Protest Persuades Israel to Grant Equal Aid to Arab Municipalities

Israeli Arab mayors claimed a “historic achievement” Monday, after the government agreed to grant Arab municipalities the same financial assistance that Jewish municipalities get.

The aid is to come within four years.

But extracting the concession took a week-long sit-in strike outside the Prime Minister’s Office and a threat by the Committee of Arab Mayors to complain to the United Nations and to foreign governments.

The strike ended Monday when the government agreed that Arab municipalities will receive an additional $218 million in grants over the next four years. A third will be raised from local taxes.

Israel’s Arab townships have long complained they are being short-changed. Now, for the first time since the establishment of the state, the government has taken a serious step toward complete equality between Arab and Jewish municipalities, said Rafik Haj Yihya, mayor of Taiba, an Arab town near Kfar Sava.

Tarek Abdul Hai, mayor of nearby Tira, said it is ironic that a Likud-led government has given the Arabs more than they ever got from Labor-led governments in the past, even though Israeli Arabs traditionally support Labor.

Another provision of the agreement equalizes development budgets in the Arab sector with those for Druse villages. The Druse have previously received preferential treatment for serving in the Israeli armed forces.

Most Arabs do not serve in the army. Arabs have the choice to volunteer, however.

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