Three weeks ago, I received one of those hated bill-looking envelopes from the Tel Aviv municipality. It was not time for our hated Arnona bill to arrive, so I was skeptical about what they could possibly want from me. Enclosed were a letter and a bill for over 1,000 shekels. I found this strange.
The letter, which I had to read about twelve times to understand, informed me that I owed the municipality this money to pay back a discount I received four years ago. As an immigrant to the country, newcomers are granted a whole cushy bunch of benefits. One of these is a significant discount in municipal tax, a fee I still find baffling. The conditions I received when I arrived in 2008 stated that I had up to two years to request this discount. So, like a good girl I marched into the Tel Aviv municipal offices in 2009 with all of my documents in hand. My status, as is written clearly in all of my documents, is that of an immigrating citizen (Ezrach Oleh). Because I was born to an Israeli parent but never lived in Israel, I wasn’t considered a regular new immigrant (Oleh Chadash), rather I was given this special title. I was told that I would be treated exactly the same as new immigrants because I had never lived in the country before. On the website of the Ministry of the Interior there is a little blurb that says that these two statuses are identical in the eyes of the government.
On the day I arrived to request my discount, the office was particularly crowded. I hunkered down for a long wait and was pleasantly surprised when my number was called after only a few minutes. The representative of the municipality looked over my documents, photocopied them, asked me where I was from and quickly stamped a few papers. He smiled, handed me back my papers and said that everything was in order. From that point on, for twelve months, my roommate and I received the discount as promised.
The nasty letter attached to the horrifying bill stated that this exchange was “a mistake”. In 2011, a new law was passed making people with my status officially entitled to the discount, it said. This, in the eyes of the municipality, means that I was not entitled in 2009. Therefore, they are demanding the money in return and have threatened to freeze the sum in my bank account if I do not pay within three weeks.
“We don’t grant these discounts retroactively,” is what I was told when I called to clarify. They do, however, take them away retroactively.
I have been back and forth to the office several times. Each time I am told something different. Once, I was sent home to fax a letter protesting the charge to the office. Then, I was told that the only way to handle it was to show up and “stand my ground.” That was what one woman called Mor told me to do. “Show up and don’t leave until you get what you need,” she said. I found it shocking that making a scene was the official recommendation of a body dedicated to serving the public.
“It’s a shame you’re taking all of this so hard. Don’t sweat the small stuff,” said another municipal representative.
What I haven’t been able to find is where it says that I wasn’t entitled to this discount. “Maybe the person who gave you the discount thought you were a new immigrant,” said that same representative. “Maybe he didn’t look at your documents very closely. In any case, you have to pay it.”
First of all, the fact that the municipality says that my being granted this discount was a mistake does not mean that it’s true. Second, last time I checked, people who make mistakes have to pay for them. In my eyes, even if this discount was a mistake, the municipality has no place coming back to me for the money after all these years.
“I’m sorry,” said the last woman I spoke to. “Here, you see, I’m taking responsibility. Now, would you like to give me your credit card number?”
If anyone out there has been through a similar tackle or has any advice about how to proceed, I’m all ears.