Tax Officials Make Long-Awaited Visit to Muslim Quarter

YERUSHALAYIM -
Arab shopkeepers in the Old City. Photo by Neal Badache/Flash90
Arab shopkeepers in the Old City. (Neal Badache/Flash90)

For the first time in many months, tax officials raided a business in Arab neighborhoods of Yerushalayim – in this case, stores and factories in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. Accompanied by security personnel, Tax Authority workers examined the books of several merchants, including those of a grocery store, a dealer in jewels, and a textile store. All of the merchants had been suspected of failing to declare their full income.

According to investigators, one of the merchants, Abu Zaviach, had filed taxes regularly over two years, but examining documents at his textile store, tax officials said that it appeared he was conducting a great deal of business off the books. He was arrested and later released on his own recognizance, pending a settlement with tax authorities.

Arabs from the eastern neighborhoods of Yerushalayim are, for all intents and purposes, Israeli citizens, except that they cannot vote in Israeli elections. Equipped with Israeli ID cards, they are basically free to travel anywhere in the country. With that, however, comes a responsibility to pay taxes. For many months, no inspections have been conducted by tax officials, for fear of the potential violence and unrest that sometimes accompanies visits by tax officials to Arab neighborhoods.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that he expected all Israelis – Arab and Jew – to obey the laws of the land, including tax laws. “Israel will enforce the law in all areas of the country – the Galilee, the Negev, the Triangle, and everywhere else,” the prime minister said. “Israeli Arabs will have to make a choice. You cannot say that as an Israeli I am entitled to rights, but will fulfill my responsibilities to the Palestinian people. If you choose to be Israeli, you have to be Israelis all the way – and the first obligation of Israelis is to obey the law of the land.”