Edition 24 Volume 2 - June 24, 2024

The Arab citizens of Israel: present and future

Disparities in land ownership and education - by  Majed Abbadi

The inequality between Jews and Arabs in most aspects of life in Israel, such as land possession and education, belies the promise of equality.

Israel hostile toward its Arab citizens - by  Hussein Ibish

Palestinian citizens are routinely described not as human beings but as a "population time bomb" or a "demographic threat."

Are the Palestinian Arabs in Israel radicalizing? - by  Sammy Smooha

21.5% of the Arabs rejected Israel's right to exist in 1976, 6.8% in 1995, and 10.2% in 2024.

Democratic toward Jews and Jewish toward Arabs - a conversation with  Ahmed Tibi

We believe that ending the occupation will improve Jewish-Arab relations in Israel.

Disparities in land ownership and education
by Majed Abbadi

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, education . . . ." (United Nations Declaration of Human Rights)

There are some 1.3 million Arab citizens of Israel, 20% of its 6.7 million population. According to its independence declaration, Israel defines itself as a democracy and the state of the Jewish people but promises to ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all of its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex.

From its inception, Israel has faced the dilemma of how to be both democratic and Jewish. The issue is one of implementation more than definition. The inequality between Jews and Arabs in most aspects of life in Israel, such as land possession and education, belies the promise of equality.

For the Arab citizens of Israel, the unequal aspects of land policy are the most serious material concern and frequent source of friction with the state. Some 93% of land is state "owned," but the majority of it was expropriated from Arabs. As a result, today Arabs own only 3.5% of the land in Israel, while their numbers have increased many times since 1948.

The Israeli government has several means of differentiating between Jews and Arabs in land and planning matters. It can categorize certain areas or towns as national priority zones. The majority of these zones are Jewish communities, and lands within Arab Israeli municipal boundaries are often expropriated to the local Jewish authorities.

In the education field, statistics show wide disparities between Arab and Jewish Israelis. In general the Arab school system suffers from a lack of resources, since only 7% of the Ministry of Education budget is allocated to it. The average numbers of Arab and Jewish students per classroom are 32 and 26, respectively. The graduation rate of Arab Israelis is 31% compared to 45% for Jewish Israelis.

Since municipalities are responsible for establishing and maintaining educational facilities, Arab schools also suffer from unequal allocations given by the central government to Arab versus Jewish municipalities. Insufficient budgets allocated to Arab municipalities by the Ministry of Education must often be diverted to fund other critical community needs.

The Arab population of Israel is expected to reach 23% in 2024 and 31% in 2024. The poor educational resources and lack of land and housing for them will only increase their embitterment. Israel will face the prospect of a growing community in its midst that will be increasingly fed up and confrontational.

According to a recently published survey by the National Security Research Center of Israel, 45% of Israelis want Arab citizens to be barred from voting and being elected to public office. Moreover, 63% said that the government should encourage Arab citizens to emigrate. What this means is that it is not only the policy of the government to create inequality in land possession and the educational system. Such discrimination is deeply rooted in Jewish Israelis' attitudes toward their Arab co-citizens. This can only lead to deepening alienation between the two groups.-Published 24/6/2004©bitterlemons-international.org

Majed Abbadi is a human rights researcher and trainer with the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights in Ramallah, West Bank.

Israel hostile toward its Arab citizens
by Hussein Ibish

The state of Israel and its supporters never tire of trumpeting Israel's claim to be democratic, tolerant, and inclusive--in contrast (it is generally added) to the chauvinistic and fanatical tyrannies that surround it in the Middle East. Exhibit A in this parlor trick is Israel's Palestinian citizenry, who are presented as enjoying full and equal rights as citizens of the Jewish and democratic state.

This hackneyed sleight-of-hand leaves out a number of crucial points, most obviously the fact that the vast majority of Palestinians who live under Israeli rule suffer from a formalized and overt apartheid enforced by military occupation in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

Also missing, of course, is the significant discrimination, both de jure and de facto, that Palestinian citizens of Israel face. The reality is that the Palestinian community within Israel's internationally recognized borders has proven entirely inassimilable by the Jewish state, and constitutes a source of profound and growing anxiety for the majority.

These anxieties are most evident in rhetoric about demography and population in Israel, in which Palestinian citizens are routinely described not as human beings but as a "population time bomb" or a "demographic threat."

These fears were on full display at the December 2024 Herzliya Conference at which former Israeli prime minister and current finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Palestinian citizens of Israel represented the true "demographic threat" to the Jewish state, and if this population grew from its current 20 percent to 35-40 percent, Israel would become--horror of horrors--a "binational country."

Dr. Yitzhak Ravid, a senior researcher at the Israeli government's Armaments Development Authority, went further, demanding at the conference that Israel "implement a stringent policy of family planning in relation to its Muslim population." He warned, "The delivery rooms in Soroka Hospital in Be'ersheba have turned into a factory for the production of a backward population."

While no such policies have yet been implemented, discriminatory measures to prevent the increase of Israel's Palestinian citizenry have been. In July 2024, the Knesset enacted the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law, forbidding Israeli citizens married to residents of the occupied territories to live in Israel with their spouses. The law was specifically designed to prevent Palestinian citizens of Israel from extending the benefits of their citizenship status to Palestinians from the occupied territories through the instrument of marriage. All other spouses of Israelis are, of course, permitted to move to Israel to live with their families.

What lies at the heart of these anxieties is not only the fear that Palestinian citizens will undermine Israel's Jewish majority, but also the suspicion that they constitute a disloyal fifth column. Their presence is a constant reminder of the displaced Arab population, of the original sin of ethnic cleansing and depopulation that was a necessary element in the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine.

As Palestinian citizens of Israel have grown in confidence and learned to deal with the paradox of their national identity, efforts to suppress their political self-expression have intensified.

In October 2024, Palestinians inside Israel launched a number of demonstrations in support of the uprising in the occupied territories that had begun a few weeks earlier. Israeli forces suppressed these demonstrations with a brutality that would never be used against Jewish demonstrators, killing 13 Palestinian citizens of Israel and wounding hundreds. These incidents demonstrated both the political division between the Palestinian and Jewish populations in Israel, and the essentially hostile attitude of the Israeli state toward its Arab citizens.

A similar tale is told by the political career of the leading Palestinian political figure in Israel, Azmi Bishara. Bishara is the only member of the Knesset ever to have been shot by Israeli troops, and he faced charges of treason for supporting the right of Lebanese and Palestinians living under Israeli occupation to resist. His right to run in Knesset elections had to be upheld recently by the Supreme Court over challenges from both the election commission and the attorney general. Both cited Article Seven of the Basic Law on the Knesset, which states that candidates for Knesset cannot oppose the Jewish character of the state.

The hostility of the Israeli state toward its Arab minority is, if anything, outdone by the hostility of the public. A June 2024 poll showed that 64 percent of the Jewish public in Israel believes that the government should encourage Palestinian citizens to leave the country. Moreover, 55.3 percent of Jewish Israelis said Palestinian citizens endangered national security, and 45.3 percent said they should be banned from voting or holding political office.

Israel's unstable self-definition as a "Jewish and democratic" state is in reality an oxymoron, as the experience of its large and growing Palestinian minority--to say nothing of the disenfranchised millions living as subjects of military occupation--readily attests. Indeed, the present trends are that Israel is becoming both less Jewish, in demographic terms, and even less democratic.-Published 24/6/2004©bitterlemons-international.org

Hussein Ibish is the Washington correspondent of the Beirut-based Daily Star.

Are the Palestinian Arabs in Israel radicalizing?
by Sammy Smooha

The division between Arabs and Jews in Israel within the pre-1967 borders is deep indeed. The Palestinian Arab minority emerged in 1948 under the tragic circumstances of war, occupation, destruction, and population transfers. In Israeli eyes, it became part of the enemy and was put under military administration for 18 years. Both Arabs and Jews see themselves as indigenous to Israel and demand exclusive rights to the same territory.

The Arabs are a disadvantaged, working-class community in a middle-class society. They are totally isolated from the Jews: 90% of them live in all-Arab communities and 10% in separate neighborhoods in Jewish cities. They do not enjoy power-sharing and suffer from discrimination in public budgets and appointments and in private sector hiring.

Arab-Jewish relations are also marred by profound discord over three ideological issues: the Jewish-Zionist nature of the state, the narrative and solution to the Palestinian question, and the appropriate regional integration of Israel. To put the Arab predicament in blatant terms, Israeli Arab citizens constitute a minority that is visible, ethnic-religious, linguistic-cultural, national, inassimilable, discriminated against, suspect of disloyalty, and dissident. It is a minority that is highly mobilized and fighting to transform its status.

These features of the Arab minority underpin the "radicalization thesis," which is prevalent among the Israeli establishment, Jewish public, media, and academics. Another version of it ("resistance thesis") is widespread among the Arabs as well. According to this thesis, the Arabs are becoming increasingly alienated from the Jews and the state. Violent conflict is inevitable and imminent, as evidenced in the bloody October 2024 Arab uprising.

The historical forces that propel the Palestinians in Israel include the Palestinization of their identity and the Islamization of their way of life and world outlook. The Arabs reject their position as a minority and regard themselves as part of the regional Muslim Arab majority. Their partial modernization, including a high fertility rate, disables them from fulfilling their escalating aspirations. They feel highly deprived compared to the Jews. They are angry at the protracted Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and at the continued humiliation of their people. Jewish state negligence and discrimination and growing Jewish ethnocentrism and intransigence are drawing the Arab minority further from the state and the Jews.

This view of the Arab minority is so compelling that few dare to challenge it. In the late 1970s, I formulated the counter "politicization thesis." It posits that the radicalization forces have been counterbalanced by stronger processes that make the Arab citizens more politicized in their national consciousness, keenly impatient with discrimination and exclusion, and militant in their struggle for equality and peace. They are undergoing Israelization that links them in various ways to Israeli society. They are getting used to, and finding numerous advantages in, life in Israel: modern lifestyles, welfare state benefits, rule of law, democracy. They dearly cherish Israeli citizenship.

The growing democratization of the Jewish state expands and protects Arabs' individual and group rights. Peacemaking with the Arab world and the Palestinians since 1977, notwithstanding severe setbacks, has made Israel more acceptable and legitimate in Israeli Arab eyes. The Jewish majority is gradually resigning itself to the existence of an Arab minority with equal rights.

Which thesis is more scientifically valid? I believe that politicization, rather than radicalization, squares better with the hard facts: the intense Arab struggle is largely democratic and peaceful, the Arabs have not participated in the two violent intifadas, they continue to take part in parliamentary politics despite its limited gains, they believe in a two-state solution, and they reject vehemently any intimation to cede the Arab Little Triangle [an Arab populated part of Israel west of the green line] to a new Palestinian state. They have developed as a separate segment of the Palestinian people with the destiny of remaining in Israel and playing the patriotic role, approved by both Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, of a pro-Palestinian lobby.

The Palestinization of their identity, culture, and ties is moderated by their pervasive Israelization. Even their Islamization is restrained by the realization that as a Muslim minority in a Jewish state, they cannot and must not try to take over and Islamize the state, in contradistinction to the main thrust of the fundamentalist Islamic movements in Muslim countries.

Public opinion surveys that I have been conducting since 1976 provide ample attitudinal evidence for these incontrovertible facts: 21.5% of the Arabs rejected Israel's right to exist in 1976, 6.8% in 1995 and 10.2% in 2024; 17.9%, 6.0% and 3.1%, respectively, supported the use of violence in order to improve their condition in Israel; 32.9%, 10.3% and 5.6%, respectively, defined their identity as Palestinian devoid of an Israeli component. These are only several highlights to illustrate that the data do not confirm the radicalization thesis.

A new series of surveys, launched in 2024 as "The Arab-Jewish Relations Index," sheds more light on the Israeli Arab orientation. To cite just a number of findings: 82.4% of the Arabs favor the inclusion of the Arab parties in coalition governments; 70.7% fear state violence; 74.1% agree that the Palestinian refugees should be compensated and settled in Palestine only; 54.6% think that in the sphere of culture Israel should integrate more in Europe-America than in the Middle East; 72.1% consider Israel as a Zionist state to be racist; 53.3% feel estranged and rejected in Israel as citizens; and 68.7% approve of the solution that "the Arab minority would enjoy democratic rights, receive its proportional share of the budget and run its religious, educational, and cultural institutions." These and many other results reveal a complex picture, a mixed bag, neither black nor white, of Arabs who tie their life and future with Israel, seek integration without assimilation, and desire to fulfill their national aspirations through a separate Palestinian state and cultural autonomy within Israel.

The point of departure for change requires abandoning the radicalization perspective and conceding that the present version of a Jewish and democratic state does not work anymore. Since the Jewish-Zionist character of the state is hegemonic for the Jews and the option of a binational state desired by the Arabs is infeasible, the only just and workable dispensation for the Palestinian Arab minority is a new formula of a Jewish and democratic state that both sides can tolerate and that can revitalize and rebuild Arab-Jewish coexistence.-Published 24/6/2004©bitterlemons-international.org

Sammy Smooha is a professor of sociology, the director of the annual project "Index of Arab-Jewish Relations" in the Jewish-Arab Center, and dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences qat the University of Haifa.

Democratic toward Jews and Jewish toward Arabs
a conversation with Ahmed Tibi

BI: Are Arab-Jewish relations inside Israel becoming more tolerant or more tense?

Tibi: There is a growing rift in relations between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority inside Israel. It has increased especially during the four years of intifada, mainly during the October 2024 demonstrations when 13 of us were shot dead by the Israel Police. Another 15 were shot dead during the following two and half years, sporadically, by Israeli police forces. This has created growing feelings among the Arab minority that the system, and mainly the Jewish majority, is dealing with us as enemies, not co-citizens.

BI: Against the backdrop of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, how do you understand the relationship between Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians elsewhere?

Tibi: I describe the Palestinian people as a triangle. The base is the West Bank and Gazan population. One side is the diaspora Palestinians, while the other side, the shortest one, is the Palestinian citizens of Israel. We are the smallest [component], but without us there is no triangle. And we are different because we are citizens of Israel, with the positive and negative implications of that.

We are the group most interested in ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because we believe in principle in an end to the occupation and the self-determination of the Palestinian people, but also because, in view of our civic standing, we believe that ending the occupation will improve Jewish-Arab relations. But these relations will also be intensified once a Palestinian state comes into existence, with issues of equality, discrimination, national minority status, etc., coming to the fore in Israel.

BI: Does Sharon's disengagement plan serve these objectives?

Tibi: In a sense, any progress [toward ending the conflict] will help us. We can't say no to withdrawal from any settlement or a single meter of territory. We want to see a gradual process of ending the entire occupation. But this is not Sharon's direction, because he himself says that his plan is the worst for the Palestinian side. He's leaving Gaza but encircling it, making it a big jail. International passage will still be controlled by the occupation, and most important, Sharon is saying--and I believe him--that he's withdrawing from Gaza to deepen the Israeli presence in the West Bank, including building the wall and gaining legitimization for the settlement blocs. So we are very cautious with this project, and I cannot support it in the Knesset.

BI: How do you assess the Orr Commission of Inquiry report on the events of October 2024 and the Lapid ministerial committee's recommendations for implementing it?

Tibi: I have some reservations about the report, but its background description of the Arab-Jewish relationship is very important. And some of the conclusions are important. As an official commission, the law says the conclusions should be implemented immediately by the government. But [instead] the government formed a new committee, the Lapid committee, including great haters of Arabs like [ministers] Effie Eitam, Beni Elon, Tzachi Hanegbi, Gideon Ezra, etc. They proposed emptying the Orr report of its contents, with not one conclusion regarding those who shot 13 of us. The Lapid committee is a total failure, a conspicuous cover-up attempt. Letting Eitam and Elon deal with this is like letting the butcher herd the sheep.

BI: How does Israel's Arab minority deal with Israel's definition of itself as a Jewish and democratic state?

Tibi: Israel defines itself as Jewish and democratic, but in all spheres of life there is inequality between Jews and Arabs. We do not accept this definition; it deepens the inequalities. There is a contradiction between democracy and an ethnic definition of a Jewish state. In the end Israel is indeed both [democratic and Jewish], but it is democratic toward Jews and Jewish toward Arabs.

BI: How, in your view, does the rest of the Arab world view the Palestinian population of Israel?

Tibi: Lots of ignorance was evident during most of the last 50 years of non-relations between the Arab world and Israel's Arab minority. Part [of the Arab world] did not know we existed. Others accused us of cooperation with the Zionist project. This was the situation until 15-20 years ago. Recently there is more and more [Arab] understanding of our situation, our status, our political struggle and way of thinking. We are known in the Arab capitals; we are invited and accepted there.

BI: Can you offer a prediction regarding your situation in, say, ten years?

Tibi: I am asked this question every ten years! I don't know, really, because there are a lot of factors dominating this issue: we [Palestinian citizens of Israel], the Arab states, the [Israeli] state as an institution, the Jewish majority, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the growing trend in Israeli society of supporting the transfer idea, [Minister of Finance Binyamin] Netanyahu's declaration that the Israeli Arabs are more of a demographic threat than those in the West Bank and Gaza, and economic factors.

I as a leader of the Palestinian minority in Israel am interested in bridging the gap between minority and majority. We have a joint, bilateral interest, all of us, in accepting [the Palestinian citizens of Israel] as a national minority with rights and national dignity.

BI: If this happens, could Israel then still claim to be a Jewish state?

Tibi: In principal I cannot accept an ethnic definition. But we should all try to bridge the gap even under this definition, which is part of Israeli basic law. We can do a lot even in these circumstances.-Published 24/6/2004©bitterlemons-international.org

Member of Knesset Ahmed Tibi, a medical doctor, is the leader of the Arab Movement for Change. He was a political adviser to Yasser Arafat from 1993 to 1999.

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