Supreme Court ultimatum to Bedouin councils

Following petition against councils that never collected taxes, Court makes it clear the sum will be deducted from their budgets.

Mordechai Sones ,

Bedouin towns in the Negev
Bedouin towns in the Negev

The Supreme Court is ending the longterm leniency shown Negev Bedouin local councils Neveh Midbar and Al Kasum, two councils that have never collected municipal taxes from their residents.

The judges warned the councils that if they do not collect municipal taxes by August, the amount that should have been collected will be deducted from the total annual budget the State grants them.

As early as 2011, the State Comptroller's report stated that despite the high budgets allocated by the government, the regional council established in 2002 presents a deficit of millions of shekels year after year, without much effort to increase its own income.

In response to a 2014 petition filed by the Regavim movement for protecting Israel's resources and sovereignty, the Supreme Court ordered the councils to begin collecting municipal property tax. Despite the clear instructions, the councils did not do what was required of them.

In 2017, the Interior Ministry declared to the Supreme Court that it had instructed the councils to begin the collection process by the end of 2017. Each council received a budget of NIS 1.5 million to carry out precise mapping.

Prior to the hearing, the councils announced that the survey company they hired had so far completed only about 250 properties in only three out of eleven communities, but that they find it difficult to match the properties themselves to the owners' identities. "There's strong resistance on part of the residents to the way representatives of the Maghar company entered the towns of Drijat and Umm Batin, and they were forced to return as empty-handed as they came."

The councils claimed that completing the survey in all council settlements would take an additional few months, and requested an additional period of time.

In the course of the hearing, Judges Meltzer, Barak-Erez, and Shoham ordered that by August the councils must submit a revised notice reporting whether they had actually begun collecting taxes from the properties that had already been surveyed and assessed, with emphasis on businesses whose owner's identity has long been known.

"They need to take more concrete actions and see to it that they do what they promised. We will continue to follow-up and demand answers," said Shoham.

Deputy Chief Justice Meltzer 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. You receive budgets from the State, and the amount of any taxes on property assessed and not collected from, will be deducted from the budget you receive from the State."

Regavim welcomed the decision. "The fact that for over 15 years these residents have not paid municipal taxes speaks for itself. The councils occasionally release a non-binding declaration at the start of the municipal tax collection process, and repeatedly do not comply with the law and the court instructions. The Supreme Court is also fed up with the ridiculou saga, and we expect that if the last extension given by the Court is not implemented, we will declare a final judgment to put an end to the chaos."