Northern cities go on general strike

Move comes in protest of government plan to redraw conflict zone status; Negev mayors also call strike.

Sderot protest 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Sderot protest 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Scores of cities, towns and villages in the North went on general strike on Wednesday, in protest of the government's plan to redraw the area's special status as a conflict zone, negating some of the tax and budget benefits the residents enjoy. Among the striking municipalities and councils were Nahariya, Kiryat Shmona, Shlomi, Metula, Kfar Vradim, Peki'in and others. The strike included the education system as well as municipal services and parts of the commercial sector. Next Wednesday, heads of Israel's southern communities plan to protest the neglect of their security by declaring a strike in more than 30 towns and local councils. The strike will include all public services, including schools. Concurrent protests by Negev residents are scheduled to be held in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. This Thursday, the Forum of the Heads of the Local Councils in the Negev plans to gather to decide on a final course of action. Dimona Mayor Meir Cohen told The Jerusalem Post that he used to believe all Israelis were fellow sufferers, that this was the reason for their existence, but that it appeared Israel was a two-nation state. "One enjoys the good life in Tel Aviv, while the other suffers Kassam attacks for seven long years [while] their brothers sit in cafés and watch the news as if it were in Kenya." Beersheba Mayor Ya'acov Turner said: "A normal state would not tolerate the situation Sderot residents have faced for seven years. We want to express our opinion and stand beside the people of Sderot." Turner called the current reality - the lack of a security fence in the southern Hebron Hills area and the breached Gaza-Egypt border at Rafah - ticking bombs. "The police and the army turned a blind eye to drug- and women-trafficking via this border for so long, it was only a matter of time until terrorists started entering Israel the same way to execute terror attacks," Turner said. He added that the tourism industry in southern Israel was facing a dead end as long as security was neglected and the IDF recommended that travelers not visit the area. Turner mentioned that two years ago, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had promised to transfer NIS 17 billion to develop education, infrastructure and public facilities in Negev cities. "They told us to sit and wait after the Second Lebanon War, because residents of the North needed the help more urgently. But two years have passed, and no money has been received. This is a fraud. They try to [keep us] quiet by [making] promises they have no intention of keeping," he said. The Negev mayors and council heads are not calling on Olmert to resign, but rather to give them a specific timeline for the completion of the security barrier, for the IDF to find a solution to the continued attacks on Sderot, and for the transfer of the development funds. Protest organizer Nissin Nir, who was involved in promoting the Negev Laws - which provided tax benefits for Negev residents and manufacturers but were canceled in 2001 - said that all Israeli governments had neglected the South. "We won't accept it any longer. If the people in Sderot can't sleep, the people in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem won't be able to sleep either," he declared. "We demand that the government take better care of the Beduin population in the Negev and assist the poor residents of Yeroham, Kiryat Gat and Netivot. We demand they encourage manufacturers to open plants here by giving them tax benefits - not just for a year, but for the long-term, so it will be worth it for them to... help us take these towns toward a better future," said Nir. Dr. Eti Luzzatto, originally from Beersheba and now a resident of Omer, accused Israeli governments of moral bankruptcy over the past 30 years. "Israel's governments [the past three decades] have failed in planning and executing crucial, long-term programs. That's why the Israeli periphery is in such an extremely bad condition... It's reminiscent of Third World countries whose centers are strong but the rest is poor and failing," Luzzatto told the Post. "When a defense minister goes to a fancy restaurant an hour after two children in Sderot were wounded badly, and the prime minister refuses to resign after a failed war, that says it all," Luzzatto added.