Poverty – or not
The inadequacies of the government’s methods of collecting data distort the picture of who is poor and why.
Poverty in J'lem Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
According to the latest report on poverty for 2010 issued by the National
Insurance Institute, based on information provided by the Central Bureau of
Statistics, poverty among residents of east Jerusalem is very high and getting
Official figures show that “78% of residents and 84% of children”
living in east Jerusalem are “living under the poverty line.” Actually, this was
a mistake in reporting; the figure is for households, not residents.
Association for Civil Rights in Israel condemned Israeli policies; Mayor Nir
Barkat tried to explain this as a result of social and educational problems in
the Arab sector. Unfortunately, however, no one challenged the report
Although what is called “east Jerusalem” is composed of many
different communities and neighborhoods, both Jewish and Arab, the report refers
only to Arab communities, such as in the Old City, Shuafat, Isawiya, Jebl
Mukaber, Sur Bahir, A-Tur (Mount of Olives), Wadi al-Joz, Beit Hanina, Atarot,
Anatot, Sheikh Jarrah, Kafr Akab, Beit Safafa and Silwan.
the report does not distinguish between these communities, there is no way of
comparing them. This is critical in order to know whether the figures are
accurate, and if they reflect a pattern of hardship and discrimination, and
These neighborhoods include tens of thousands of newly built
illegal Arab homes, multi-story apartment and office buildings. Who owns them
and are the owners and their families receiving NII benefits and free services?
Are municipalities providing services to communities that claim poverty based on
incorrect data from the CBS? Does the CBS have a political agenda, as some
claim, to distort and exaggerate the problem?
It turns out that only 1.25% of
Arabs living in east Jerusalem receive NII benefits. If poverty among Arab
residents and citizens is really so widespread, as claimed, why don’t more
request assistance? Is it because they don’t want to be caught in fraud, which
would be a criminal offense?
If this is true, and poverty claims are a myth, why
does the government support them? And why do Israeli NGOs like ACRI and social
policy think tanks like Adva tout them?
The NII’s report on poverty is based on
data provided by CBS home surveys. These figures are based on what residents
report as salaries and income. If they are employed and do not receive or report
wages, or receive income from other sources, there is no way of verifying what
they say. Moreover, there is a question if samples on which income surveys are
based are too small to be statistically significant.
The CBS and NII
report do not include data on other factors that would indicate a higher income
than reported from the hidden (“black”) economy such as:
(1) Imputed income from
living in one’s own, the value of the home, and investments in other building
projects in Israel, and Israeli and PA controlled areas
(2) Vehicle ownership
and multiple vehicle ownership (3) Number of wives and children, which may
involve multiple dwellings for different parts of a polygamous family structure
(4) Support of (and from) other family members and relatives living inside and
(5) Travel abroad as a measure of consumption and/or business
(6) Transfers of funds to and from abroad
(7) Foreign bank accounts
Business enterprises and partnerships
(9) Transfers of funds from European
states and organizations, and NGOs
(10) Income from working children
inadequacies of the government’s methods of collecting data distort the picture
of who is poor and why. Without a wider set of criteria it is impossible to know
who is really poor, and who is not.
This problem is rampant among Arab
municipalities throughout Israel, most of which are bankrupt and require
government assistance because of corruption and unwillingness to collect
Despite declarations of need these municipalities are
filled with large and often luxurious homes, office buildings and
Many residents drive the latest cars and most have cable and
Government-enabled scams costs billions – not only in
lost taxes, but direct and indirect subsidies and transfer payments to
individuals, families and communities who claim to be poor but are
Failing communities in which young men and women refuse to
participate in national service projects that would benefit their own families
and neighborhoods can make this a matter of civic and national responsibility
and pride. Receiving benefits from the NII and other government agencies should
be a quid pro quo.
Help the needy, of course. But who really is in need?
And why does Israel pay for “poverty” that may not exist?
The writer is a PhD historian, writer and journalist living in Jerusalem.