique opportunity to inform key government actors on issues affecting the Arab community. Mossawa demanded that the Finance Committee take into account the needs of the Arab community and increase the development budget in the Arab community to close existing gaps.Without increased budget allocations, the gaps between the Arab and Jewish sectors will continue to grow. The Mossawa Center continues its work advocating for budgets to end poverty in the Arab community, and close gaps between the Arab and Jewish communities in Israel.   

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