The Real Cost of Israel's Settlers

Article Summary
The Knesset decision to evacuate the five buildings at the Ulpana Hill in Beit El has led to a “price-tag” attack wherein vandals sprayed invective graffiti on cars and walls of a school in the Israeli bi-national community of Neve Ilan. For Yael Gvirtz, it is time to put a “price tag” on the settlements and analyze their cost to the Israeli public.

The only difference between the hate crime perpetrated at Neve Shalom ("Oasis of Peace," a cooperative village jointly established by Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel as a model of coexistence) and others is that the target this time around was an Israeli village. In the vandalism attack that took place overnight on May 7, racist graffiti slogans were spray painted on vehicles and buildings in the mixed Jewish-Arab community and the tires of vehicles were slashed in an apparent right-wing extremist “price tag” retaliatory response to what is regarded as government action against the settlements. The angels of destruction, the inhabitants of the kingdom adjacent to the State of Israel, sought to remind us who the real landlord here is. And now that the settlers have come to affix their price tag on us, Israelis, it's about time we talk business with them and discuss the price we have to pay to finance their kingdom. And let's have a talk among ourselves, too, and see whether we can actually go on funding them without end.

And, by the way, we have to thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for having reminded us last week how outrageously easy it is to divert $18 million from the government budget when the beneficiaries are the settlers. We have to be grateful to him for having shown us who the privileged few are who can count on state funding to make their dream come true, and who are the eight million dreamers who can go on fantasizing about social justice to no avail. After all, we are well aware of the list of governmental austerity decrees awaiting us. We know perfectly well who will be denied an adequate slice of the cake and who will never suffer any shortage.

The economic cost of the settlements over the past 45 years of occupation is estimated at $90 to $120 billion. And let's just imagine that this legendary sum of money would have been invested in Israel proper rather than in financing the settlements. And anyway, precisely how are the enormous sums of money funneled into the settlements contributing to the security of the State of Israel?

Let's have a look at the extra budget allocated to the Ministry of Defense for the protection of the settlements since the eruption of the first Intifada in 1987. This additional allocation alone stands at no less than $13 billion dollars — a sum equivalent to the annual education budget, for instance. No wonder, then, that the Israeli education system has so deteriorated. Indeed, we need not bother with complex statistics — the figures talk for themselves. Governmental investment in any single settler is at least double the investment in any one of us ordinary Israeli citizens.

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According to the state budget for 2012, the official, overt allocation to the settlements amounts this year to $500 million. However, the real sums are hidden in the various ministerial budgets. Let's have a look at an apparently minor budgetary clause: How much, would you say, are we paying just for their low-priced bus tickets? Well, in case you don't know, the discount they enjoy amounts to $8 million a year! And we have not talked yet of the seemingly endless list of all sorts of "subsidies," "compensations" and "development budgets". Here's another apt example to refresh your memory: Back in July 2011, only a week before the social-justice protest flared up, the settlers' representatives in the Knesset had managed to pass a hefty budget for setting up museums in the settlements and even bragged that they would act to stream further funding each month on behalf of their electorate in the settlements. And they have kept their word. Thus, for instance, in May 2012, the Knesset Finance Committee approved a further allocation of another $220 million for "bolstering" the settlements.

Speaking of social protest, the only time the settlers ostensibly showed any interest in the social cause was when far-right Kahanist leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, together with a handful of supporters, sought to pitch a tent on Rothschild Boulevard (in central Tel Aviv, where Israeli social-justice protesters erected a "tent city" last summer). However, rather than being truly concerned about social justice, Ben-Gvir and his ultra-nationalist followers were in fact troubled by the participation of Arab Israeli citizens in the protest movement.

Apart from this isolated gesture, have the settlers ever been involved in any way in the popular protest movement? Have we seen any settler — or, for that matter, any ultra-orthodox Jew — among us then or now, with the revival of last summer's social protest? Of course not! And why should they take part in the social protest when they are so well taken care of by the government? Indeed, they are sneering at us, regarding us as suckers who unwittingly abide by the laws of the State.

And they are right! After all, it pays to violate the law, to threaten and intimidate, to whine and gripe and manipulate at our expense — far more so than to play it straight. Take, for example, the pledge just recently given by our prime minister to the inhabitants of the kingdom to penalize whoever dares to appeal to the Supreme Court of Justice against their illegal building activity — the penalty in this instance being a price tag of 851 new housing units to be established in the settlements. And if you happen to wonder about public or affordable housing for the law-abiding citizens of the State of Israel (recommended by the Trajtenberg Committee following last's summer social protest and ratified by the government)? You can forget about it! It's a joke!

The absurdity is that of all the cabinet members fighting tooth and nail to safeguard the rights of the settlers — from Prime Minister Netanyahu to the last of the Likud ministers, including those who have been granted, as a reward for voting down “the Regulation Law” (meant to retroactively legalize the Ulpana Hill neighborhood built on private Palestinian land), the authority to determine how many new complementary neighborhoods will be built in the settlements from now on and where they will be located — one minister alone (originally a member of Yisrael BaAliyah [a political party formed in 1996 to represent the interests of Russian immigrants, which merged into Likud in 2003]) is living in a West Bank settlement. All the rest have chosen to live here within the borders of Israel proper, but to throw away our money and forfeit out future over there. As long as the budgetary order of priorities remains the way it is, with the scales tipped 2:1 in favor of the settlers, all the vain babble of the prime minister and his cabinet members on their ingenuous management of the state budget, compared to other states, is precisely that — empty babble, a poor joke played on us all.

And where are we, Israeli citizens, in the picture? Still grumbling over the price of cottage cheese rather than remonstrating against the cottages in the settlements? When will this madness end? When will we realize that the settlers' kingdom has but 300 thousand subjects, whereas the State of Israel has a population of eight million; when will we face up to Netanyahu, demanding that he cease and desist from "sawing" us (The PM's idea to solve the Ulpana crisis is to cut out the cottages and relocate them)?

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Found in: social protest, settlements, security, privilege, israel, cutbacks, budget 2013, budget
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