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The Arab-Israeli Conflict: Social Issues Concerning the Conditions of Arabs residing in Israel

Updated on February 11, 2013

The turbulent history of Israel in the past century or so goes without saying. One major cause of tension within the nation has been, and still is, the issue of Arabs who reside in Israel, where the majority of the population is Jewish. The Arabic population in Israel has strived and continues to strive for upward mobility and equality amongst the Jewish majority, but it is difficult for them to rise above the discrimination and socioeconomic stratification of the dominant Jewish population. The approach taken here is to first outline the historical context of the situation, and then to go into deep detail regarding the challenges faced by ‘Arab’ Israelis, and then demonstrate their goals regarding social mobility and equality.

Historical Context

It is necessary to outline the history of ‘Arab’ Israelis in order to explain how they became what has been described as “a ‘native’ minority opposed to an ‘immigrant’ majority.”[1] The current ‘Arab’ Israelis are Palestinians who were residing in Israel and refused to leave their homes, despite the danger posed to them by the conflict of the war of 1948,[2] resulting in an Arab minority of approximately eleven percent of the total.[3] This was a time for the establishment of Israel as a Zionist state, based on policies of segregation by which the Arab population was essentially ignored.[4] The Arab population in Israel was seen as a threat which justified them being put under military government, which was not repealed until 1966.[5] Now that the context and reason for the Arab minority has been set, it is important to consider their general mentality. At this time of Zionist establishment in Israel, “the Arab minority, predominantly rural and Muslim, can be best described as powerless, traumatized, and confused.”[6] The main issue is that Arabs are living in a nation which they no longer match ethnically. Azmi Bishara revealingly points out that “Arabs in Israel are part of the Palestinian people and the Arab nation, sharing Arab culture, religion, language; they had this Arabic identity long before the state of Israel.”[7] Essentially, Arabs remaining in Israel while, and after, it was established as a Zionist state retained the various facets of their Arabic culture, and were marginalized from, rather than assimilated into, the new order of the nation. What essentially perpetuates this mentality is the widely accepted world view held by the Arabs that the Jews are encroaching on their ancestral lands, and that they are too much of a threat to accept as a legitimate part of the nation,[8] despite being the dominant majority in Israel.

Racial Profiling

With this historical context in mind, it is important to demonstrate the rationale behind the oppression of the Arab minority by the Jewish majority in Israel. The most prominent reason ‘Arab’ Israelis were suppressed by the Israeli government was that they were considered to be a threat to national security.[9] Specifically, the Israelis were concerned about terrorism from their Arab residents and it is not uncommon to see Israeli police, on a causal basis, searching Arab men on the side of the street at gunpoint.[10] This fear has lead to blatant racism directed to Arabs by the dominant Jewish population, which has inhibited the daily function of Arabs who feel they must avoid public transportation as well Jewish residential and commercial areas.[11] The media is also used against the Arab population in Israel as a means of “delegitimizing” them.[12] The press even goes so far as to distribute propaganda portraying the Arabs as extreme nationalists who will stop at nothing, even terrorism and espionage, to achieve their ends; they are essentially portrayed as a viable enemy.[13] Racist sentiments also come through quite directly from political commentary. A leader of the National Religious Party, Effi Eitam, has characterized the Arabs of Israel “as ‘a cancer,’ as if they need to be rooted out.”[14] In 1975, Israel Koning, who headed the interior ministry’s Galilee division, is quoted as defining the Arabs of Israel in a very similar manner as “a cancer in the Jewish body that had to be curbed and contained.”[15] Clearly, there are strong racist feelings from the Jewish Israelis regarding the residing Arabs as a dangerous and parasitic presence that must be checked.

Given the racist context under which the Jews view the Arabs living alongside them in Israel, it is necessary to now demonstrate to what degree Arabs are significantly oppressed by the Jews. What is important to first understand is that Arabs living in Israel may be granted certain rights, but there is no universal standardization of this. The right they have to their ethnicity is vaguely supported by the Israeli government, but this is only based on what is most practical in order to maintain order and avoid discontent; the Arabic population has no collective legislation in their favour on the matter of civil rights, each individual case is handled separately at the discretion of the party at the time.[16] As a result of no standard constitutional outline of civil rights, ‘Arab’ Israelis may be subject to discrimination and alienation from the dominant Jewish presence, greatly inhibiting their potential for social mobility as “the state excluded them as full citizens.”[17] It is therefore not difficult to understand why Arabs in Israel feel their social mobility threatened under a government who they perceive as not offering policies to serve their needs.[18]

Quality of Life

One of the major effects of this discrimination is the generally poor quality of life for Arabs in Israel. “As a Third World minority in an advanced industrial society [such as Israel], Arabs are understandably at a disadvantage in commanding the necessary competitive resources.”[19] This is evident in that far more Jews than Arabs live in towns which provide access to a high standard of opportunities and services, with Arabs often lacking in necessities as basic and essential as indoor plumbing and sufficient living space per capita.[20] In fact, “no new Arab town has ever been built in Israel.”[21] Also, there was a time not long after the War of 1967 that the poorest Jewish town in Israel still had a higher standard of living than the richest Arab town.[22] The significant gap between the opportunities of Arabs, and those of Jews, is therefore evident.

The poor quality of life discussed above is exacerbated by, and directly related to, the difficulty Arabs in Israel have finding meaningful employment and political involvement. The vast majority of Arabs feel that they do not have job opportunities equal to those of Jews.[23] Neve Gordon lists the slogans on posters that appeared throughout Israel shortly following the terrorist attacks of September 11 on the United States: “Do Not Employ Arabs,” “Enemies Should Not Be Offered a Livelihood,” and even some as explicit as “We Will Assist Those Who Do Not Provide Work for Arabs.” There was even a poster listing taxi companies who would and would not hire Arabs.[24] Even when they could find employment, Arabs had to face discrimination from employers who felt they could take advantage of workers who did not have a standard set a civil rights.[25] This brings us to the issue of the political involvement Arabs are barred from, and how this impacts their employment opportunities. A variety of measures have been put in place to prevent ‘Arab’ Israelis from setting up their own political organizations[26] and they have had no independent economy since Israel was established as a Zionist state following the events of 1948.[27] In fact, the vast majority of Arabs in Israel are denied participation in fields pertaining to political decisions[28] as well as, for example, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).[29] One viable reason for being barred from political involvement is that there is not so much an “Israeli identity,” as there is a “Jewish identity” in Israel, and Arabs are merely a part of Israel who share geographical location with Jews, but not the pervasive Jewish essence.[30]

Another matter which perpetuates the low social mobility of ‘Arab’ Israelis is a discrepancy between the education of Arabs and Jews. A far more significant portion of Arab youth do not attend school beyond the age of sixteen, and there is a lot of resistance on the part of Israeli universities to admit Arabs, who must therefore seek studies abroad, which is a rare privilege.[31]

What relates the lack in quality of life, occupational potential, and educational attainment suffered by Arabs is their strong desire to fight these inequalities, and the inherent challenges that arise from the oppression of the dominant Jewish population. The Arabs in Israel supported the movement for the liberation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but also “stressed as their priority the struggle for equality within the Jewish state.”[32] It is clear that the Arabs sought to overcome the oppression of their marginalized position, but they are nevertheless subject to low achievement despite their high aspirations.[33] Their desire for upward mobility is particularly evident in their use of the dominant Jewish population as a point of reference from which they compare their own standard of living, and to what level they should strive to achieve.[34] However, the Arabic people in Israel still consider themselves to be Palestinians but are still “primarily interested in their status and position within the Israeli system.”[35] However, it has already been demonstrated in detail that there is a nearly impenetrable veil of oppression from the Jewish majority despite the strong will of Arabs to achieve equality. Much of the difficulty likely stems from the unwillingness of Arabs to reconcile their Palestinian identity in light of the Jewish majority in Israel.

In Conclusion...

It has been well demonstrated that the Arabic population of Israel has had to, and continues to, contend with a plethora of challenges to their pursuit for equality due to the oppression and discrimination they suffer from the Jewish majority of the Zionist nation of Israel.

Bibliographical References

[1] Orr Commission. “Report on Clashes Between the Security Forces and Israeli Citizens in October 2000.” in Israel in the Middle East: Documents and Readings on Society, Politics, and Foreign Relations, Pre-1948 to the Present, 2nd ed. ed. Itamar Rabinovich and Jehuda Reinharz (Waltham: Brandeis UP, 2008), 280.

[2] James L. Galvin. The Israel–Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War, 2nd ed (New York: Cambridge UP, 2007), 160.

[3] Itamar Rabinovich. “From ‘Israeli Arabs’ to ‘Israeli’s Palestinian Citizens.’” in Israel in the Middle East: Documents and Readings on Society, Politics, and Foreign Relations, Pre-1948 to the Present, 2nd ed. ed. Itamar Rabinovich and Jehuda Reinharz (Waltham: Brandeis UP, 2008), 184.

[4] Gwyn Rowley. Israel into Palestine (London: Mansell, 1984), 83.

[5] Robinovich, 184.

[6] Robinovich, 184

[7] Azmi Bishara. “Arab Citizens of Palestine: Little to Celebrate.” in Israel in the Middle East: Documents and Readings on Society, Politics, and Foreign Relations, Pre-1948 to the Present, 2nd ed. ed. Itamar Rabinovich and Jehuda Reinharz (Waltham: Brandeis UP, 2008), 467.

[8] Orr Commission, 479-80.

[9] Tom Segev. Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East (New York: Holt, 2007), 67.

[10] Neve Gordon. “The Enemy Within.” in The Other Israel: Voices of Refusal and Dissent, ed. Roane Carey and Jonathan Shainin (New York: The New Press, 2003), 101.

[11] Gordon, 101.

[12] Gordon, 102.

[13] Segev, 71.

[14] Gordon, 103.

[15] Ilan Pappe. A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004), 227.

[16] Orr Commission, 481.

[17] Pappe, 228.

[18] Sammy Smooha. Arabs and Jews in Israel: Conflicting and Shared Attitudes in a Divided Society, vol. 1 (Boulder: Westview Press, 1989), 44.

[19] Smooha, 36.

[20] Smooha, 36.

[21] Pappe, 227.

[22] Pappe, 228.

[23] Smooha, 153

[24] Gordon, 101.

[25] Segev, 70.

[26] Segev, 68.

[27] Bishara, 467.

[28] Smooha, 39.

[29] Segev, 67.

[30] Bishara, 468.

[31] Pappe, 228.

[32] Pappe, 227.

[33] Smooha, 44.

[34] Smooha, 42.

[35] Rabinovich, 185.


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    • Spongy0llama profile imageAUTHOR

      Jake Brannen 

      3 years ago from Canada

      I also think this is unlikely to settle in our lifetimes. The Berlin wall was not as difficult because its erection and maintenance was fueled by political differences, whereas the Arab-Israeli conflict is fueled by religious differences, and is correspondingly much more irrational and impassioned than any other form of conflict, in my opinion.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      3 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Nice piece. Do you think the situation can be worked out? I actually don't think so. It's been too long now and one of the major problems with settling the dispute is that the surrounding Arab nations (those not in chaos right now) want nothing to do with the Palestinians. They only invoke their name when they want to divert their citizens away from their own problems. If these issues get settled in my lifetime I would be shocked. But the Berlin Wall eventually came down. So there's hope.


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