Arab citizens of Israel

Arab citizens of Israel refers to Arabs or Arabic-speaking people who are citizens of Israel who are not Jewish. Arab citizens of Israel are often called Arab Israelis or Israeli Arabs, a term with which some identify but the majority reject. (See notes on terminology below.)

Arab citizens comprise 20% of the population of Israel. The majority identify themselves as Palestinian by nationality and Israeli by citizenship. Many Arab citizens hold a range of ties, including family ties, to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. There has been relatively greater emphasis on Israeli identity among the Bedouin and Druze, with all of the Druze drafted into compulsory military service and a dwindling number of Bedouin volunteering.

Special cases are Arabs living in East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, occupied and administered by Israel since the Six-Day War of 1967. The residents of East Jerusalem became permanent residents of Israel shortly after the war. Although they hold Israeli ID cards, only a few of them applied for Israeli citizenship, to which they are entitled, and most of them keep close ties with the West Bank. However, as permanent residents, they are entitled to vote for Jerusalem municipal elections, although a low percentage does so. The mostly Druze residents of the Golan Heights are considered permanent residents under the Golan Heights Law of 1981. Few of them have accepted full Israeli citizenship, and the vast majority consider themselves to be citizens of Syria.


Terms used to refer to Arab citizens of Israel in the Arab media or Arabic cultural lexicon are "the Arabs of '48", "the Palestinians of '48" or "the Arabs within" (عرب الداخل). These terms do not include the East Jerusalem Arab population or the Druze in the Golan Heights since these territories are considered to be occupied by Israel since 1967. Many Arab citizens of Israel prefer to call themselves simply "Palestinians in Israel" or "Palestinian citizens of Israel."

"Arabs of Israel", "Arab Israelis", "Israeli Arabs", "Arab population of Israel", "Arab inhabitants" or the "Arab sector" are terms used by Israeli authorities, Jewish population of Israel and by the Hebrew-speaking media in Israel, to refer to Arabs that are citizens and/or residents of the State of Israel.

The Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, for example, therefore includes Arab permanent residents of Israel who do not hold Israeli citizenship in its census figures. As a result, the number of Arabs in Israel is calculated as 1,413,300 people or 19.7% of the Israeli population (2006). These figures include about 250,000 Arabs in East Jerusalem, and about 19,000 Druze in the Golan Heights.

Generally, Middle Eastern Jews who emigrated or were expelled from their historic homes throughout the Arab world following the establishment of Israel in 1948, as well as their Israeli-born Mizrahi descendants, do not identify as Arabs, though they and their ancestors were traditionally Arabic-speaking and a minority of Mizrahim still identify today as "Arab-Jews". According to the State of Israel's official dichotomy between Arabs and Jews, Jews of all backgrounds are officially accounted for collectively and without distinction, solely as Jews, while persons of Arab cultural and linguistic heritage of any faith other than Jewish, are accounted for as Arabs.


1948 Arab-Israeli War

Most Israelis refer to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War as the War of Independence, while most Arab citizens refer to it as the Nakba (catastrophe), a reflection of differences in perception of the purpose and outcomes of the war.

In the aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, former British-Mandate Palestine was de facto divided into three parts: State of Israel, Jordanian-held West Bank, and Egyptian-held Gaza Strip. Of the estimated 950,000 Arabs that lived in the territory that became Israel before the war, most were expelled or fled; some 156,000 remained. Arab citizens of Israel are largely composed of these people and their descendants. Others include some from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank who procured Israeli citizenship under family-unification provisions that were recently made significantly more stringent.

Arabs who had left their homes during the period of armed conflict, but remained in what had become Israeli territory, were considered to be "present absentees". In some cases, they were refused permission to return to their original homes, which were expropriated and turned over to state ownership, as was the property of other Palestinian refugees. Some 274,000, or 1 of every 4 Arab citizens of Israel are "present absentees" or internally displaced Palestinians. Notable cases of "present absentees" include the residents of Saffuriyya and the Galilee villages of Kafr Bir'im and Iqrit. The legal efforts by residents of Kafr Bir'im and Iqrit to be allowed to return to their homes have continued into the 21st century.

Arab citizens of Israel generally hold separate marches on Israel's Independence Day, a day they and other Palestinians have termed al-Nakba, meaning "the catastrophe". In Israel, Independence Day takes place on 5 Iyar according to the Hebrew calendar, which means it falls on different dates every year under the Gregorian calendar. Arab citizens of Israel generally mark al-Nakba both on this day, and on May 15th, as do other Palestinians. Druze soldiers, however, were present at Israel's first Independence Day Parade in 1949, and there have since been parades for Druze and Circassians, as well as special events for Bedouins on Independence Day.

Martial law (1949-1966)

While most Arabs who remained inside what became Israel were granted citizenship, this population was subject to a number of controlling measures, beginning in 1949, that amounted to martial law. This required that they apply for permission from the military governor to travel more than a given distance from their registered residence. It also included the use of curfew, administrative detentions, expulsions, and other activities. Martial law was lifted from the Arab population living in predominantly-Jewish cities some years later, but remained in place in Arab areas until 1966.

A variety of legal measures in effect during this period facilitated the transfer of land abandoned by Arabs to state ownership. These included the Absentee Property Law of 1950 which allowed the state to take control of land belonging to land owners who emigrated to other countries, and the Land Acquisition Law of 1953 which authorized the Ministry of Finance to transfer expropriated land to the state. Other common legal expedients included the use of emergency regulations to declare land belonging to Arab citizens a closed military zone, followed by the use of Ottoman legislation on abandoned land to take control of the land.

In 1965, the first attempt was made to stand an independent Arab list for Knesset elections, with the radical group al-Ard forming the United Arab List. The list was, however, banned by the Israeli Central Elections Committee.

In 1966, martial law was lifted completely, and the government set about dismantling most of the discriminatory laws, while Arab citizens were, theoretically if not always in practice, granted the same rights as Jewish citizens.


The Six Day War marked a dramatic turning point in the lives of Israel's Arab citizens. For the first time since Israel's establishment, Arab citizens now had contact with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This along with the lifting of military rule, led to increased political activism among Arab citizens.

In 1974, a committee of Arab mayors and municipal council chairmen was established which was able to play an important role in representing the community and bringing its pressure to bear on the Israeli government. This was followed in 1975 by the formation of the Committee for the Defense of the Land, which sought to prevent continuing land expropriations.That same year, a political breakthrough took place with the election of Arab poet Tawfiq Ziad, a Maki member, as mayor of Nazareth, accompanied by a strong communist presence in the town council. In 1976, six Arab citizens of Israel were killed by Israeli security forces at a protest against land expropriations and house demolitions. The date of the protest, March 30, has since been commemorated annually as Land Day.

The 1980s saw the birth of the Islamic Movement. As part of a larger trend seen throughout the Arab World, the Islamic Movement emphasized moving Islam into the political realm. The Islamic movement built schools, provided other essential social services, constructed mosques, and encouraged both prayer and conservative Islamic dress. The Islamic Movement also began to have an impact on electoral politics particularly at the local level.

Many Arab citizens supported the First Intifada and assisted Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, providing them with money, food, and clothes. A number of strikes were also held by Arab citizens in solidarity with Palestinians in the occupied territories.

The years surrounding the Oslo Peace Process were a time of optimism for Arab citizens. During the time of Yitzhak Rabin's government, Arab parties played an important role in the formation of a governing coalition for the first time ever. Increased participation of Arab citizens was also seen at the civil society level. However, tension continued to exist with many Arabs calling for Israel to become a "state of all its citizens", thereby challenging the state's Jewish identity. During the 1999 elections for Prime Minister 94% of all Arabs voted for Ehud Barak partly due to the hope that an Arab party would be included in the coalition agreement for Barak's government as a continuation of what had started with Yitzhak Rabin. However, Barak chose to form a broad left-right-center government without consulting any Arab parties, a decision that deeply disappointed Israel's Arab community.


Tensions between Arabs and the state rose to a boiling point in October 2000 when 12 Arab citizens of Israel and one man from Gaza were killed while protesting the government's response to the Second Intifada. In response to these events the government established the Or Commission to investigate the causes of the protests and the subsequent police response to them. The events of October 2000 were a major turning point in the consciousness of the Arab community in Israel, causing many to question the nature of their citizenship. Many Arabs chose to boycott the 2001 Israeli Elections as a means of protest. Furthermore, IDF enlistment by Bedouin citizens of Israel dropped significantly.

During the 2006 Israel Lebanon Conflict, lingering tensions revealed themselves again. Arab advocacy organizations complained that the Israeli government had invested significant funds and energy into protecting Jewish citizens from Hezbollah attacks, but had neglected Arab citizens. They pointed to a dearth of bomb shelters in Arab towns and villages and a lack of basic emergency information in Arabic, in conjunction with political and public incitement against them. Large elements within Israel's Jewish population viewed the Arab population's opposition to government policy and sympathy with the Lebanese as a sign of disloyalty.

Later that year, in October 2006, tensions between the Jewish and Arab communities were further inflamed when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided to include the right wing political party Yisrael Beitenu in his coalition government. The Yisrael Beitenu Party leader, Avigdor Lieberman, had long advocated transfer of a heavily populated Arab area (such as Umm al-Fahm, the center of the Islamic Party) to the Palestinian Authority as part of a peace proposal.

Several months later in January 2007 the first non-Druze Arab minister in Israel's history, Raleb Majadele, was appointed a minister without portfolio. (Salah Tarif, a Druze, had been appointed a minister without portfolio in 2001). The appointment received criticism from both left wing members of Knesset, who felt it was an attempt to cover up the Labor Party's decision to sit with Yisrael Beitenu in the government, and from right wing members, who felt that it threatened Israel's status as a Jewish state.

Ethnic and religious groupings

In 2006, the official number of Arab residents in Israel - including East Jerusalem permanent residents many of whom are not citizens - was 1,413,500 people, about 20% of Israel’s population. According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics (May 2003), Muslims, including Bedouins, make up 82% of the entire Arab population in Israel, with around 9% Druze, and 9% Christians.

The national language and mother tongue of Arab citizens, including the Druze, is Arabic and the colloquial spoken language is of the Palestinian Arabic dialect. Knowledge and command of Modern Standard Arabic varies.


Outside of the Bedouin population, traditionally settled communities of Muslim Arabs comprise about 70% of Israel's Arab population.

Muslims in Israel have the highest birthrate of any group: 4.0 children per woman, as opposed to 2.7 for Jewish Israelis, a natural reproduction rate of 3% compared to 1.5%. Around 25% of the children in Israel today were born to Muslim parents. The Muslim population is mostly young: 42% of Muslims are children under the age of 15, compared with 26% of the Jewish population. The median age of Muslim Israelis is 18, while the median age of Jewish Israelis is 30. The percentage of people over 65 is less than 3% for Muslims, compared with 12% for the Jewish population. According to forecasts, the Muslim population will grow to over 2,000,000 people, or 24-26% of the population within the next 15 years. They will also comprise 85% of the Arab population in Israeli in 2020 (Up 3% from 2005). (See the section on Demographics below for more on this issue.)


According to the Foreign Affairs Minister of Israel, 110,000 Bedouins live in the Negev, 50,000 in the Galilee and 10,000 in the central region of Israel.

The term "Bedouin" or "Badawi" in Arabic defines a range of nomadic desert-dwelling ethnic groups spanning from the western Sahara desert to the Najd desert including one of its arms, the Negev. Through the latter half of the 19th century, the traditionally pastoral nomadic Bedouin in Palestine began transitioning to a semi-nomadic pastoral agricultural community, with an emphasis on agricultural production and the privatization of tribal lands.

Prior to the establishment of Israel in 1948, there were an estimated 65,000-90,000 Bedouin living in the Negev. The 11,000 who remained were relocated by the Israeli government in the 1950s and 1960s to an area called the siyag ("enclosure" or, "fence") made up of relatively infertile land in the northeastern Negev comprising 10% of the Negev desert. Negev Bedouins, like the rest of the Arab population in Israel, lived under military rule up to 1966, after which restrictions were lifted and they were free to move outside the siyag as well. However, even after 1966 they were not free to reside outside of the siyag; they came to reside within 2% of the Negev and never returned to their former range. Seven government-built townships were established in the siyag area where roughly half of Israel's Bedouin population live today,centered around the largest legal Bedouin locality in Israel, Rahat. The Israeli government encourages Bedouin to settle as permanent residents in these development towns, but the other half of the Negev Bedouin population continues to live in 45 "unrecognized villages," some of which pre-date the existence of Israel. These villages do not appear on any commercial maps, and are denied basic services like water, electricity and schools. It is forbidden by the Israeli authorities for the residents of these villages to build permanent structures, though many do, risking fines and home demolition.


The Druze are members of a sect residing in many countries, although predominantly in mountainous regions in Israel, Lebanon and Syria. Druze in Israel live mainly in the north, notably in Carmel City, near Haifa. There are also Druze localities in the Golan Heights, such as Majdal Shams, which were captured in 1967 from Syria and annexed to Israel in 1981.

It is in keeping with Druze religious practice to always serve the country in which they live. So while the Druze population in Israel are Arabic speakers like their counterparts in Syria and Lebanon, they often consider themselves Israeli and unlike the Arab Muslims and Arab Christians in Israel they rarely identify themselves as Palestinians. As early as 1939, the leadership of one Druze village formally allied itself with pre-Israeli militias, like the Haganah. A separate "Israeli Druze" identity was encouraged by the Israeli government who formally recognized the Druze religious community as independent of the Muslim religious community in Israeli law as early as 1957.

The Druze are defined as a distinct ethnic group in the Israeli Ministry of Interior's census registration. While the Israeli education system is basically divided into Hebrew and Arabic speaking schools, the Druze have autonomy within the Arabic speaking branch.

The Druze of British Mandate Palestine showed little interest in Arab nationalism that was on the rise in the 20th century, and did not take part in the early Arab-Jewish skirmishes of the era either. By 1948, many young Druze volunteered for the Israeli army and actively fought on their side. Unlike their Christian and Muslim counterparts, no Druze villages were destroyed in the 1948 war and no Druze left their settlements permanently. Unlike most other Arab citizens of Israel, right-wing Israeli political parties have appealed to many Druze. Ayoob Kara, for example, represented the conservative Likud in the Knesset, and other parties such as Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu have likewise attracted Druze voters. Currently, a Druze MK, Majalli Wahabi of the centrist Kadima, as Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, is next in line to the acting presidency.


Christian Arabs comprise about 9% of the Arab population in Israel, and approximately 70% reside in the North District (Israel) in the towns of Jish, Eilabun, Kafr Yasif, Kafr Kanna, I'billin, Shefa-'Amr and many reside in Nazareth. Several other villages, including a number of Druze villages such as Hurfeish, Maghar, are inhabited by Christian Arabs. Nazareth has the largest Christian Arab population. There are 117,000 or more Christian Arabs in Israel. Christian Arabs have been prominent in Arab political parties in Israel and these leaders have included Archbishop George Hakim, Emile Toma, Tawfik Toubi, Emile Habibi and Azmi Bishara.

Notable Christian religious figures in Israel include the Melkite Archbishops of the Galilee Elias Chacour and Boutros Mouallem, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah, and Munib Younan of the Lutheran Church of Palestine and Jordan.

The only non-Jewish Arab judge to receive a permanent appointment to preside over Israel's Supreme Court is a Christian Arab, Salim Jubran.

Self-identification of Muslims, Christians and Druze

The relationship of Arab citizens to the State of Israel is often fraught with tension and can be regarded in the context of relations between minority populations and state authorities elsewhere in the world. Arab citizens consider themselves to be an indigenous people, though this has been disputed by some pro-Israel advocates, like Joan Peters in her book From Time Immemorial. The tension between their Palestinian Arab national identity and their identity as citizens of Israel was famously described by an Arab public figure as, "My state is at war with my nation".

According to the 2008 National Resilience Survey, conducted by Tel Aviv University, 43% of Muslims refer to themselves as "Palestinian-Arabs"; only 15% defined themselves as "Arab-Israelis" and four percent of those surveyed said they considered themselves "Muslim-Israelis". According to the same survey, 24% of Christians in Israel said they defined themselves as "Arab-Palestinians", 24% referred to themselves as "Arab-Israelis" and an equal number of respondents said they considered themselves "Christian-Israelis". In 2008 more than 94% of Druze youngsters classified themselves as "Druze-Israelis" in the religious and national context. (The Ynet article reporting the findings does not mention self-identification as "Arab citizens of Israel" or "Palestinian citizens of Israel" as an option.)

Military conscription by ethnicity

Muslims are not required to serve in the Israeli military, and outside the Bedouin community, very few (around 120 a year) volunteer. Until 2000, each year between 5%-10% of the Bedouin population of draft age volunteered for the Israeli army, and Bedouin were well-known for their unique status as volunteers. The legendary Israeli soldier, Amos Yarkoni, first commander of the Shaked Reconnaissance Battalion in the Givati Brigade, was a Bedouin (born Abd el-Majid Hidr). However today the number of Bedouin in the army may be less than 1%. As over half of the Bedouin population (80,000 out of 160,000) lives in villages unrecognized by the Israeli government and threatened demolition of these 45 villages has become increasingly acute, and as the Israeli government has failed to fulfill promises of equal service provision to Bedouin citizens, willingness among Bedouin to serve in the army has drastically dropped in recent years.

IDF figures indicate that in 2002 and 2003, Christians represented 0.1 percent of all recruits. In 2004, the number of recruits had doubled. Altogether, in 2003, the percentage of Christians serving had grown by 16 percent over the year 2000. The IDF does not publish figures on the exact number of recruits by religious denomination, and it is estimated that merely a few dozen Christians currently serve in the IDF.

Druze are required to serve in the IDF in accordance with an agreement between their local religious leaders and the Israeli government in 1956. Opposition to the decision among the Druze populace was evident immediately, but was unsuccessful in reversing the decision. It is estimated that 85% of Druze men in Israel serve in the army. In recent years, a growing minority from within the Druze community have denounced this mandatory enrollment, and refused to serve. In 2001, Said Nafa, who identifies as a Palestinian Druze and serves as the head of the Balad party's national council, founded the "Pact of Free Druze", an organization that aims "to stop the conscription of the Druze and claims the community is an inalienable part of the Arabs in Israel and the Palestinian nation at large."

It is commonly felt among Palestinians that Israel's varying treatment of different Arab populations with Israeli citizenship, according to military service, is an extension of the British colonial strategy of 'Divide to Rule.' Druze often play high-ranking roles in elite guards involved in major operations in the Occupied Territories and Lebanon; Bedouin soldiers tend to occupy roles as Border policemen, keeping Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza (some of whom may be members of their extended family) out of Israel. These realities have facilitated a sharpened division between the Druze and Bedouin communities and the rest of the former and current inhabitants of Historic Palestine.

Spatial distribution and demographics

Arab citizens of Israel form a majority of the population (52%) in Israel's Northern District and about 50% of the Arab population lives in 114 different localities throughout Israel.In total there are 122 primarily if not entirely Arab localities in Israel, 89 of them having populations over two thousand. The seven townships as well as the Abu Basma Regional Council that have been constructed by the government for the Bedouin population of the Negev, are the only Arab localities to have been established since 1948, with the aim of relocating the Arab Bedouin citizens (see above section on Bedouin).

46% of the country’s Arabs (622,400 people) live in predominantly-Arab communities in the north. Nazareth is the largest Arab city, with a population of 65,000, roughly 40,000 of whom are Muslim. Shefa-'Amr has a population of approximately 32,000 and the city is mixed with sizable populations of Muslims, Christians and Druze.

Jerusalem, a mixed city, has the largest overall Arab population. Jerusalem housed 209,000 Arabs in 2000 and they make up some 33% of the city’s residents and together with the local council of Abu Ghosh, some 19% of the country’s entire Arab population.

14% of Arab citizens live in the Haifa District predominantly in the Wadi Ara region. Here is the largest Muslim city, Umm al-Fahm, with a population of 43,000. Baqa-Jatt and Carmel City are the two second largest Arab population centers in the district. The city of Haifa has an Arab population of 9%, much of it in the Wadi Nisnas neighborhood.

10% of the country's Arab population resides in the Center District of Israel, primarily the cities of Tayibe, Tira, and Qalansawe as well as the mixed cities of Lod and Ramla which have mainly Jewish populations.

Of the remaining 11%, 10% live in Bedouin communities in the northwestern Negev Desert. The Bedouin city of Rahat is the only Arab city in the South District and it is the third largest Arab city in Israel.

The remaining 1% of the country's Arab population lives in cities that are almost entirely Jewish such as, Nazaret Illit with an Arab population of 9% and Tel Aviv-Yafo, 4%.

In February 2008, the government announced that the first new Arab city would be constructed in Israel. According to Haaretz, "[s]ince the establishment of the State of Israel, not a single new Arab settlement has been established, with the exception of permanent housing projects for Bedouins in the Negev."

Major Arab localities

Arabs make up the majority of the population of the "heart of the Galilee" and of the areas along the Green Line including the Wadi Ara region. Bedouin Arabs make up the majority of the northeastern section of the Negev Desert.

Significant population centers
Locality Population District
Nazareth 64,300 North
Umm al-Fahm 41,100 Haifa
Rahat 38,900 South
Tayibe 33,000 Center
Shefa-'Amr 32,800 North
Baqa-Jatt 31,000 Haifa
Shaghur 28,500 North
Tamra 26,000 North
Sakhnin 24,400 North
Carmel City 24,000 Haifa
Tira 20,700 Center
Arraba 19,600 North
Maghar 18,700 North
Kafr Kanna 17,600 North
Kafr Qasim 17,200 Center

Perceived demographic threat

In the Northern Part of Israel the percentage of Jewish population is declining. The increasing population of Arabs within Israel, and the majority status they hold in two major geographic regions — the Galilee and the Triangle — has become a growing point of open political contention in recent years. Dr. Wahid Abd Al-Magid, the editor of Al-Ahram Weekly's "Arab Strategic Report" predicts that "The Arabs of 1948 (i.e. Arabs who stayed within the bounds of Israel and accepted citizenship) may become a majority in Israel in 2035, and they will certainly be the majority in 2048. Among Arabs, Muslims have the highest birth rate, followed by Druze, and then Christians. The phrase demographic threat, (or demographic bomb) is used within the Israeli political sphere to describe the perceived threat the growth of its Arab citizenry poses to its maintenance of its status as a Jewish state with a Jewish demographic majority.

Demographic bomb

Israeli historian Benny Morris states:

The Israeli Arabs are a time bomb. Their slide into complete Palestinization has made them an emissary of the enemy that is among us. They are a potential fifth column. In both demographic and security terms they are liable to undermine the state. So that if Israel again finds itself in a situation of existential threat, as in 1948, it may be forced to act as it did then. If we are attacked by Egypt (after an Islamist revolution in Cairo) and by Syria, and chemical and biological missiles slam into our cities, and at the same time Israeli Palestinians attack us from behind, I can see an expulsion situation. It could happen. If the threat to Israel is existential, expulsion will be justified[…]

The term "demographic bomb" was famously used by Benjamin Netanyahu in 2003 when he noted that if the percentage of Arab citizens rises above its current level of about 20 percent, Israel will not be able to maintain a Jewish demographic majority. Netanyahu's comments were criticized as racist by Arab Knesset members and a range of civil rights and human rights organizations, such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. Even earlier allusions to the "demographic threat" can be found in an internal Israeli government document drafted in 1976 known as The Koenig Memorandum, which laid out a plan for reducing the number and influence of Arab citizens of Israel in the Galilee region.

In 2003, the Israeli daily Ma’ariv published an article entitled, "Special Report: Polygamy is a Security Threat," detailing a report put forth by the Director of the Population Administration at the time, Herzl Gedj; the report described polygamy in the Bedouin sector a “security threat” and advocated means of reducing the birth rate in the Arab sector. The Population Administration is a department of the Demographic Council, whose purpose, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics is: “ increase the Jewish birthrate by encouraging women to have more children using government grants, housing benefits, and other incentives.” In 2008 the Minister of the Interior appointed Yaakov Ganot as new head of the Population Administration, which according to Haaretz is "probably the most important appointment an interior minister can make.

Land and population exchange, or, 'transfer'

Some Israeli politicians advocate land-swap proposals in order to assure a continued Jewish majority within Israel. A specific proposal is that Israel transfer sovereignty of part of the Arab-populated Wadi Ara area (west of the Green Line) to a future Palestinian state, in return for formal sovereignty over the major Jewish settlement "blocks" that lie inside the West Bank east of the Green Line.)

Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, the fourth largest faction in the 17th Knesset, is one of the foremost advocates the transfer of large Arab towns located just inside Israel near the border with the West Bank (e.g. Tayibe, Umm al-Fahm, Baqa al-Gharbiyye), to the jurisdiction of the Palestinian National Authority in exchange for Israeli settlements located inside the West Bank. As the London Times notes: "Lieberman plans to strengthen Israel’s status as a Jewish state by transferring 500,000 of its minority Arab population to the West Bank, by the simple expedient of redrawing the West Bank to include several Arab Israeli towns in northern Israel. Another 500,000 would be stripped of their right to vote if they failed to pledge loyalty to Zionism.

In October 2006, Yisrael Beiteinu formally joined in the ruling government's parliamentary coalition, headed by Kadima and also made up of the Labour Party and Gil. After the Israeli Cabinet confirmed Avigdor Lieberman's appointment to the position of Minister for Strategic Threats, Labour Party representative and Science, Sport and Culture Minister Ophir Pines-Paz, resigned his post. In his resignation letter to Ehud Olmert, Pines-Paz wrote, "I couldn't sit in a government with a minister who preaches racism

The Lieberman Plan caused a stir among Arab citizens of Israel, which explicitly treats them as an enemy within. On the one hand, with very few exceptions, Arabs in Israel argue that they are native to the region and should not have to renounce the villages and cities in which they, their parents, and their grandparents, if not their ancestors, were born. Others insist that as Israeli citizens, they deserve equal rights within the State, and should not be singled out as a fifth column according to their ethnic or religious background. Various polls show that Arabs in Israel in general do not wish to move to the West Bank or Gaza if a Palestinian state is created there.

Right-wing Jewish critics of the Wadi Ara land swap plan have argued that this measure will not be enough since "The number of Arab Israelis would drop by 116,000-148,000, or a total of 8.2-10.5 percent of the Arab population of Israel, and just 2.1 percent of the population in general," rather than emptying Israel of all Arabs.

Changing birth rates

A January 2006 study by the American-Israel Demographic Research Group rejects the "demographic time bomb" threat based on statistical data collected since 1995 that shows that Jewish births have increased rapidly while Arab births have begun to drop. The study noted shortcomings in earlier demographic predictions (for example, in the 1960s, predictions suggested that Arabs would be the majority in 1990). The study also demonstrated that Christian Arab and Druze birth rates were actually below those of Jewish birth rates in Israel. The study used data from a Gallup poll to demonstrate that the desired family size for Arabs in Israel and Jewish Israelis were the same. The study's population forecast for 2025 predicted that Arabs would comprise only 25.0% of the Israeli population.

Nevertheless, the Bedouin population in particular, with its extremely high birth rates, continues to be perceived as a threat to the Jewish demographic majority in the south, and a variety of Jewish-only development plans such as the Blueprint Negev compete to address these concerns.

Legal and political status

Legal status in Israeli law

Israel's Declaration of Independence called for the establishment of a Jewish state with equality of social and political rights, irrespective of religion, race or sex.

The rights of citizens are guaranteed by a set of Basic Laws (Israel does not have a written constitution). Although this set of laws does not explicitly include the term "right to equality", the Israeli Supreme Court has consistently interpreted "Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and "Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation (1994)as guaranteeing equal rights for all Israeli citizens.

The website for the Israeli government's Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that "Arab Israelis are citizens of the Israel with equal rights" and states that "The only legal distinction between Arab and Jewish citizens is not one of rights, but rather of civic duty. Since Israel's establishment, Arab citizens have been exempted from compulsory service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)." Druze and Circassians are drafted into the Israeli army, while other Arabs may serve voluntarily; however, only a very small number of Arab Christians, and among Muslims, solely the Bedouin, have been permitted to volunteer for the Israeli army.

Arab perceptions of citizenship status

Many Arab citizens feel that the state, as well as society at large, not only actively limits them to second-class citizenship, but treats them as enemies, impacting their perception of the de jure versus de facto quality of their citizenship. The joint document The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel, asserts: "Defining the Israeli State as a Jewish State and exploiting democracy in the service of its Jewishness excludes us, and creates tension between us and the nature and essence of the State." The document explains that by definition the "Jewish State" concept is based on ethnically preferential treatment towards Jews enshrined in immigration (the Law of Return) and land policy (the Jewish National Fund), and calls for the establishment of minority rights protections enforced by an independent anti-discrimination commission.

Institutional violence

A 2004 report on "Racism in Israel" by Mossawa, an advocacy center for Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel, states that since the events of October 2000 (in which twelve Arab citizens of Israel were shot dead by Israeli security forces during violent protests), an additional sixteen Arabs had been killed by security forces, making for a total of 29 casualties of what they describe as "institutional violence" inside the time span of four years. Ahmed Sa'adi, in his article on The Concept of Protest and its Representation by the Or Commission writes that since Israel's establishment in 1948, over the course of numerous protests that have taken place, "the only protestors to be killed by the police have been Arabs."

Jewish National Fund lands

The Jewish National Fund is a private organization established in 1901, to buy and develop land in the Land of Israel for Jewish settlement; land purchases were funded by donations from world Jewry exclusively for that purpose. A significant portion of JNF lands were originally properties left behind by Palestinian "absentees" and as a result the legitimacy of some JNF land ownership has been a matter of dispute. The JNF purchased these lands from the State of Israel between 1949 and 1953, after the state took control of them according to the Absentee Properties Law. In 1960, administration (but not ownership) of the land held by the JNF, apart from forested areas, was transferred to a newly formed government agency, the Israel Land Administration, the government agency responsible for managing 93% of the land of Israel. In turn the JNF garnered significant leverage within the ILA, receiving the right to nominate ten of the 22 directors of the ILA.

The JNF charter specifies the land purchased is for the use of the Jewish People. In the past, this was interpreted to mean that the JNF should not lease land to non-Jews, but the restriction was circumvented in practice, for example, by granting one-year leases to Bedouin herders. As the ILA is a state agency, refusal to lease the land to Arabs has been seen as state-discrimination. When the ILA did lease JNF land to Arabs, it took control of the land in question and compensated the JNF with an equivalent amount of land in areas not designated for development (generally in the Galilee and the Negev), thus ensuring that the total amount of land owned by the JNF remains the same. This was a complicated and controversial mechanism, and in 2004 use of it was suspended. After various stages of legal resolution, including Supreme Court discussions and a directive by the Attorney General instructing the ILA to lease JNF land to Arabs and Jews alike, in September 2007 the JNF suggested reinstating the land-exchange mechanism. The JNF currently owns 13% of land in Israel.

While the JNF and the ILA view an exchange of lands as a long-term solution, opponents say that such maneuvers privatize municipal lands and preserve a situation in which significant lands in Israel are not available for use by all of its citizens. As of 2007, the High Court delayed ruling on JNF policy regarding leasing lands to non-Jews, and changes to the ILA-JNF relationship were up in the air. Adalah and other organizations furthermore express concern that proposed severance of the relation between the ILA and JNF, as suggested by Ami Ayalon, would leave the JNF free to retain the same proportion of lands for Jewish uses as it seeks to settle hundreds of thousands of Jews in areas with a tenuous Jewish demographic majority (in particular, 100,000 Jews in existing Galilee communities and 250,000 Jews in new Negev communities via the Blueprint Negev.)

Arabic and Hebrew as official languages

Although Arabic is de jure one of Israel's official languages, de facto the government has failed to enforce the consistent application of both languages in the public sphere. Government ministries publish all material intended for the public in Hebrew, though local offices often independently provide written material or services for languages for which a need is perceived. The country's laws are published in Hebrew, and eventually English and Arabic translations are published. While most highway signage is in both Hebrew and Arabic, in significant cases only Hebrew is displayed; many Arab villages lack street signs of any kind and the Hebrew name, rather than the Arabic, is often used. Hebrew is the standard language of communication at places of work except inside the Arab community, and among recent immigrants, foreign workers, and with tourists. Arabic is not a required language in schools. In summer of 2008, right-wing lawmakers presented a bill to strip Arabic of its status alongside Hebrew as an official language of the state.

Jewish national symbols

Some Arab politicians have requested a re-evaluation of the Israeli flag and National Anthem, arguing that the Star of David at the flag's center is an exclusively Jewish symbol. One Israel-supporter sarcastically remarked in response: "Why don't they change the country's name too? Defenders of the flag say that many flags in Europe bear crosses (such as the flags of Sweden, Finland, Norway, United Kingdom, Scotland, England, Switzerland, Greece, etc.), while flags in predominantly Muslim countries bear the crescent and moon (such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey). The National Committee for the Heads of the Arab Local Authorities in Israel addressed this accusation in 2006 thusly:
The Israeli legal system includes a number of core laws that produce and reinforce inequality between the Arabs and the Jews in Israel. [...] The official bias is not restricted to symbols such as the Israeli flag, but also to deeper legal issues concerning all Palestinian Arabs [...] [t]he official definition of Israel as a Jewish state created a fortified ideological barrier in the face of obtaining full equality for the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel [...] We, the Palestinians in Israel, are an integral part of this place [...] Israel has tried over the past decades to disengage us from this place, not through physical transfer but through intellectual emotional transfer. Israel has tried to create a new identity on the basis of 'loyalty to the state' [...] The State has not determined a position acceptable to us yet in terms of nurturing our Arab culture.

Arab political activism

Israeli restrictions on political organization

Amendment #9 to the 'Basic Law: The Knesset and the Law of Political Parties' passed on July 31 1985, changed section 7(a) to state that a political party "may not participate in the elections if there is in its goals or actions a denial of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people, a denial of the democratic nature of the state, or incitement to racism.

An Israeli Central Elections Committee ruling which allowed the Progressive List for Peace to run for the Knesset in 1988 was challenged based on this amendment, but the committee's decision was upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court, which ruled that the PLP's platform calling for Israel to become "a state of all its citizens" does not violate the ideology of Israel as the State of the Jewish people, and thus section 7(a) does not apply.

In December 2002 Palestinian member of Knesset Azmi Bishara and his party, Balad, which also calls for Israel to become "a state of all its citizens," were banned by the Israeli Central Elections Committee, for refusing to recognize Israel as a "Jewish democratic state and making statements promoting armed struggle against it. The Supreme Court overruled the decision in January 2003. When, on December 2005, member of Israeli Knesset Azmi Bishara told an audience in Lebanon that Arab citizens "[…]are like all Arabs, only with Israeli citizenship forced upon them […] Return Palestine to us and take your democracy with you. We Arabs are not interested in it, this was interpreted as denial of the democratic nature of the state once more.

The only party currently banned under this law is the right-wing Jewish Kach party.

Arab political parties

There are three mainstream Arab parties in Israel: Hadash (a joint Arab-Jewish party with a large Arab presence), Balad and the United Arab List, which is a coalition of several different political organizations including the Islamic Movement. In addition to these, Ahmed Tibi's Ta'al faction has been elected to the last two Knessets as part of alliances with Hadash and the United Arab List. Two Arab parties ran in Israel's first election in 1949, with one, the Democratic List of Nazareth, winning two seats. Until the 1960s all Arab parties in the Knesset were affiliated with Mapai, the ruling party.

A minority of Arabs join and vote for Zionist parties; in the 2006 elections 30% of the Arab vote went to such parties, up from 25% in 2003, though down on the 1999 (30.5%) and 1996 elections (33.4%). Left-wing parties (i.e. Labor Party and Meretz-Yachad, and previously One Nation) are the most popular parties amongst Arabs, though some Druze have also voted for right-wing parties such as Likud and Yisrael Beitenu, as well as the centrist Kadima.

Other Arab political organizations

Besides the political parties mentioned above, there are also a also exist a number of politically active Arab organizations not affiliated with a political party.

Abna el-Balad: Abnaa el-Balad is a political movement that grew out of organizing by Arab university youth, beginning in 1969, that has experienced harassment by the Israeli authorities. It is not affiliated with the Arab Knesset party Balad. While participating in municipal elections, Abnaa al-Balad firmly reject any participation in the Israeli Knesset. Political demands include " the return of all Palestinian refugees to their homes and lands, [an] end [to] the Israeli occupation and Zionist apartheid and the establishment [of] a democratic secular state in Palestine as the ultimate solution to the Arab-Zionist conflict.

Ta'ayush: Ta'ayush is "a grassroots movement of Arabs and Jews working to break down the walls of racism and segregation by constructing a true Arab-Jewish partnership.

Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages: The Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages is a body of unofficial representatives of the 40-something unrecognized villages throughout the Negev Desert region in the south, whose residents have little representation as compared with those in recognized municipalities.

Arab participation in Israeli government

Palestinian Arabs sat in the state's first parliamentary assembly; currently, 12 of the 120 members of the Israeli Parliament are Arab citizens, most representing Arab political parties and one of Israel's Supreme Court judges is a Palestinian Arab.

In the public employment sphere, by the end of 2002, 6.1% of 56,362 Israeli civil servants were Arab. In January 2004, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared that every state-run company must have at least one Arab citizen of Israel on its board of directors.

Arab figures in political, judicial and military positions

Cabinet: Nawaf Massalha, an Arab Muslim, has served in various junior ministerial roles, including Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, since 1999. Until 2001, no Arab had been included in a Prime Minister's cabinet, or invited to join any political coalition. In 2001, this changed, when Salah Tarif, a Druze Arab citizen of Israel, was appointed a member of Sharon's cabinet without a portfolio. Tarif was later ejected after being convicted of corruption. In 2007 the first non-Druze Arab minister in Israel's history, Raleb Majadele, was appointed a minister without portfolio, and a month later appointed minister for Science, Culture and Sport. The appointment of Majadele was criticized by far-right Israelis, some of whom are also within the Cabinet, but this drew condemnation across the mainstream Israeli political spectrum. Meanwhile Arab lawmakers called the appointment an attempt to "whitewash Israel's discriminatory policies against its Arab minority".

Knesset: Arab citizens of Israel have been elected to every Knesset, and currently hold 12 of its 120 seats. The first female Arab MP was Hussniya Jabara, a Muslim Arab from central Israel, who was elected in 1999.

Supreme Court: Abdel Rahman Zuabi, a secular Muslim from northern Israel, was the first Arab on the Israeli Supreme Court, serving a 9-month term in 1999. In 2004, Salim Jubran, a Christian Arab from Haifa descended from Lebanese Maronites, became the first Arab to hold a permanent appointment on the Court. Jubran's expertise lies in the field of criminal law.

Foreign Service: Ali Yahya, an Arab Muslim, became the first Arab ambassador for Israel in 1995 when he was appointed ambassador to Finland. He served until 1999, and in 2006 was appointed ambassador to Greece. Other Arab ambassadors include Walid Mansour, a Druze, appointed ambassador to Vietnam in 1999, and Reda Mansour, also a Druze, a former ambassador to Ecuador. Mohammed Masarwa, an Arab Muslim, was Consul-General in Atlanta. In 2006, Ismail Khaldi was appointed Israeli consul in San Francisco, becoming the first Bedouin consul of the State of Israel.

Israel Defense Forces: Arab Generals in the IDF include Major General Hussain Fares, commander of Israel's border police, and Major General Yosef Mishlav, head of the Israeli Home Front Command and current Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. Both are members of the Druze community.

Jewish National Fund: In 2007, Ra'adi Sfori became the first Arab citizen of Israel to be elected as a JNF director, over a petition against his appointment. The court upheld the JNF's appointment, explaining, "As this is one director among a large number, there is no chance he will have the opportunity to cancel the organization's goals."

Recent political developments

Removal of Unrecognized Bedouin Villages

The Israeli government has long set its eyes on the Negev Desert for future development. The northern region of Israel suffers from extreme density and overbuilding, and the Negev has been slated as the next site of new Jewish immigration to support Israel's Jewish demographic majority. To this end a range of Israeli development plans for the Negev have emerged since 2002, such as the Sharon Negev Development Plan (sidelined due to budget crises in 2003) and Negev 2015, currently in the works. Development plans are two-tiered, involving removal of unrecognized Bedouin villages on the one hand, and incorporation and construction of new Jewish towns on the other. As the Israeli government plans the removal of the unrecognized villages, the American-JNF has offered to take care of building Jewish towns and has pledged to attract over 250,000 new settlers to the Negev in five years via the Blueprint Negev.

The term unrecognized village refers to a Bedouin village in the Negev Desert which the Israeli government does not recognize as a legal settlement. As of 2008, there were approximately 45 such villages, with a population of over 80,000, comprising half of the Bedouin population in southern Israel. The unrecognized villages are not marked on any official maps. The residents of these villages are Israeli citizens, yet lack access to education, health, transportation and municipal trash services; they are also denied access to regional water and electrical grids. Because their villages are considered illegal, their homes are subject to demolition at any time.

At the start of 2006, the Israeli National Security Council (NSC) publicized a position paper arguing that Negev Arabs hinder development and recommending a fixed time-frame for concentrating all Bedouin into townships. The NSC suggested a removal campaign similar to the eviction of settlers from the Gaza Strip if the government fails to move the Bedouin to the townships within the recommended time-frame.

"The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel"

"The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel" is a joint document representing a consensus between a wide range of Arab organizations, institutions, and professionals from all ends of the political spectrum and loosely affiliated under "The National Committee for the Heads of Arab Local Authorities in Israel." The report, released in 2006, garnered widespread attention within Israel and even reached the American media - a rarity in a media climate preoccupied by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Occupied Territories.

The declaration reads: "We, the Palestinian Arabs living in Israel, the natives of the land and the citizens of the state, part of the Palestinian people and the Arab nation … the 1948 war brought about the creation of the State of Israel on 78 percent of the territory of historical Palestine. We, who counted 160,000 in our homeland, found ourselves within the borders of the Jewish state, cut-off from the rest of our Palestinian people and the Arab world, were forced to accept the Israeli nationality and we became a minority in our historical homeland."

Some of its core arguments have risen the ire of certain segments of the Israeli Jewish population. In February 2007, the New York Times reported that "A group of prominent Israeli Arabs has called on Israel to stop defining itself as a Jewish state, and become a 'consensual democracy for both Arabs and Jews,' prompting consternation and debate across the country. The article further notes that, in a poll of Arab citizens of Israel conducted for the Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation, "57 percent said they wanted a change in the character and definition of the state, whether to become a “state for all its citizens,” a binational state, or a consensual democracy." The document calls for recognition by Israel of the suffering inflicted upon the Palestinians in the aftermath of its creation in 1948, stipulating that Israel should compensate its Arab citizens and cease to treat them like "enemies." And it demands that Israel allow its Arab minority to govern its own affairs and nurture its "natural ties" with the Palestinians and the Arab world.

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; the rule has been 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. 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 over the age of 35, and Palestinian women over the age of 25.

Defenders of the Citizenship and Entry Law say it is aimed at preventing terrorist attacks and preserving the "Jewish character" of Israel by restricting Arab immigration. 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. This law was upheld by a High Court decision in 2006.

Although this law theoretically applies to all Israelis, it has disproportionately affected Arab citizens of Israel; Arabs are far more likely to have Palestinian spouses than other Israelis. Thus the law has been widely considered discriminatory and the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has unanimously approved a resolution saying that the Israeli law violated an international human rights treaty against racism. Critics argue that the law is racist because it severely discourages incidents of intermarriage between Israelis and Palestinians, inhibits the ability of Palestinian Arabs with Israeli citizenship or in the Occupied Territories to marry, as a means of keeping dispersed Palestinian communities in isolation from one another and discouraging procreation between and betwixt the 'Green Line.'

Incitement controversies

Some Arab Members of the Knesset (MKs), past and present, are under police investigation for their visits to countries designated as "enemy countries" by Israeli law. This law was amended following MK Mohammad Barakeh's trip to Syria in 2001, such that MKs must explicitly request permission to visit these countries from the Minister of the Interior. In August 2006, Balad MKs Azmi Bishara, Jamal Zahalka and Wasil Taha visited Syria without requesting nor receiving such permission, and a criminal investigation of their actions was launched. Former Arab Member of Knesset Muhammed Miari was questioned 18 September 2006 by police on suspicion of having entered an "enemy country" without official permission. He was questioned "under caution" for 2.5 hours in the Petah Tikva station about his recent visit to Syria. Another former Arab Member of Knesset, Muhammed Kanaan, has also been summoned for police questioning regarding the same trip. The Arab Association of Human Rights has described these investigations as "a pure political decision not a legal decision […] part of the political policy by the State towards the Arab minority and their representatives.

According to a study commissioned by the Arab Association of Human Rights entitled "Silencing Dissent," over the past three years, eight of nine of these Arab Knesset members have been beaten by Israeli forces during demonstrations. Most recently according to the report, legislation has been passed, including three election laws [e.g., banning political parties], and two Knesset related laws aimed to "significantly curb the minority [Arab population] right to choose a public representative and for those representatives to develop independent political platforms and carry out their duties


Inequality in the allocation of public funding for Jewish and Arab needs, and widespread employment discrimination, present significant economic hurdles for Arab citizens of Israel. On the other hand, the Minorities at Risk (MAR) group also states that despite discrimination, Arabs in Israel "are relatively much better off economically than neighboring Arabs."

Economic development after Israel's establishment

The predominant feature of the Arab community's economic development after 1949 was its transformation from a predominantly peasant farming population to, in large degree, a proletarian industrial workforce. It has been suggested that the economic development of the community was marked by distinct stages. The first period, until 1967, was characterised by this process of proletarianisation. From 1967 on, economic development of the population was encouraged and a Arab bourgeoisie began to develop on the margin of the Jewish bourgeoisie. From the 1980s on, the community developed its economic and, in particular, industrial potential.

In July 2006, the Israeli Government decided to brand all Arab communities in the country as 'class A' development areas, thus making them eligible for tax benefits. This decision aims to encourage investments in the Arab sector.

Raanan Dinur, director-general of Prime Minister office, said in early December 2006 that Israel had finalized plans to set up a NIS 160 million private equity fund to help develop the businesses of the country's Arab community over the next decade. According to Dinur, companies owned by Arab citizens of Israel will be eligible to apply to the fund for as much as NIS 4 million (USD 952,000), enabling as many as 80 enterprises to receive money over the next 10 years. The Israeli government will, according to Dinur, solicit bids to operate the fund from various financial institutes and private firms, which must pledge to raise at least NIS 80 million (about USD 19 million) from private investors.

Current economic situation

Inequality in the allocation of public funding for Jewish and Arab needs, and widespread employment discrimination, present significant economic hurdles for Arab citizens of Israel. On the other hand, MAR also states that despite discrimination, Arabs in Israel "are relatively much better off economically than neighboring Arabs."

Income and poverty: The New York Times (8 February 2007) affirms, "a recent report on poverty published last year by Israel’s National Insurance Institute indicated that 53 percent of the impoverished families in Israel are Arabs. Of the 40 towns in Israel with the highest unemployment rates, 36 are Arab towns. Further, according to the Central Bank of Israel statistics for 2003, for those Arabs citizens who are employed, salary averages are 29% lower than salary averages for Jewish workers.

Difficulties in procuring employment have been attributed to a comparatively low level of education vis-a-vis their Jewish counterparts, insufficient employment opportunities in the vicinity of their towns, discrimination by Jewish employers, and competition with foreign workers in fields, such as construction, agriculture, etc.

Freedom House reported in 2006 that the fact that the majority of Arabs in Israel does not join the army -- making them ineligible for financial benefits, including scholarships and housing loans -- may be a factor in inferior access to education, housing, and social services in relation to the Jewish population.

Another factor in low income in Arab families is the low participation of Arab women in the work force relative to both religious and secular Jewish women. While among Arab men the employment is on par with Jewish men – only 17% of Arab women work. This puts the Arab employment at 68% of the Israeli average. Druze and Christian groups have much higher participation than Muslims.

Municipal funding: A major factor in the situation of some of the Arab towns can be traced to statistical figures showing that Arab towns in Israel are reluctant to collect city taxes from their residents. "The Arab authorities demand equal rights, but they forget that first of all they have to fulfil the same duties that the Jewish authorities do, first and foremost, to collect tax from the residents," complain Jerusalem circles. Without tax collection, the Arab towns are in a state of perpetual crisis, and all plans and programs to better their lot go nowhere. They can't pay their workers and the distance from there to a nationwide strike is short indeed.

Home ownership: Sikkuy, a prominent Arab-Jewish NGO, found that Arabs as a group as the highest home ownership in Israel: 92.6% compared to 70% among Jews..


The most common health-related causes of death are heart disease and cancer. Roughly 14% were diagnosed with diabetes in 2000. Around half of all Arab men smoke.

Life expectancy has increased 27 years since 1948. Further, due largely to improvements in health care, the Arab infant mortality rate dropped from 32 deaths per thousand births in 1970 to 8.6 per thousand in 2000.

However, the Bedouin infant mortality rate is still the highest in Israel, and one of the highest in the developed world. In 2003, the infant mortality rate among Arab citizens overall was 8.4 per thousand, more than twice as high as the rate 3.6 per thousand among the Jewish population. As yet the Israeli government has not seen fit to address this disparity through equitable budget allocations: in the 2002 budget, Israel's health ministry allocated Arab communities less than 0.6% of its 277 m-shekel (£35m) budget (1.6 m shekels {£200,000}) to develop healthcare facilities.


The Israeli government regulates and finances most of the schools operating in the country, including the majority of those run by private organizations. The national school system has two major branches - a Hebrew-speaking branch and an Arabic-speaking branch. The curricula for the two systems are almost identical in mathematics, sciences and English. It is different in humanities (history, literature etc.). While Hebrew is taught as a second language in Arab schools since the third grade and obligatory for Arabic-speaking school's matriculation exams, only basic knowledge of Arabic is taught in Hebrew-speaking schools, usually from the 7th to the 9th grade. Arabic is not obligatory for Hebrew speaking school's matriculation exams. The schooling language split operate from preschool, up through to the end of the high school. At the university level, they merge into a single system, which operates mostly in Hebrew and in English.

The Follow-Up Committee for Arab Education notes that the Israeli government spends an average of $192 per year on each Arab student compared to $1,100 per Jewish student. The drop-out rate for Arab citizens of Israel is twice as high as that of their Jewish counterparts (12 percent versus 6 percent). The same group also notes that there is a 5,000-classroom shortage in the Arab sector.

In 2001, Human Rights Watch issued a report that stated: "Government-run Arab schools are a world apart from government-run Jewish schools. In virtually every respect, Palestinian Arab children get an education inferior to that of Jewish children, and their relatively poor performance in school reflects this.The report found striking differences in virtually every aspect of the education system.

According to the 2004 U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the occupied territories, "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."

Recognition of discrimination

See also: anti-Arabism in Israel and Israel and the apartheid analogy

Official Israeli recognition

While formally equal according to Israeli law, a number of official sources acknowledge that Arab citizens of Israel experience discrimination in many aspects of life. Israeli High Court Justice (Ret.) Theodor Or wrote in The Report by the State Commission of Inquiry into the Events of October 2000:
The Arab citizens of Israel live in a reality in which they experience discrimination as Arabs. This inequality has been documented in a large number of professional surveys and studies, has been confirmed in court judgments and government resolutions, and has also found expression in reports by the state comptroller and in other official documents. Although the Jewish majority’s awareness of this discrimination is often quite low, it plays a central role in the sensibilities and attitudes of Arab citizens. This discrimination is widely accepted, both within the Arab sector and outside it, and by official assessments, as a chief cause of agitation.

The Or Commission report also claims that activities by Islamic organizations may be using religious pretenses to further political aims. The commission describes such actions as a factor in 'inflaming' the Muslim population in Israel against the authorities, and cites the al-Sarafand mosque episode, with Muslims' attempts to restore the mosque and Jewish attempts to stop them, as an example of the 'shifting of dynamics' of the relationship between Muslims and the Israeli authorities.

International recognition

According to the 2004 U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government had done "little to reduce institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against the country's Arab citizens."

The 2004 U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices notes that:

  • "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 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-Arab organizations have challenged as discriminatory the 1996 "Master Plan for the Northern Areas of Israel," which listed as priority goals increasing the Galilee's Jewish population and blocking the territorial contiguity of Arab towns."
  • "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. The Ivri Committee on National Service has 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".
  • "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."
  • "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.'"

The 2007 U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices notes that:

  • "According to a 2005 study at Hebrew University, three times more money was invested in education of Jewish children as in Arab children."

Human Rights Watch has charged that cuts in veteran benefits and child allowances based on parents' military service discriminate against Arab children: "The cuts will also affect the children of Jewish ultra-orthodox parents who do not serve in the military, but they are eligible for extra subsidies, including educational supplements, not available to Palestinian Arab children.

According to The Guardian, in 2006 just 5% of civil servants were Arabs, many of them hired to deal with other Arabs, despite the fact that Arab citizens of Israel comprise 20% of the population.

Although the Bedouin infant mortality rate is still the highest in Israel, and one of the highest in the developed world, The Guardian reports that in the 2002 budget, Israel's health ministry allocated Arab communities less than 0.6% of its budget for healthcare facility development.

Contesting discrimination

Although the Israeli government acknowledges that "Israel has a high level of informal segregation patterns," it argues that this is primarily because of the self-segregating nature of Israel's ethnic groups. The Israeli Foreign Ministry maintains that in spite of certain social cleavages, the political systems and the courts "represent strict legal and civic equality. Mitchell G. Bard addresses charges of inequality in his book Myths and Facts: a Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict. He writes that "Arabs in Israel have equal voting rights; in fact, it is one of the few places in the Middle East where women may vote. [...] Israeli Arabs have also held various government posts [...]

According to Bard, "The sole legal distinction between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel is that the latter are not required to serve in the Israeli army. This is to spare Arab citizens the need to take up arms against their brethren. Nevertheless, Bedouins have served in paratroop units and other Arabs have volunteered for military duty. Compulsory military service is applied to the Druze and Circassian communities at their own request." Similarly, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), a Zionist advocacy organization, argues that since they are not required to serve in military, yet still have all the rights accorded Jews in Israel, Arabs in Israel are at an advantage. As evidence they cite various cases in which Israeli courts have found in favor of Arab citizens.

Intercommunal relations

Public attitudes

There are significant tensions between Arab citizens and their Jewish counterparts. As with all such surveys, polls differ considerably in their findings regarding intercommunal relations.

On April 29 2007 Haaretz reported that an Israeli Democracy Institute (IDI) poll of 507 people showed that 75% of "Israeli Arabs would support a constitution that maintained Israel's status as a Jewish and democratic state while guaranteeing equal rights for minorities, while 23% said they would oppose such a definition."

A poll published in the Nazareth-based Arabic newspaper A-Sinara in 2007, reported that the majority (78%) of Arab citizens of Israel would prefer to remain under Israeli rule rather than move to a future State of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza. Similarly, a 2008 poll on intercommunal relations by a Harvard Kennedy School associate found that 77% of Arab citizens of Israel would rather remain in their native land, as Israeli citizens, than in any other country in the world. The poll also found that "Arab citizens and Jewish citizens both underestimate their communities’ liking of the 'other.'

In contrast, a 2006 poll commissioned by the Arab advocacy group, The Center Against Racism, showed unexpectedly negative attitudes towards Arabs, based on questions asked to 500 Jewish residents of Israel representing all levels of Jewish society. The poll found that: 63% of Jews believe Arabs are a security threat; 68% of Jews would refuse to live in the same building as an Arab; 34% of Jews believe that Arab culture is inferior to Israeli culture. Additionally, support for segregation between Jewish and Arab citizens was found to be higher among Jews of Middle Eastern origin than those of European origin. A more recent poll by the Center Against Racism (2008) found a worsening of Jewish citizens' perceptions of their Arab counterparts:

  • 75% would not agree to live in a building with Arab residents.
  • More than 60% wouldn't accept any Arab visitors at their homes.
  • About 40% believed that Arabs should be stripped of the right to vote.
  • More than 50% agree that the State should encourage immigration of Arab citizens to other countries
  • More than 59% think that the culture of Arabs is a primitive culture.
  • When asked "What do you feel when you hear people speaking Arabic?" 31% said they feel hate and 50% said they feel fear, with only 19% stating positive or neutral feelings.

A 2007 poll conducted by Sami Smooha, a sociologist at Haifa University, found that:

  • 63.3% of Jewish citizens of Israel said they avoid entering Arab towns and cities
  • 68.4% of Jewish citizens of Israel fear the possibility of widespread civil unrest among Arab citizens of Israel
  • 49.7% of Arab citizens of Israel said Hezbollah's capture of IDF reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev in a cross-border raid was justified
  • 18.7% of Arab citizens of Israel thought Israel was justified in going to war following the kidnapping
  • 48.2% of Arab citizens of Israel said they believed that Hezbollah's rocket attacks on northern Israel during that war were justified
  • 89.1% of Arab citizens of Israel said they viewed the IDF's bombing of Lebanon as a war crime
  • 44% of Arab citizens of Israel said they viewed Hezbollah's bombing of Israel as a war crime
  • 62% of Arab citizens of Israel worry that Israel could transfer their communities to the jurisdiction of a future Palestinian state
  • 60% of Arab citizens of Israel said they are concerned about a possible mass expulsion
  • 76% of Arab citizens of Israel described Zionism as racist
  • 67.5% of Arab citizens of Israel said they would be content to live in the Jewish state, if it existed alongside a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip
  • 28% of Arab citizens of Israel deny the Holocaust; among high school and college graduates the figure was even higher (33%)

A range of politicians, rabbis, journalists and historians commonly refer to the 20-25% minority of Arabs in Israel as being a "fifth column" inside the state of Israel.

Inter-communal violence

Since 1948, less than a dozen Arab citizens of Israel have been involved in facilitating attacks by Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist organizations, and one citizen has carried out a suicide bombing. Over the years dozens of Arab citizens have been killed by Israeli police forces during riots and demonstrations, and mob and vigilante violence has resulted in many deaths as well.

Involvement of Arab citizens in attacks on Israeli citizens

Several Arab citizens of Israel have been convicted of espionage for Hezbollah. A small minority of Arab citizens have also played a role in some attacks, assisting Palestinian suicide bombers reach cities in Israel. On March 1, 2007, for example, 3 Israeli citizens, 2 of them Arabs, were convicted of manslaughter for smuggling the suicide bomber involved in the Netanya July 2005 attack, from the West Bank into Israel, killing five and wounding 30. The first and only suicide bombing physically carried out by an Arab citizen of Israel was on September 9 2001, against soldiers and civilians disembarking from a train in the Nahariya station, killing 3 and wounded 90. Outside of attacks that took place during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the only record of violent attacks against Israelis by Arabs with Israeli citizenship is the case of seven Arab citizens killing a nineteen year-old girl in her home in Jerusalem on 1 January 1952.

Israeli state and Jewish citizen violence against Arab citizens

Arab citizens have sustained a number of fatalities at the hands of Israeli security forces, sometimes on a background of violent demonstrations and riots. Occurrences include the October 1956 Kafr Qasim massacre (48 dead), the March 1976 Land Day demonstrations (6 dead), and the October 2000 events in which 12 Arab citizens and one Palestinian from Gaza were killed.

Arab citizens have furthermore been subject to citizen-level violence resulting in fatalities at the hands of their Jewish counterparts. The most notable example outside of attacks that took place during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war was the August 4 2005 The Shfar'am attack, when four Arab citizens were shot dead on a bus by an 18-year old AWOL IDF soldier. In December 2007, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel reported a "dramatic increase" in racism against Arab citizens, including a 26 percent rise in anti-Arab incidents. According to ACRI president Sami Michael, "Israeli society is reaching new heights of racism that damages freedom of expression and privacy".

Arab citizens as victims of terrorism

Arab citizens have also been victims of Palestinian, Arab, or Islamist attacks on Israel and Israelis. For example, on September 12, 1956, three Druze guards were killed in an attack on Ein Ofarim, in the Arabah region. Two Arab citizens were killed in the Ma'alot massacre carried out by the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine on May 15 1974. In March 2002, a resident of the Arab town of Tur'an was killed in an attack on a Haifa restaurant Two months later, a woman from Jaffa was killed in a Hamas suicide bombing in Rishon LeZion On June 18, 2002: A woman from the Arab border town of Barta'a was one of 19 killed by Hamas in the Patt junction massacre in Jerusalem In August 2002, a man from the Arab town of Mghar and woman from the Druze village of Sajur were killed in a suicide bombing at Meron junction On October 21, 2002, an Isfiya man and a Tayibe woman were among 14 killed by Islamic Jihad in the Egged bus 841 massacre. On March 5, 2003, a 13 year old girl from the Druze town of Daliyat al-Karmel was one of 17 killed in the Haifa bus 37 massacre. In May 2003: A Jisr az-Zarqa man, was killed in an Afula mall suicide bombing. On March 19, 2004, Fatah al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades gunmen killed George Khoury, a Hebrew University student. On December 12, 2004, five Arab IDF soldiers were killed in an explosion and shooting at the border with Egypt for which the Fatah Hawks claimed responsibility. On October 4, 2003, four Arab citizens of Israel were among the 21 killed by Hanadi Jaradat in the Maxim restaurant suicide bombing. In July 2006, 19 Arab citizens were killed due to Hezbollah rocket fire in the course of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict

On August 22 2006, 11 Arab tourists from Israel were killed when their bus overturned in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Israel sent Magen David Adom, but the ambulances waited for hours at the border before receiving Egyptian permission to enter and treat the wounded, responsible for at least one of the deaths. The victims say that the driver acted as part of a planned terrorist attack, and are attempting to receive compensation from the government.


Many Arab citizens of Israel share in the culture of the Palestinian people and wider Arab region of which many of them form a part. There are still some women who produce Palestinian cultural products such as Palestinian embroidery, and costume. The Palestinian folk dance, known as the debke, continues to be taught to youth in cultural groups, and is often danced at weddings and other parties.

Linguistically-speaking, the majority of Arabic citizens of Israel are fluently bilingual, speaking both a Palestinian Arabic dialect and Hebrew, and some are trilingual. In Arab homes and towns, the primary language spoken is Arabic. Some Hebrew words have entered the colloquial Arabic dialect. For example, Arabs often use the word beseder (equivalent of "Okay") while speaking Arabic. Other Hebrew words that are regularly interspersed are ramzor (stoplight), mazgan (air conditioner) and mahshev (computer). Arab citizens of Israel tend to watch both the Arab satellite news stations and Israeli cable stations and read both Arabic and Hebrew newspapers, comparing the information against one another.

There are different local colloquial dialects among Arabs in different regions and localities. For example, the Little Triangle residents of Umm al-Fahm are known for pronouncing the kaf sound, with a "ch"-as-in-cheese sound rather than "k"-as-in-kite sound. Some Arabic words or phrases are used only in their respective localities, such as the Nazareth word for "now" which is issa, and silema a local modification of the English word "cinema".

Artistic contributions

The Palestinian art scene in general has been enriched by the contributions of Arab citizens of Israel. In addition to the contribution of artists such as singer Amal Murkus (from Kufr Yasif) to evolving traditional Palestinian and Arabic music styles, a new generation of Arab youth in Israel has also begun asserting a Palestinian identity in new musical forms. For instance of the Palestinian hip hop group DAM, from Lod, has spurred the emergence of other hip hop groups from Akka, to Bethlehem, to Ramallah, to Gaza City.

Arab citizens of Israel have played prominent roles in both Hebrew and Arabic cinema and theater. Mohammad Bakri, Salim Dau, and Juliano Mer Khamis have been screen-stars in Israeli film and television. In recent years, Directors such as Mohammad Bakri, Elia Suleiman, Hany Abu-Assad and Michel Khleife have put the topic of Arab citizens of Israel on the cinematic map; the latter three were born in Nazareth, but have since emigrated to Paris, Amsterdam, and Brussels, respectively.

Major authors include, among others: Emil Habibi, Anton Shammas, and Sayed Kashua.

The cuisine of Arab populations in Israel vary from north to south. The Arabs of the Galilee have an almost identical cuisine of that in Lebanon and Syria which include foods such as hummus, tabouleh, baba ghanoush, falafel and waraq al-enib. The foods of the Wadi Ara region do not differ from those of the West Bank such as musakhan and maqluba. The Bedouin, in the south, eat a distinctly different type of food altogether, based on wheat production and camel, goat and sheep products.(See, Cuisine of Palestine)


Further reading

  • Rosenthal, Donna. The Israelis. Free Press, 2003. ISBN 0-7432-7035-5
  • Féron, Valerie, Palestine(s): Les déchirures, Paris, Editions du Felin, 2001. ISBN 2-86645-391-3
  • Kodmani-Darwish, Bassma, La Diaspora Palestinienne, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1997. ISBN 2-13-048486-7
  • Mazie, Steven. Israel's Higher Law: Religion and Liberal Democracy in the Jewish State. Rowman & Littlefield, 2006. ISBN 0-7391-1485-9
  • Schenk, Bernadette "Druze Identity in the Middle East", in Salibi, Kamal, ed, The Druze: Realities and Perceptions, London, Druze Heritage Foundation, 2005
  • Sakr Abu Fakhr: "Voices from the Golan;" Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 29, No. 4 (Autumn, 2000), pp. 5-36
  • Bashar Tarabieh: "Education, Control and Resistance in the Golan Heights"; Middle East Report, No. 194/195, Odds against Peace (May - Aug., 1995), pp. 43-47
  • Shmuel Shamai: "Critical Sociology of Education Theory in Practice: The Druze Education in the GolanCritical Sociology of Education Theory in Practice: The Druze Education in the Golan;" British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 11, No. 4 (1990), pp. 449-463
  • R. Scott Kennedy:"The Druze of the Golan: A Case of Non-Violent Resistance;" Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Winter, 1984), pp. 48-6
  • Orgad, Liav(PhD), IDC, Hertzlia, "Internationalizing the issue of Israeli Arabs" , Maariv, March 19 2006 page 7.
  • "Israel's Arab Citizens: The Continuing Struggle" by Mark Tessler; Audra K. Grant. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 555, Israel in Transition. (Jan., 1998), pp. 97-113. JSTR:
  • The Israeli Palestinians: an Arab minority in the Jewish state / Alexander Bligh 2003. (book)
  • Tall shadows: interviews with Israeli Arabs / Smadar Bakovic 2006 English Book Book 313 p. Lanham, MD : Hamilton Books, ; ISBN 0761832890
  • Israel's Arab Citizens / Laurence Louër; John King 2006 London : C. Hurst & Co. Ltd. ISBN 185065798X
  • The Israeli regime and the political distress of the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel. / As'ad Ghanem 2001 Book 29 p. Haifa, Israel : Haifa University,
  • Arab citizens in Israel: the ongoing conflict with the state / Massoud Ahmad Eghbarieh. Thesis (Ph.D.) --University of Maryland at College Park, 1991.
  • Identity crisis: Israel and its Arab citizens. International Crisis Group. 2004

External links

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