Israel’s government has approved nearly US$10 billion in funding to improve socio-economic conditions for the country’s Arab minority, which has long complained of marginalisation and is currently gripped by an unprecedented crime wave.
The plan, approved by Prime Minister Nafatli Bennett’s government late Sunday, calls for US$9.35 billion spent over five years to “close the gap in the Arab sector” compared with conditions in the Jewish community.
The funds would go towards “developing employment, municipal reinforcement, improving health services, encouraging integration in hi-tech and technology professions” among other areas, the premier’s office said.
Bennett, a right-wing nationalist, leads an ideologically disparate eight-party coalition that counts on support from the Islamist Raam party, the first Arab party to sit in an Israeli government.
Raam party head Mansour Abbas praised the funding plan in a Facebook post, saying such a programme had been a condition for him agreeing to support the Bennett government.
Abbas also praised a separate 2.5 billion shekel plan approved Sunday to fight surging crime in the Arab community, where more than 100 people have been murdered this year.
“Our society deserves that we do everything we can do to provide security to our sons and daughters,” Abbas wrote.
Commenting on the spate of murders that many have blamed on unchecked organised crime, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said “crime families in the Arab sector are holding the Arab sector by the throat”.
Thousands of people turned out in the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm on Friday to protest against the spiralling violence.
The plan includes funding for dismantling crime organisations, increasing personal security, reducing illegal weapon ownership, and strengthening Arab “community resilience in dealing with violence”, the premier’s statement said.
Arab citizens of Israel, who comprise about a fifth of the population, are the descendants of Palestinians who remained on their lands after Israel’s 1948 founding.
They often complain of discrimination in various fields, including building permits, infrastructure and education.
Israel’s previous government, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, had launched a similar, albeit smaller, five-year funding programme for the Arab sector in 2015.