Compared with some of its neighbors, this dusty city is decidedly
down at the heel. Tired-looking palm trees line pocked, litter-
strewn roads. The view makes sense, given Taibe's dubious claim to
fame as the first Israeli municipality to declare bankruptcy.
But that was two years ago. Things here have gotten much better.
Schools are being built for the first time in 11 years. Homes on the
city's eastern side now have running water and city workers get
Taibe had corruption problems, but according to the mayor who
turned things around, the biggest hurdle was - and remains - the
fact that it is an Arab city in an Israeli state. That claim is
bolstered by a new US State Department report that describes a wide
swath of discrimination Israeli-Arabs face from their earliest
school days to the workplace and beyond.
In doing so, the report indirectly highlights the twofold
difficulty Israel has in living up to its self-image, outlined in
its Declaration of Independence, as a "Jewish and democratic
The report also comes at a time of increasing tension over the
expropriation of Arab lands for highway construction and the
demolition of homes built without permits which Arabs say are
almost impossible to get.
There were large demonstrations last week to protest both issues,
and angry comments from Arab members of parliament. Prime Minister
Ehud Barak recently told a committee discussing the issue that
Israel's Arabs are "citizens loyal to the state who have always
worked very hard under long-standing subjugation."
The State Department's annual report on international religious
freedom says there was no change in its evaluation of Israel over
the past year. The report proposes no suggestions or penalties, but
baldly describes widespread inequities.
The tough language is not new for the two allies, says Lewis Roth
of the Washington-based group Americans for Peace Now: "Even though
Israel is seen as pretty close ally, the US has never pulled
punches at leveling formal criticisms."
Israeli government officials were unavailable to comment on the
For gravelly-voiced Taibe Mayor Esam Masorwah, the report simply
sums up what everyone here knows. "There are no equal rights for
Jewish municipalities and Arab municipalities," he says.
"Government ministers say it, even politicians admit
discrimination. They all say we must correct it, but nothing ever
One indicator bears him out. Taibe with a population of 29,000
has an annual budget of roughly $15 million, according to Israel's
Interior Ministry. A nearby Jewish-Israeli city with 10,000
residents has a $12 million budget. …