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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?mador=4&datee=06/30/00&id=83339

Nazareth vs. Upper Nazareth

By Nehemia Strasler, Ha'aretz Friday, June 30, 2000


Delegates to the annual economic conference in Nazareth were greeted by Arab and Jewish activists protesting against discrimination in the Arab sector.Their words fell on fairly receptive ears because there was one comprehensive discussion of the issue with the participation of ministers, MKs, businessmen - and a large Arab representation.

The issue of discrimination has been around as long as the state, but has recently become more painful because of the economic recession that has been running for three years in the traditional sectors - and these are the sectors where Arabs earn their livelihood.

The crises in textiles and construction have delivered crushing blows to the Arab villages and cities. Behind the dry numbers of high unemployment and increasing poverty is the human fact of very many Arabs living beneath the poverty line.

The facts presented at the Nazareth conference show Arab local authorities suffering from inadequate infrastructure and an outdated educational system - and they still suffer at the hands of the Interior Ministry. However, discrimination has been declining over the years, although it still exists, primarily in education and social affairs.

The myth that Arab local authorities hardly ever collect municipal taxes was also debunked. Nonetheless, there are too many small Arab local authorities to close to one another, prolonging inefficiency and waste.

A more sensitive issue is land. Not only are there no master plans for most of the Arab areas - transforming many citizens into unwitting criminals - but the administration allocates large industrial areas to Jewish local authorities, while not a single Arab city has its own industrial area. This inhibits development, job creation, and the ability to make significant sums from collecting municipal taxes.

The budget of the Chief Scientist in the Ministry of Industry and Trade is NIS 1.8 billion. How much of that does the Arab sector get? Nothing. In Nazareth the cost of a square meter of commercial space is the same as in the heart of Tel Aviv, because there is no industrial area.

On the other hand, in Upper Nazareth, there is a large industrial area that is willing to take any factory.

In Nazareth, 70,000 people live in area of 15,000 dunams, while in Upper Nazareth, 50,000 people live in 40,000 dunams. Can there be any better example? Since the establishment of the state, not one new Arab community has been built. Arab farmers work 16 percent of the agricultural land, but receive only 2.3 percent of the water. Of the 5,000 lecturers at Israeli universities, only 50 are Arabs. There is not one Arab employee in the Communications Ministry and there are very few in the other ministries. Of the Israel Electric Corporation's 13,000 employees, only 50 are Arabs - 45 are Druze. The list of infuriating examples is obvious.

The result is that Arab academics work as bank tellers or laborers, and the Arab population has no proof that higher education helps one advance in life - it is a simple fact that they do not get jobs that match their qualifications. This is the source of despair, frustration and hopelessness.

A society is judged by its treatment of its minorities, and Jews all over the world were in the forefront of battling discrimination against minorities and weaker communities - while they themselves were a minority. Now that we have become a majority state, we have failed this first taste of humanity.

Amid the abundance of depressing data, there was a comic-tragic moment in the discussions in Nazareth. Minister of Absorption Yuli Tamir cheerily declared that Prime Minister Ehud Barak himself had asked her to announce that he had prepared a NIS 4 billion plan to develop the Arab sector.

After Tamir, Minister Matan Vilnai addressed the conference and repeated the impressive promise. But toward the end of the proceedings it became painfully apparent that the nice plans are on paper only - the Finance Ministry has not heard a word about them, nor do they appear in any budget.

It seemed an appropriate note on which to close this important discussion of discrimination against Israel's Arabs.


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