Israeli settlements enjoy preferential, subsidized budgets, and play an integral role in a system of segregation and dispossession. Who let them join the ‘March for Equality’ with Israel’s most underserved and disadvantaged communities?
Israeli social activists and local government leaders began a march on Jerusalem this week, the March for Equality, demanding equality in state funding for social and educational services in their underserved communities in Israel’s economic and geographic peripheries. As the marchers progressed along their way from the Negev desert to Jerusalem, they were joined by members of Knesset, the head of the country’s largest labor union, and others.
The struggle over education and welfare budgets for Israel’s disadvantaged communities is important and just. The idea of an inclusive march, which fosters unity among residents of dispersed peripheral communities is also great. Such a struggle is worthy of all of our support.
There is only one problem: the participation of settlers. Among the initiative’s participants, which include the mayors of two of Israel’s most impoverished towns, Rahat and Netivot (a Bedouin municipality and a majority Mizrahi town, respectively), were local government leaders from the Binyamin, Gush Etzion, and the South Hebron Hills settlements in the West Bank. The settler leaders did not come to express solidarity with Israel’s weakest communities, but rather to try and find room for themselves under the banner erected by neglected, downtrodden towns in the Israeli periphery.
Their participation raises three troubling questions: firstly, what budgetary discrimination do West Bank settlements suffer? (I’m speaking about non-Orthodox settlements. Ultra-Orthodox settlements do indeed suffer from serious budget shortfalls.) Just yesterday the government approved the transfer of an extra NIS 82 million to West Bank settlements, in addition to the NIS 340 million that was promised as part of coalition agreements.
And those are supplements to the settlements’ regular budgets. The Molad think tank pointed out this week that pre-schools in the Hebron hills settlements receive thousands of shekels more per child than those in Ashkelon and Ashdod, cities inside the Green Line considered to be in the periphery. Government grants for development, nutrition, and agriculture are larger in the settlements, Molad notes, and generally speaking the government invests 28 percent more per West Bank settler than per resident of the Galilee. (And that’s excluding the added costs of security spent on settlements in the West Bank.)
Another example: the Adva Center found that in...Read More