- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 24, 2006

FASSUTA, Israel — A lawyer is going to Israel’s Supreme Court on behalf of Arab businesses in the village of Fassuta, saying Israeli Arabs are not receiving the same compensation as Jews are for losses suffered during the recent border war.

The Finance Ministry has begun giving handouts to thousands of business owners near the border with Lebanon whose incomes were hit by the 34-day war against Hezbollah.

It has designated a “front-line” zone, up to six miles from the border, within which the owners are to be fully compensated for their war losses. But four Arab Israeli villages — including Fassuta, which lies just two miles from the border — have been excluded from eligibility for the benefits.

“This is racism,” said Samuel Dakwar, a lawyer who is acting for some of the affected Arab businesses “I tried to find other reasons, besides discrimination against Arabs, that could cause a rational being like the finance minister to make such a miserable and irrational decision. I could not find them.”

Mr. Dakwar, who expects the Supreme Court to hear his case next month, said the unequal treatment means that on average, his clients will receive 40 percent to 60 percent less money than their Jewish counterparts will.

Despite substantial Arab-Israeli casualties in the fighting, “the [government] told us that we were not targets for Hezbollah. It’s not true, and it’s not good,” he said.

Eighteen of the 43 Israeli civilians killed by Hezbollah’s Katyusha rockets during the conflict were Arabs. Several Israeli artillery units were stationed in fields near Fassuta, making the area a target for Hezbollah militants.

“It’s discrimination,” said Raik Matar, 45, a building contractor. “In Fassuta, we experienced the same shelling and dangers as Jewish villages next door. We suffered during the conflict, and now we are being abused after it.”

All Israeli businesses affected by the war are due to be compensated. Some will be paid only for their employees’ salaries, but “front-line” businesses are also to be reimbursed for expenses and lost earnings.

Four Arab villages have been excluded from this “front-line” group.

“I will be compensated for the [$2,775] I paid my casual laborers,” said Mr. Matar. “But I won’t get the [$3,470] I would have made in expenses and profit. Meanwhile in Maalot, which is further away from Lebanon, a Jewish contractor gets everything.”

In the Finance Ministry’s tax department, which is responsible for the list of “high-” and “low-” risk villages, Idit Lev-Zerahia described the differentiation as a “historical law.”

“There was no discrimination between Arabs and Jews about where the rockets fell, but there is a list in law of villages on the front line that are entitled to certain rights,” she said.

She added that some Jewish villages hit by Hezbollah missiles were not considered “front line” either, but admitted these were outside the six-mile “front-line” zone.

“Maybe in old conflicts, Arab villages were considered less at risk than Jewish ones,” she said.

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