Following Adalah’s Petition, Finance Ministry Commits to Granting “Border Town” Status to Four Arab Villages in North, Making them Eligible for Full Compensation for War Damages
On 31 January 2007, the Ministry of Finance announced its agreement to include four Arab villages - Arab al-Aramshe, Fasuta, Ma’alia and Jesh (Gush Halav) - in the north of Israel in the list of ‘border towns’ for the purposes of compensation for indirect damages incurred during the Second Lebanon War between Israel and Hizbullah in the summer of 2006. The Ministry submitted this agreement to the Supreme Court of Israel, in response to a petition filed by Adalah demanding that it grant these four villages ‘border town’ status. According to the Ministry’s announcement, business-owners in the four villages will now be eligible for full compensation from the state not only for damages incurred during the Second Lebanon War, but also retroactively for damages sustained since 1973, the year of the enactment of the Property Tax Regulations and Restitution Fund (Compensation Payments) (Direct and Indirect War Damages). The Finance Ministry also added 19 Jewish towns and villages to the list of ‘border towns’, all of which fall within nine kilometers from the Israeli-Lebanese border. The Finance Ministry’s announcement requires the approval of the Knesset’s Finance Committee, and thereafter the Supreme Court should give its approval.
It is Adalah’s position that this change of status should have been made many years ago, and that there was no justification for the prior discrimination against the Arab towns. Unfortunately, the filing of the petition was what led to this change.
The Finance Ministry’s announcement was issued in accordance with an order, handed down by the Supreme Court after a hearing on the case on 7 December 2006, compelling the Ministry to explain its reasons for not including the four Arab villages in the list of ‘border towns.’ At the hearing, Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher, who filed the petition, argued that not including the aforementioned Arab villages constitutes discrimination against them, particularly given that they are located in the same geographical area as neighboring Jewish towns and villages which have been granted ‘border town’ status. Adalah emphasized that previously no Arab villages were among the 226 towns and villages with this status.
Adalah provided the Supreme Court with a map showing the geographical location of the four villages relative to neighboring Jewish towns and villages included in the list of ‘border towns.’ In addition, data was presented by Adalah to the Court detailing the falling of missiles in these villages during the Second Lebanon War. For example, missiles led to the deaths of three women in Arab al-Aramshe, and approximately 74 missiles landed in Ma’alia and 127 in Jesh.
Adalah filed the petition on 13 September 2006, on behalf of two business owners from Ma’alia and Jesh who suffered damage to their businesses as a result of the war and who were harmed by the exclusion of their villages from the list of ‘border towns,’ and on behalf of number of Arab organizations, including the High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens in Israel, Kayan Feminist Organization, The Arab Business Club in Israel, The Galilee Society, and in Adalah’s own name. The petitioners demanded an injunction to compel the Finance Minister to grant the four villages ‘border town’ status to enable them to obtain the maximum level of compensation for damages incurred during the Second Lebanon War.
Additional demands raised in the petition remain pending before the Supreme Court. Specifically, Adalah argued that an equitable policy be determined for the calculation of compensation payments covering the remaining towns and villages in northern Israel, which have been classified as ‘restricted towns’. This would entail applying an equal method of compensation to all towns and villages exposed to the same dangers during the war. Adalah further argued that the Finance Minister not exclude non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from entitlement to compensation for damages incurred as a result of the war, including compensation for salaries to employees. NGOs which rely on donations for one third of their income were omitted from those defined as ‘damaged’. This exclusion constitutes discrimination based on type of association.