Confrontation-line communities strike against government plan to revoke tax break

Retail businesses and municipal services went on strike in 19 communities near the Lebanon border on Wednesday to protest against a government plan to cancel the 13-percent income-tax break given to confrontation-line residents. Residents of 18 of the communities currently receive the benefits. The Acre municipality joined the strike although it does not. Schools, municipal services and a large part of the commercial sector closed down in local councils and towns that included Nahariya, Kiryat Shmona, Shlomi, Metulla, Kfar Vradim and Peki'in. "The committee secretly appointed to examine the issue in the Finance Ministry did a clumsy job if it found that communities that are situated on the border don't need tax breaks, but rather settlements that are 150 km. distanced from the border," Metulla local council head Kobi Katz told The Jerusalem Post. Around 400 demonstrators blocked the entrance to Kiryat Shmona on Wednesday afternoon. "The Finance Ministry's committee recommends removing the tax breaks from the 160 communities that receive it today because of the [nature of] life on the border, the distance from the center of the country and the constant security threat, and to split it among 430 communities," Kfar Vradim local council head Ron Moskovich told the Post. "We don't care who gets governmental benefits. If the government wants to give tax breaks to the residents of Ra'anana and Ramat Hasharon, it can do so, as long as the towns that really need it are not hurt." "If the government accepts this plan, we will see a massive movement of the [economically] strong population back to the center of Israel and the weak population, who anyway don't benefit from this tax break because their salaries are low, will stay here by themselves, deserted in ghost towns," Moskovich added. Gabriel Ra'anan, head of the Shlomi local council, said: "We believe that the clerks in Tel Aviv who propose these plans have no understanding of the life here." "This is not the first time they've hurt the residents of the communities on the northern confrontation line. In 2003 they canceled the benefits for the young couples, and then the benefits for the industrialists," he said. "Unfortunately, [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert's government courts the Arab vote, and this is why it is willing to take from us and to give to Arab towns that aren't forced to live under a constantly changing economic and security reality." President Shimon Peres, a former minister for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee, expressed sympathy for the communities' struggle. "We should be increasing, rather than reducing, tax breaks and incentives so that residents of those areas can live in dignity and economic security," he said. "I fully identify with their struggle... This is neither the time nor the place to cut back on incentives and tax breaks." Peres said he had no intention of letting the government off the hook. He asked 15 mayors from large cities present at an environmental meeting in Tel Aviv to identify with the economic distress of the areas on the northern confrontation line and to join in their struggle. Meanwhile, mayors and heads of local councils from the South are scheduled to meet at the Beersheba municipality on Thursday to plan the continuation of their struggle against the government's neglect of the peripheries and its abandonment of Sderot, and the demand for a completion of the West Bank security barrier in the South Hebron Hills. They plan to hold a general strike next Wednesday that will be accompanied by demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. A private initiative of bed-and-breakfast, guest room and hotel owners is offering residents of Sderot and the Gaza periphery a chance to relax for a night or two at no charge at guest rooms across the country. The project was initiated by Gil Porat, the owner of a Bed and Breakfast in Moshav Had-Nes on the Golan. The Zimmer Web site has supplied an on-line platform for business owners who want to join the project, and residents of the Gaza belt communities need only to call to book a room in one of the hotels in the list. For more information go to