"We were here before this government was established and we will remain here after it's gone": The residents of Beitar Illit were not shocked by the removal of the large haredi settlement from the new list of more than 600 towns and communities that are eligible for State benefits.
At a time when the haredi public is feeling the pain of the new government's austerity measures and its Knesset members are sitting in the opposition, the ultra-Orthodox are just waiting for the next blow to come. This time the blow came in the form of the Beitat Illit's ineligibility for benefits the residents of the Gush Etzion community had grown accustomed to receiving. Other Jewish communities in the West Bank - some of them remote - were added to the national priority list.
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"This government is simply cruel," said Yaakov Hershkop, a contractor and real state entrepreneur who resides in Beitar Illit. "There are no other words to describe what is happening here. Our public is being 'attacked' on a daily basis, and they are taking away the milk and bread we have left."
Hershkop called Beitar Illit "the classical haredi city in which the next generation of the haredi public is being raised. The government's first message - after it had already imposed severe measures in last year's budget – is that it is taking away the little that is left. It is going to hurt those who suffered the most painful economic blows and deny them the last rights they still have.
'Suffocating the city.' Beitar Illit (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
"We will have to take matters into our own hands and seek the support of the Diaspora Jews, who will stand by us," he said. "As someone who grew up in the United States, I have no choice but embark - together with the community leaders – on a fund-raising trip abroad. Maybe our salvation will come from there."
Yitzhak Ravitz, chairman of Degel HaTorah's Beitar Illit chapter, pointed a finger at Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, claiming that the inclusion of numerous settlements in the new national priority map indicates that Habayit Hayehudi, Bennett's party, was behind the initiative. "Bennett is pushing us, the haredim, into the arms of the Left. He shouldn't be surprised if we will not be there when he needs us for the fight against the uprooting of settlements," Ravitz told Ynet.
Kiryat Malachi building hit by rocket during Operation Pillar of Defense (Photo: Chabad Info)
"The government has made every possible mistake since its inception six months ago – at first against the Torah of Israel and now also against the Land of Israel. They have pushed the haredi public into a corner with another vengeful act. In this situation, even the most gentle and peaceful animal goes wild when its back is against the wall."
Ravitz, the son of the late lawmaker and deputy minister Avraham Ravitz, who was one of the leaders of United Torah Judaism, said Beitar Illit was the second largest city on the eastern side of the Green Line (after Ma'aleh Adumim) and has the highest population growth rate in the West Bank. "For every apartment here there are a hundred people who want to buy it, and suffocating this city is a foolish act. It is a stupid and irresponsible decision as far as the settlement enterprise is concerned. It is also malicious."
The mayor of Beitar Illit, Rabbi Meir Rubinstein, said "all of Israel's past government's, including the leftist ones, did not dare take measures similar to those being taken by (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu's government."
Ultra-Orthodox politicians were also quick to level harsh criticism at Netanyahu, Bennett and Finance Minister Yair Lapid. "This decision joins a long list of miserable decisions made by the malicious Netanyahu-Bennett-Lapid government," said MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism).
Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri said, "The Israeli government has once again proven its insensitivity with the immoral decision to remove the cities of Beitar Illit and Harish from the national priority map and including dozens of isolated settlements. The brothers Bennett and Lapid will not rest until they will deprive the haredi citizens of the State of Israel and the residents of the large (settlement) blocs of all funding."
The southern cities of Kiryat Gat and Kiryat Malachi were also left out of the new national priority map. "It's all politics," said Kiryat Malachi Mayor Yossi Hadad, a longtime Likud party member. "When rockets fall we are part of the south, but when it's time to give a little, distribute goodies, they prefer to say we are residents of central Israel. The government has forgotten one thing: Some 25% of the city's residents are new olim. Our situation is very bad; we do not have the right lobby."
Avichai Osadon, an activist from Kiryat Gat said, "The fact that we are not receiving any assistance is indicative of the State's faulty list of priorities. The State prefers the frontline communities, which are actually the settlements. The State prefers settlements over the periphery."
Ilana Curiel contributed to this report
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