Mossawa Center: “The government is only allocating 6% of the total state budget to develop a minority representing 21% of the population”
The Mossawa Center, with the help of members of the Knesset Finance Committee members and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, held a roundtable discussion at the Knesset on Tuesday, October 26, which focused on the needs of the Palestinian Arab community from the state budget for the year 2021-2022.
The session aimed to present the needs of the Palestinian Arab community to various government ministries, NGOs, and local authorities. The Socio-Economic Department of the Mossawa Center concluded that the proposed state budget does not meet Palestinian Arab needs, and if passed, Government Resolution 922 will be difficult to implement. As a result, problems such as increased in poverty and violence will run rampant and the marginalization of Palestinian Arabs will continue.
The meeting was led by members of the Knesset Finance Committee MK Dr. Ahmad Tibi, MK Dr. Ofer Cassif, MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, MK Naama Lazimi, and MK Moshe Gafni.
"Every year, the Mossawa Center takes the initiative to hold roundtables on the state budget and the needs of the Palestinian Arab community. These initiatives help us as members of Knesset in using the data in our sessions in the Knesset before the committees, and thus presenting our needs correctly and clearly," stated MK Dr. Ahmed Al-Tibi.
MK Ghida Rinawi Zoabi confirmed that "there are a number of items and ministries that were not covered by the new economic plan.” She went on to to present her future work plan, which will focus on enacting new laws for the proper representation of Palestinian Arab citizens in government ministries.
Jafar Farah, founder and General Director of the Mossawa Center, presented data on the government's decision to develop the Palestinian Arab community, approved last Sunday, which comprises less than 6% of the budgets required for the development of Palestinian Arab society. Farah stressed that the main goal of the Palestinian Arab community's demands is to present what must be changed in the 2021-2022 state budget, especially considering the fact that 10 billion Shekels ($3.2B) are needed annually in order to close the gaps in Palestinian Arab society. Farah emphasized that the latter must be demanded as well as additional funds to promote research and development and business in the community.
Muhammad Barakeh, Chairman of the High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, added, “since 1999, sessions for the needs of the Palestinian Arab community have been held, and despite the various Israeli governments that have come and gone, we are still demanding our basic rights, and the current plan must include all demands, including the issue of spending such funds and annual projects.”
"We need to learn from the mistakes of the implementation of GR 922 and allocate budgets for education and combating violence and crime. We have to fight for our rights, especially since the ministries are not making any effort in developing our community,” said Dr. Samir Mahamid, mayor of Umm al-Fahm. “Public transportation covers only 30% of our city. Today, we direct these demands to the Ministry of Transportation,” he added.
MK Ayman Odeh considered GR 922 an important step in the right direction and that the current GR 923 is a continuation of it. However, he called for the correction of its shortcomings, such as the mechanisms for economic development for the Palestinian Arab minority in the country. He also stated that the government's continuation of policies that impoverish the community will double the crime and violence rates.
Dr. Mahamid, criticized the Ministry of Finance for its aggressive expansion of industrial areas in surrounding Jewish towns, such as Afula, while completely ignoring Umm al-Fahm, which has a similar population to Afula. “As a result, we have 100 acres of inoperable land due to a wall that costs 10 million Shekels ($3.2M), which prevents us from developing our industrial area and deprives our residents of employment opportunities and economic development. We rent buildings to provide social welfare services instead of the government providing us with budgets to build adequate welfare buildings,” he said.
Nayef Abu Arar, head of the Ar’ara Local Council, stressed that all the budgets allocated to the Bedouin community reach the Bedouin authority, and therefore council heads must convince other ministries - such as the Ministry of the Interior - for approval of development plans, making it difficult to implement and spend allocated budgets. He stressed that the Ministry of Transportation has not made any effort to develop transportation in the Negev in 4 years. "You are pleading for a train, while we do not have basic urban infrastructure for our streets!" he said.
“We are facing difficulties in dealing with ministries, especially with regard to spending budgets and developing industrial zones,“ added Muhammad Boka’I, head of the People’s Assembly. “Even when we want to develop partnerships in order to improve the situation of our towns, the periphery refuses that, like the head of the Misgav Council who refused our offer to a partnership for developing industrial areas.”
Salama al-Atrash, head of the Qusum Regional Council, added, “there are no clear clauses in the budget nor it is not clear to whom the budget is allocated. This makes it difficult to do our work. If it continues this way, we will boycott the government’s decision, especially since we do not receive tax incentives in Bedouin villages compared to the surrounding Jewish towns that receive all sorts of tax concessions. This makes it clear that this is a project at evacuating and depopulating the Palestinian Arab population from the Negev.”
Ahmed Sawaed, deputy head of the Misgav Regional Council, added, "there are foour Palestinian Arab towns that suffer from marginalization. The towns of Arab Al-Naim and Al-Hussainiya do not have any infrastructure and transportation. In the villages of Abtan and Al-Khalid, the construction of such infrastructure is estimated to cost 700,000 Shekels ($223,000). This is totally abnormal.”
Professor Bishara Bisharat spoke of a plan he helped prepare with the Galilee Society and the Ministry of Health. “We aim to attain budgets for health in the Palestinian Arab community because the mortality rate in the Arab community is more than 3 times the mortality rate in the Jewish community. The child mortality rate in the Bedouin community in the Negev is more than 6 times the child mortality rate in Jewish towns in the center of the country,” he said, adding, “most cases of illness and death in the Arab community are due to chronic diseases that can be prevented with preventive medicine and a healthy lifestyle, which will save the country a lot of money.”
MK Aida Touma-Sliman, emphasized that “in a state that respects its citizens, there is no need for sessions demanding basic rights, but in the State of Israel we, as Palestinian Arab citizens, need to do so.” She confirmed that she regularly monitors the strain that Palestinian Arabs of mixed towns face, as they do not benefit from the budgets allocated to their towns.
"I don't believe in the government plans," said former Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni, who joined the session. "There should be complete change, especially in budgets for the Palestinian Arab community,” he added.
Fathi Abu Younis, Head of the Social Welfare Department, highlighted that 55% of Palestinian Arab students live below the poverty line. “This is a great gap with the Jewish community. The difference in the allocation of funds for the Palestinian Arab and Jewish individual is increasing. Budgets go to the police rather than being invested in the welfare of society.”
Former Knesset member Dov Hanin and head of the Climate Forum added: "There is a huge gap between the Arab and Jewish community in all fields, and today we must work to reduce these gaps and change the reality."
Shafie Jamal, Representative of the Ministry of Education, stated, “9.4 billion Shekels [$3B] for the development of the Palestinian Arab community is a historic decision. The face of Palestinian Arab society must be changed after many years of neglect,” adding, “I aspire to a radical and major change while preserving identity and social values. This will contribute to the 2022-2023 plan and we aim to expend 7000 Shekels ($2230) for each Palestinian Arab student annually, provide 2 billion Shekels ($640M) for secondary schools and 4 billion Shekels ($1.27B) for primary and middle schools, and raise the quality of education.”
MK Dr. Ofer Kasif concluded the discussion by saying, "the state's duty and the right of the Palestinian Arab citizen in Israel is to obtain their rights from the state budget. The state ignores the Palestinians Arab citizen and does not offer them any solutions."
In preparation for the upcoming vote on the budget, which will take place within two weeks, the Socio-Economic Department at the Mossawa Center will continue to work and prepare discussions in the Financial Committee and will help in submitting reservations to budget items in order to achieve the rights of our Palestinian Arab society.