Israeli Arab

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Israeli Arabs, also referred to as Arab-Israelis, Arab citizens of Israel or Palestinian citizens of Israel, are Arabs who are citizens of Israel. Israeli Arabs are full citizens of the State of Israel, with equal protection under the law, and full rights of due process. They are not to be confused with Arabs who live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Arabic, which is mostly spoken by the Arab minority, is one of Israel's official languges. In 2004, Israeli Arab citizens made up about 19.5% of Israel's population [1]. It is estimated that an additional 170,000 Palestinians live illegally in Israel [2] amongst the Israeli Arab population, which would brings the percentage of Arabs in Israel to 21.5%. Israeli Arabs sometimes consider themselves Palestinian, sometimes Israeli, and sometimes both. The majority of Israeli Arabs are Muslim and a minority are Christian. There are two additional distinct subgroups: The Druze (about 120,000), who follow the Druze religion, and the Bedouin (170,000) who are predominantly Muslim [3].

Well-known Israeli Arabs include the politician and novelist Emile Habibi, the film director Elie Suleiman, and the politician Azmi Bishara. Most Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem (about 250,000) are not Israeli citizens, but hold legal permanent resident status to live and travel within Israel. According to 1988 Israeli Supreme court ruling, this status also makes them eligible for Israel Social Security benefits and state-provided health care [4].

There are ten Israeli Arabs sitting as members of the 16th Knesset (there are a total of 120 seats), and there is currently an Arab judge (Justice Salim Jubran) sitting in the Israeli Supreme Court.

Organisations representing Israeli Arabs allege that the population faces discrimination in a number of respects, arising from legislation and government policy. However, since the mid 1990s the government has adopted affirmative action policies in recruiting Israeli Arabs to the civil service.

Apart from the Druze and Circassians, Israeli Arabs are not required to serve in the IDF, although some, notably among the Bedouin, do so.

Israel also has a large population of traditionally Arabic-speaking Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews, though these are not usually identified as Arabs.

Population and Population growth

The Israel Central Bureau of Statistics reported that Israeli Muslims have a natural reproduction rate that is double that of the Jewish population (their rate of increase being 3.6% compared to 1.8%). The number of Muslim legal residents (Including East Jerusalem permanent residents) in Israel at the start of 2004 stands at around 1,350,000, about 19% of Israel’s population. According to forecasts, the Muslim population will rise to over 2,000,000 people, or 24-26% of the population within the next 15 years. Muslims make up 82% of the entire Israeli Arab population, and they will comprise 85% of the Israeli Arab population in 2020. This rate of increase is one of the highest in the world, even higher than in neighboring Arab countries. Roughly 25% of the children born in Israel toady are Muslim, and as result, Israel’s Muslim population is mostly young: 42% of Muslims are children under the age of 15, compared with 26% of the Jewish population. The percentage of people over 65 is less than 3% for Muslims, compared with 12% for the Jewish population.

In 2001, 82% of the Arab population was Muslim, 9% were Christians, and 9% were Druze.

As a result of both an increase in the birthrate and an increase in immigration from neighboring countries, the Arab community in Israel is very young. More than 50% of the Arab population is under nineteen years old. The Muslims and Druze are especially young in comparison to the Christian Arabs in the country.


In total, 71% of the Arab population lives in 116 different localities throughout Israel. In these localities, Arabs are a heavy majority. Only nine of the 116 Arab localities are cities. The other localities are ruled by an Arab local authority or else they are strictly rural areas.

Almost 40% of the country’s Muslims (400,000 people) live in various predominently-Arab communities in the north, the biggest of which is the city of Nazareth, which has 40,000 Muslim residents. Nazareth has the largest Arab population of the cities which are mainly Arab, but Jerusalem, a "mixed" city, has the largest overall Arab population. Jerusalem housed 209,000 Arabs in 2000. They make up some 30% of the city’s residents and some 20% of the country’s entire Arab population.

24% of Arabs live in cities that have a Jewish majority. These cities are Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv-Yaffo, Akko (Acre), Lod, Ramla, Maalot-Tarshiha, and Nazerat Illit. Of the remaining 5%, approximately 4% live in Bedouin communities in the Negev, and 1% live in areas that are almost completely Jewish.


Infant death rates per thousand live births decreased significantly during a 35-year (1961-1996) period. In the Muslim population, the rate dropped from 46.4 per thousand births to 10.0; among Christians the decrease was from 42.1 to 6.7; among the Druze it dropped from 50.4 to 8.9 deaths.

Healthcare improvements have also led to a lower infant mortality rate. In 1970, the infant mortality rate for Arabs was 32 deaths for every thousand births. In 2000, the rate had significantly decreased to 8.6 per every thousand. Out of the Arab population, Muslims have the highest rate of infant mortality with 9.1 per every thousand. Improved living standard, an improvement in environmental conditions and an increase in years of schooling also contributed to the decrease in infant mortality.

Improvements in medicine have largely contributed to the increase in the Arab population, as life expectancy has increased 27 years since 1948. Life expectancy in Israel is 74.6 years for men.

The most common health-related causes of death are heart disease and cancer. Diabetes is also common among the Arab population with 14% diagnosed with the disease in 2000.


Improvement in education has also had significant benefits for the Arab community in Israel. The average number of years of education has doubled from five years in 1970 to ten years in 2000. Arab women, in particular, have improved their education. By the year 2000, 59% of Arab women had obtained at least eight years of education. Women also made up 51% of the Arab school system in Israel.

Christian Arabs continue to receive more education than Muslims or Druze. While 27% of Christian Arabs had gone through twelve years of schooling, only 14% of Muslims and Druze completed that same number. The rate of graduation from high school for Arabs was comparable to that of Jews in Israel. In 1999, 46% of Arab students in 12th grade graduated from high school. In that same year, 52% of Jewish students graduated.

Twenty-six percent of those Arab students who graduated went on to receive some kind of secondary education. Arabs comprised approximately 7% of all students at Israeli universities.

The rate of female literacy in Israel is 88% among Arabs.

The median years of schooling of Arab Israelis rose over a 35-year period (1961-1996) from 1.2 to 10.4 years.

Education levels in the Arab sector are relatively lower than those in the Jewish sector, often leading to lower incomes.

Legal and Political Status

Arab Israelis are citizens of Israel with equal political rights. In 1948, Israel's Declaration of Independence called upon the Arab inhabitants of Israel to "participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions".

The political involvement of the Arab sector is manifested in both national and municipal elections. There are several Arab political parties, in addition to the left-wing Hadash party which receives most of its electoral support from the Arab sector. The larger Israeli parties also have a minority of Arab members. A number of Israeli Arabs have been elected as members of the Knesset for Hadash, Labour and Likud as well as the Arab parties. Arab citizens run the political and administrative affairs of their own municipalities. Arab Israelis have also held various government positions, including that of deputy minister. At present a member of the Druze community is serving as a government minister.

The Declaration also promises that Israel will "ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex" and guarantees "freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture".

Israel has extensive anti-discrimination laws. Moreover, since the founding of the State, the status of Arab Israeli women has been significantly improved by legislation stipulating equal rights for women and prohibition of polygamy and child marriage.

Since Israel's establishment, Arab citizens have been exempted from compulsory conscription in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). This exemption was made out of consideration for their family, religious and cultural affiliations with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world, given the on-going conflict. Still, volunteer military service is encouraged and IDF service was made mandatory for Druze and Circassian men at the request of their community leaders.

On March 3, 1999 Abdel Rahman Zuabi took his seat as the first Arab on the Supreme Court. Zuabi was Deputy President of the Nazareth District Court. He was elevated to the post by Justice Minister Tzahi Hanegbi, who on March 2 said that "[Zuabi's] appointment highlights the successful integration of the Arab community into the life of the state."

In May 2004, Salim Jubran was selected as the first Arab to hold a permanent appointment as a Supreme Court Justice. Jubran, 57, was born in Haifa to a Christian Arab family with roots among the Maronites in Lebanon. The family subsequently moved to Acre.

Jubran's expertise lies in the field of criminal law, and he is known for his tough stand on sex and drug-related crimes.

Work and Economic situation

As of 2001, only 40% of Arab persons fifteen and older were part of the work force in Israel. Jews, on the other hand, were shown to have 60% of their population participating in the labor force. One reason for the lower rate of Arab workers is the extremely low proportion of Arab women in the work force. Only 15% of Arab women participate in the labor force, while Jewish women contribute 53% of their population. In both Jewish and Arab populations, younger women are more likely to work. Seventy-nine percent of Jewish women aged 25-34 are part of the work force, while the Arab percentage is only 22%.

Many Arab men work in construction and agriculture. Only seven percent of Jewish men work in construction. Arabs have a much higher unemployment rates that Jews. In 2000, 12% of Arab men were unemployed while 7.6% of Jewish men were out of work.

The Arab population in Israel tends to earn less money than the Jewish population. Arabs earn approximately 60% of the yearly wage of Jews.

The majority of Arab Israelis live in small communities with limited economic infrastructure. This plays a contributing factor in employment in unskilled or semiskilled fields, as well as the higher overall rates of unemployment.

The lack of easy access to places of employment can also prevent employment commensurate with the skill or education level of the job seeker.

Participation of women in the work force is still very low in the Arab sector, further reducing the average family income.

Minority communities often face developmental challenges, especially when a language different from that spoken by the majority group is used at home and at school. There are several other factors that explain the reason why the gap between economic development in the Arab sector and that of the Jewish sector has yet to be closed, among them:

The average family size in the Arab sector is far higher than that of Jewish families, greatly reducing the relative number of financial providers per dependent.

Service in the Israeli Defense Forces gives veterans certain economic and other benefits. Although Arab Israeli youth who do not volunteer for army service gain a two-to-three year head start in their higher education or in joining the workforce, this does not always compensate for missing out on the benefits and training enjoyed by veterans.

Pluralism and Sectoral Identity

Israel is not a melting pot society, but rather more of a mosaic made up of different population groups coexisting in the framework of a unitary western style democratic state.

As a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-lingual society, Israel has a high level of informal segregation patterns. While groups are not separated by official policy, a number of different sectors within the society have chosen to lead a segregated life-style, maintaining their strong cultural, religious, ideological and/or ethnic identity.

The vast majority of Arab Israelis have chosen to maintain their distinct identity and not assimilate. The community's separate existence is facilitated through the use of Arabic, Israel's second official language; a separate Arab/Druze school system; Arabic literature, theater and mass media; and maintenance of independent Muslim, Druze and Christian denominational courts which adjudicate matters of personal status.

While the development of inter-group relations between Israel's Arabs and Jews has been hindered by deeply rooted differences in religion, values and political beliefs, the future of the Arab Israeli sector is closely tied to that of the State of Israel. Though they coexist as two self-segregated communities, over the years Jewish and Arab Israelis have come to accept each other, acknowledging the uniqueness and aspirations of each community and participating in a growing number of joint endeavors.

An excellent example of such a venture is the Citizen Accord Forum, established last year by the Deputy Foreign Minister, Rabbi Michael Melchior (then Minister of Israeli Society and the World Jewish Community). The goal of the Forum is to reduce the schism existing between Jews and Arabs in Israel and to develop the country's civil society. The Citizen Accord Forum, which has over 500 active volunteers, has encouraged coexistence between Jewish and Arab citizens and the development of a relationship based on values of respect and mutual understanding.


According to the 2004 U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the occupied territories, the Israeli government "did little to reduce institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against the country's Arab citizens."[5]

Examples of what the State Department report found include the following:

  • According to the report, Muslims enjoy full freedom of religion and government "did not affect the rights of Muslims to practice their faith" according to "Legislation enacted in 1961 afforded the Muslim courts exclusive jurisdiction to rule in matters of personal status concerning Muslims. Secular courts have primacy over questions of inheritance, but parties, by mutual agreement, may bring cases to religious courts. Muslims, since 2001, also have the right to bring matters such as alimony and property division associated with divorce cases to civil courts in family-status matters."
  • "According to a 2003 Haifa University study, a tendency existed to impose heavier prison terms to Arab citizens than to Jewish citizens. Human rights advocates claimed that Arab citizens were more likely to be convicted of murder and to have been denied bail."
  • "government spending on children was proportionally lower in predominantly Arab areas than in Jewish areas. ... According to the Government's February 2002 report to the U.N., government investment per Arab pupil was approximately 60 percent of investment per Jewish pupil. ... According to Human Rights Watch, during the year, the Government provided 1 teacher for every 16 Jewish primary school children compared to 1 teacher for every 19.7 Arab children. "
  • "The Orr Commission of Inquiry's report ... stated that the 'Government handling of the Arab sector has been primarily neglectful and discriminatory,' that the Government 'did not show sufficient sensitivity to the needs of the Arab population, and did not take enough action to allocate state resources in an equal manner.' As a result, 'serious distress prevailed in the Arab sector in various areas. Evidence of distress included poverty, unemployment, a shortage of land, serious problems in the education system, and substantially defective infrastructure.'"
  • "In November, the Israeli-Arab advocacy NGO Sikkuy's annual report stated that 45 percent of Arab families were poor, in contrast to 15 percent of Jewish families, and that the rate of infant mortality in the Arab sector was 8 out of 1,000 births--twice that of the Jewish population."
  • "According to a report by Mossawa, racist violence against Arab citizens has increased, and the Government has not done enough to prevent this problem. The annual report cited 17 acts of violence by Jewish citizens against Arab citizens. ... A Haifa University poll released in June revealed that over 63 percent of Jews believed that the Government should encourage Israeli Arabs to emigrate."
  • "Approximately 93 percent of land in the country was public domain, including that owned by the state and some 12.5 percent owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). All public land by law may only be leased, not sold. The JNF's statutes prohibit the sale or lease of land to non-Jews. In October, civil rights groups petitioned the High Court of Justice claiming that a bid announcement by the Israel Land Administration (ILA) involving JNF land was discriminatory in that it banned Arabs from bidding."
  • "Israeli-Arab advocacy organizations have challenged the Government's policy of demolishing illegal buildings in the Arab sector, and claimed that the Government was more restrictive in issuing building permits in Arab communities than in Jewish communities, thereby not accommodating natural growth. In February, security forces demolished several homes allegedly built without authorization in the Arab village of Beineh."
  • "In June, the Supreme Court ruled that omitting Arab towns from specific government social and economic plans is discriminatory. This judgment builds on previous assessments of disadvantages suffered by Arab Israelis."
  • "Israeli Arabs were underrepresented in the student bodies and faculties of most universities and in higher professional and business ranks. The Bureau of Statistics noted that the median number of school years for the Jewish population is 3 years more than for the Arab population. Well educated Arabs often were unable to find jobs commensurate with their level of education. According to Sikkuy, Arab citizens held approximately 60 to 70 of the country's 5,000 university faculty positions."
  • "Israeli Arabs were not required to perform mandatory military service and, in practice, only a small percentage of Israeli Arabs served in the military. Those who did not serve in the army had less access than other citizens to social and economic benefits for which military service was a prerequisite or an advantage, such as housing, new-household subsidies, and employment, especially government or security-related industrial employment. Regarding the latter, for security reasons, Israeli Arabs generally were restricted from working in companies with defense contracts or in security-related fields. In December, the Ivri Committee on National Service issued official recommendations to the Government that Israel Arabs not be compelled to perform national or "civic" service, but be afforded an opportunity to perform such service"

Modifications to Citizenship and Entry law

On July 31, 2003 Israel enacted the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Provision), 5763-2003, a one year amendment to Israel's Citizenship Law denying citizenship and Israeli residence to Palestinians who reside in the West Bank or Gaza Strip and who marry Israelis, though this rule is waived for any Palestinian "who identifies with the State of Israel and its goals, when he or a member of his family has taken concrete action to advance the security, economy or any other matter important to the State." Upon expiry the law was extended for six months in August 2004, and again for 4 months in February 2005.[6] Although this law affected all Israelis, it disproportionately affected Israeli Arabs, and was considered by many to be highly discriminatory.[7]. On May 8, 2005, The Israeli ministerial committee for issues of legislation once again amended the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, to restrict citizenship and residence in Israel only to Palestinian men of up to age of 35, and Palestinian women of up to age of 25. The new bill was formulated in accordance with Shin Bet statistics showing that involvement in terror attacks declines with age. This newest amendment, in practice, removes restrictions from half of the Palestinian population requesting legal status through marriage in Israel. Furthermore, Palestinian children under the age of 16 who have one parent who married an Israeli can now obtain citizenship.[8]


In 1999, an Arab woman was named Miss Israel for the first time in the nation's history. "I am totally Israeli, and I do not think about whether I am an Arab or a Jew," 21-year-old Rana Raslan, from Haifa, said at the pageant. "They wanted a beauty queen, not a political queen." News of her victory made headlines across Israel.

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