'Arab sector to benefit from Israel's 60th birthday budget'

Ruhama Avraham: celebrations an opportunity to foster unity in Israel.

ruhama avraham 224 88 (photo credit: Courtesy: Knesset Web site)
ruhama avraham 224 88
(photo credit: Courtesy: Knesset Web site)
Despite declarations by Israeli Arab leaders that they will not take part in the country's 60th birthday celebrations next May, the sector will still benefit from infrastructure projects funded by the event's budget, according to Minister-without-Portfolio Ruhama Avraham. Arab citizens had no reason to feel left out, since a portion of the event's NIS 100 million budget would be allocated to the Arab sector, she told The Jerusalem Post last week. Responding to criticism that the money could be used elsewhere, Avraham, who is in charge of planning the event, said the celebrations were an opportunity to foster unity and development in Israel. "A nation that does not respect its past might find difficulties in its future," she said. "Compared with other countries' budgets [for such an occasion], this is a small amount of money and less than half of the budget that was dedicated to Israel's 50th anniversary, which was NIS 250m." "I know I could whine and say I cannot meet the goals because the budget is insufficient," Avraham said, "but I am realistic and I know that any demand of mine can be taken out of the education budget, the artists [culture budget], the IDF and the welfare budget. So I'll do my best within the NIS 100m. that was allocated for that purpose." "The State of Israel will not turn 60 again," she added. "There is no need to be sanctimonious and to say, 'Give the money to the poor.'" Although celebrations are centered around Independence Day in May, they will continue throughout 2008 and into 2009. "The main obstacle is time," Avraham said, adding that her focus was on "meeting the tight schedule, staying within the budget and the need to do it right, while facing a monstrous bureaucracy." "A large part of the budget is allocated for the building of infrastructure," she said. "Due to the chosen theme [Israel's youth], we thought it would be wise to invest the money for the benefit of the next generations." Avraham emphasized that the Arab, Druse and Beduin towns would benefit from the infrastructure plans as much as Jewish towns. "We haven't chosen the Jewish children of Israel as the leading theme, but all of Israel's children - the Jews, the Arabs and the Christians," she said. "I don't want to exclude anyone. "It's easy to be angry and to feel bitter, but I say this year we should all be united and search for the things that make us a whole, rather than the things that differentiate us." The ministerial committee planning the event includes Tourism Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Education Minister Yuli Tamir, Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim and Religious Affairs Minister Yitzhak Cohen. A consulting public committee that is composed of 29 people "who represent Israel's social diversity" would also plan the events, Avraham said. The Israel Experience, a subsidiary of the Jewish Agency, and the Ariel company, a subsidiary of the Jerusalem Municipality, were charged with carrying out the plans, she said. Projects that have been approved by the ministerial committee include the construction of 60 monuments for fallen soldiers, the establishment of 60 playing fields in distressed neighborhoods and development towns, the paving of a walkway around the Kinneret, the creation of a bicycle trail between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the creation of 60 handicapped-accessible picnic spots, and the construction of six "green" schools emphasizing environmental-friendly values. Planned events include traveling exhibitions and performances reflecting Israel's achievements over the past 60 years, a dance party in Tel Aviv's Yarkon Park, naval demonstrations, technological contests, various conferences and free entrance to national parks and nature reserves for children. Festivities are also planned for the Diaspora, under the supervision of the Tourism Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, the Jewish Agency and assorted Jewish organizations. "There is a great interest coming from the Diaspora, the ambassadors in Israel and the countries that see Israel as their friend," Avraham said. "As I see it, the Jewish people in Israel constitute the body of the Jewish nation, and the Jewish people in the Diaspora are the soul of this nation. I intend to visit communities in South America as well as elsewhere and see what we can do to celebrate this event together."