Rivlin with Arab mayors, February 5, 2015.
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
Mayors of some thirty Arab municipalities provided President Reuven Rivlin with an extensive list of complaints when they met with him on Thursday.
Violence, unemployment, poverty, targeting by police, lack of adequate infrastructure, discrimination in allocations of government funding and price tag vandalism were only some of the grievances voiced.
The meeting was arranged by Mazen Ganaim, mayor of Sakhnin and chairman of the committee of Arab municipal authorities.
Unemployment and violence were their most common complaints.
The ratio of unemployment among Arab men stands at around 14 percent, said Ganaim, while that of women is as high as 88%. Moreover, 50% of Arabs, two thirds of them children, live below the poverty line, he said.
In addition most young Arabs who have completed university studies are unable to find jobs in Israel. Some are qualified in hi-tech, but Israeli companies will not employ them.
Rahat Mayor Talal Al-Krenawi said that the Arab community could somehow cope with all these problems. “What we can’t live with is humiliation and the lack of respect,” he said, instancing the shooting last month of 20-year-old Sami al-Ja’ar in a police drugs bust, and then the heavy-handed police invasion of his funeral.
The only time that he felt that Israel – Jews and Arabs alike – was united he said, was when the Beduin community suffered its most recent tragedy – the deaths this week of eight women who were killed when their bus was hit by an improperly fastened tractor being carried on a truck trailer on Route 31.
The president and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called to offer their condolences and many Jews came to the tents of mourning he said. In other respects declared Krenawai, “the situation in the Negev is catastrophic.
Every government of Israel has ignored the plight of the Arabs of the Negev.” Unemployment among Negev Arabs is far above the national Arab average and stands at 33% he said.
Shfaram Mayor Amin Enbatawi found it difficult to comprehend that in 66 years of statehood Jews and Arabs by and large had not found a way to “open their hearts and minds to each other.”
“We must meet and listen to each other so that we can understand each other, and know each other’s needs,” he said.
Adel Badir, mayor of Kafr Kasim spoke of how the Arabs wanted to succeed in integrating into mainstream Israel society.
“We have vision... but no government gave us opportunity to realize our potential,” he said. “We have never been permitted to be part of the decision– making process. We are not allowed to be partners, but we are always the first to pay the price for government decisions.”
Mamoun Abd al-Hay Mayor of Tira echoed his colleagues’ discontent when he attributed Arab youth violence to the lack of leisure time facilities. They have nowhere to go after school he said and so their frustrations erupt into violence.
Abu Ghosh Mayor Isa Jaber who complained of the terrorist activities of the “Price Tag” gangs, suggested to Rivlin that he convene an advisory forum of Arab mayors that would meet with him from time to time in different Arab municipalities, so that the president could understand what the mayors were talking about.
Rivlin accepted the suggestion and said that it was important to meet not only during periods of crisis, but all the time. He was aware of the complexity of the situation he said, and he had already formed teams to deal with some of the issues. He was in favor of the integration of Arabs and of their rights to equality. He didn’t have the actual power to bring about change, he conceded, but observed that when the president of the state says something, people usually listen.