Photo Credit: Hadas Parush / Flash 90
View of the Bedouin village of Umm al Hiran, in the Negev desert.

The High Court of Justice has removed the gloves in its dealing with the Bedouin regional councils of Neve Midbar and Al-Kasom, which have never collected municipal property taxes from their residents. The justices warned the two councils that should they not start to collect property taxes by August, the amount that should have been collected would be deducted from the total annual budget they receive from the state, the Regavim movement reported Wednesday.

As early as 2011, the state comptroller’s report determined that despite high budgets they receive from the government, the regional councils claim a deficit of millions of shekels year in and year out, without any discernible effort to increase its revenues from local sources.

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Following a petition filed by Regavim in 2014, the High Court ordered the Bedouin councils to begin collecting municipal taxes from their residents. But despite the clear instructions, the councils did not do what was required of them, claiming they believe “the time for sending assessments of residential assets has not come yet.”

In 2017, the Interior Ministry told the High Court that it had instructed the councils to begin the collection process by the end of 2017, and transferred to each council the shekel equivalent of $432,000 to cover the cost of mapping their assets. The funds have been received, but the deadline for the mapping was not honored.

Prior to the high court hearing, the councils announced that the survey company they had hired had so far completed measuring only about 250 properties – in only three of the eleven communities, and that they find it difficult to match the assets themselves with the identity of their owners.

“There is strong opposition on the part of the residents,” the council representatives told the court, “so that employees of the MGAR company [established in 1990 to assist local municipalities in modernizing their collections] entered the towns of Drijat and Umm Batin, they were forced to leave.”

The councils then claimed that the completion of the assets survey in all their settlements would take a few more months, and requested an additional delay.

In the course of the hearing, justices Hanan Melcer, Daphne Barak-Erez and Uri Shoham ordered that, by next August, the councils must submit an updated report as to whether or not they had finally begun collecting property taxes from the assets that have already been surveyed and registered, with emphasis on businesses whose owner’s identity has long been known.

“You must take more concrete actions, and see that residents pay what they owe – we will continue to follow and demand answers,” said Judge Shoham.

Court Vice-President Judge Melcer warned that if the situation does not change by August, the court may issue a ‘creative and absolute order’ against the councils. “There are creative solutions,” he explained. “You get state budgets. Any property that will be assessed and not collected from will be deducted from the budget that you receive from the state. Get ready for this to happen in August if the situation does not change.”

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