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Cabinet okays NIS 32 billion to develop Arab Israeli economy, fight crime

Proposal must now head to the Knesset, where it is scheduled to pass along with the budget early next month; NIS 2.4 billion to be allocated to combat crime wave in Arab cities

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (third from right) and other ministers attend a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on October 17, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (third from right) and other ministers attend a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on October 17, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

The cabinet passed two wide-ranging plans on Sunday that would allocate over NIS 32 billion ($10 billion) for Arab communities in fields from education to health to fighting crime.

“Our goal is to reduce the gaps in education, welfare, women’s employment and the economic-municipal sphere in particular,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told the cabinet on Sunday afternoon. “As we deepen the math and science education in Arab society, we will increase the participation of Arabs in the high-tech market and we will all benefit.”

As the proposal has been approved by the cabinet, the plan will now head to the Knesset, where it is set to be passed as part of the upcoming budget negotiations.

Arab Israeli officials involved in drafting the plans have described it as an unprecedented effort to end persistent gaps between Arab and Jewish communities. Arab mayors, parliamentarians, civil society organizations and government officials have worked on the proposal intensively over the past several months.

Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen called the approval of the new plan “historic.” A similar push to end persistent gaps between Arab and Jewish Israelis in 2015, known as 922, allocated around NIS 10 billion — and only 62 percent was ultimately spent, according to official statistics.

“This is a plan that turns the values of equality into actions, where more than 21 government ministries have contributed to the process,” Cohen said. “In my view, violence cannot be eradicated only through police officers and judges, but by creating a better alternative for those young people who are currently being dragged into a life of crime.”

Others, however, criticized the plan as insufficient. The Haifa-based Musawa policy center said that a proposal would need as much as NIS 10 billion per year to overcome decades of state neglect in Arab communities.

Arab Israelis rally in Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel, to denounce crime and violence in the community, on October 22, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

More than half of Arab Israelis live under the poverty line, and their cities and towns often have crumbling infrastructure and poor public services. The government issues economic rankings to all the country’s cities from 1 to 10. Almost no Arab city scores higher than 5.

This time, the plan allocates NIS 29.5 billion ($9.2 billion) over five years and is accompanied by billions more in initiatives to fight crime and increase access to health care. If passed, it will invest in dozens of initiatives — from urban planning to public health to Hebrew-language instruction — making it far more wide-ranging than 922, which focused mostly on boosting employment opportunities.

The government also approved an additional NIS 2.4 billion ($750 million) over five years to fight rising violence and crime in Arab cities in a separate government plan. Ending the crime wave, which has claimed 104 Arab victims so far this year, consistently ranks as the number one priority for Arab Israelis in opinion polls.

According to officials, around NIS 1.4 billion will go toward strengthening law enforcement: funding intensified operations by security agencies and building new police stations in Arab towns. Another NIS 1 billion will fund dozens of civilian programs designed to deal with the crime wave.

“We believe that the fight against crime must rely on two elements: strengthening the police on one hand, and on the other hand, economic development, giving young people skills, and so on,” said Arab Israeli official Hassan Tawafreh, who directs a government office charged with strengthening the Arab Israeli economy, in a September phone call with The Times of Israel.

In a draft of the government decision shared with The Times of Israel, the government also calls for wide-ranging operations by law enforcement against organized crime groups. The full decision was not immediately released to the public.

The police will also allocate over NIS 1 billion to crack down on illegal arms, which are seen as a major cause for the rise in homicides, according to the draft proposal.

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