High Court Wants to Know: Why Don’t Bedouins Pay Arnona?

The Bedouin city of Rahat in southern Israel, where traces of polio virus have been found. (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)
The Bedouin city of Rahat in southern Israel. (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

Bedouin towns and regional authorities are among the poorest in Israel, subsisting on “welfare” – government assistance that amounts to some 98 percent of their annual budget. It’s not discrimination, however; it’s because the three regional councils that cover much of the Negev where Bedouin tribes live have categorically refused to collect arnona real estate taxes from the people who live in their jurisdictions.

The High Court would like to know why that is – and in a new ruling, it demanded that representatives of the regional councils do exactly that. Previous court rulings had instructed the councils to begin collecting the tax by the beginning of 2016, but that has not occurred – and the state, which foots the bill for the local and regional budgets, has been bailing out the Bedouins for years. The last significant amounts of money collected by the councils were in 2008 and 2009 – a total of NIS 1.98 million – and the vast majority of that money came from taxes on a new quarry.

The current petition was brought by the Regavim group, which commented that with the ruling, “the court has again clarified that arnona payments are a civil obligation that all Israeli citizens are responsible to pay. In recent years the state has marshaled significant support to improve the lives of Bedouin residents in the Negev, and the court has ordered something that should be obvious to all, that the citizens themselves must be involved in improving their own lives.”