The Impact of a Growing Israeli Arab Middleclass

Constructive Engagement Replaces Mobilizing Confrontation:
The Impact of a Growing Israeli Arab Middleclass
Many researchers suggest that there is an increasing estrangement of Israeli Arabs: they are
less hopeful that the state will be fair to them and increasingly willing to engage in
confrontational activities. These researchers emphasize the efforts and views of the Palestinian
national parties and the Follow-up committee. By contrast, local Arab communities and their
mayors have become increasingly committed to working with state agencies. This local behavior
reflects successful government efforts to enhance the educational and employment situation of
Israeli Arabs, including the Bedouin community. These efforts have enlarged an Arab middleclass that increasingly sees benefits from constructive engagement, creating tensions with the
national leadership. This local transformation has the potential for state reforms that will go
beyond economic and educational advancements.
Israeli-Arab employment, Bedouins, discrimination
Word Count: Abstract – 137
Manuscript text – 6456
Figures and Table – 220
Footnotes – 808
Constructive Engagement Replaces Mobilizing Confrontation:
The Impact of a Growing Israeli Arab Middleclass
Surveys since the beginning of the new millennium indicate that among its Arab citizens
there has been a decline in support for the Israeli state and growing acceptance of confrontational
strategies. For example, the share of Israeli Arabs agreeing that the state is a democracy for both
Arab and Jewish citizens declined from 63.1 percent in 2003 to 50.5 percent in 2009. Similarly,
over this time period, the share participating in protests rose from 28.7 to 41.9 percent; and the
share participating in Land Day and Al-Naqba events more than doubled.1
At the same time, Israeli Jews appear to be increasingly hostile to providing full political and
civil rights to its Arab citizens. A 2010 survey conducted by the Dahaf Institute asked 1600
young Jewish Israelis to rate what was important in terms of running the country. Democracy
came in third place, with only 14.3 percent seeing it as essential to the state; while 26 percent of
Jewish respondents said that Jewish nationality was the most important factor. The majority of
Jewish youth also emphasized the need for a strong leadership over the rule of law with close to
half supporting revoking some basic political rights of the country’s Arab citizens.2
Dov Waxman points to the increase in these anti-democratic attitudes. He noted, “[F]rom
2003 to 2011, between 40-50% of the Israeli-Jewish public were opposed to equal rights for Arab
citizens …. and a solid majority of Israeli Jews were consistently opposed to the inclusion of
Arab political parties in coalition governments.”3 Elie Rekhess has described this trend as the
“steep slide toward extremism.”4
Sammy Smooha, “The Index of Arab-Jewish Relations in Israel, 2003-2009,” The Arab-Jewish Center, Haifa
University (Dec 2010) Table 4.
Ruth Eglash, “Jewish Nationalism Is Top Priority of Israeli Youth,” Jerusalem Post (April 3, 2011).
Dov Waxman, “A Dangerous Divide: The Deterioration of Jewish-Palestinian Relations in Israel,” Middle East
Journal 66#1 (Winter 2011): 19.
Elie Rekhess, “In the Shadow of National Conflict,” TriQuarterly 131#1(Winter 2007): 235.
This paper will document how this seemingly greater cleavage between the two groups has
occurred in the context of a continuous if not accelerating growth in the economic well-being of
Israeli Arabs. Efraim Karsh sees no contradiction. In a 2013 paper, he claims:
In the modern world, it is not the poor and the oppressed who have led the great
revolutions and/or carried out the worst deeds of violence; rather, it is militant vanguards
from among the better educated and more moneyed circles of society. So it was with the
Palestinian Arabs – in both mandatory Palestine and the state of Israel. The more
prosperous, affluent, and better educated they became, the stronger and more vociferous
their leader’ incitement against their state of citizenship, to the point of open rejection of
the fundamental principles underpinning its very existence.5
While Karsh is certainly correct about the national leadership – Arab national parties,
particularly Balad, and the unelected High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens – a different
story emerges at the local level. There, an expanding middle class, I believe, has increasingly
favored constructive engagement rather than the mobilization of confrontation that has been
promoted by the national leadership. This paper contends that it has been government actions in
local Arab towns and villages which have improved Arab economic well-being that has spurred
this transformation. In recent years there has been an acceleration of these activities due to
Israel’s effort to enter the OECD, the expanded role of NGOs, often funded by American Jewish
organizations and foundations, and the Netanyahu government’s desire to reduce poverty and its
attending budgetary costs. This paper will document some of the changes at the local level,
Efraim Karsh, “Israel’s Arabs: Deprived or Radicalized?” Israel Affairs (Jan 2013): 1-19.
particular among Arab mayors. Thus, a much more hopeful situation may exist than these survey
statistics suggest.
Economic Development
The large employment gaps between Arabs and Jews have their origins in government barriers
that have historically stifled Arab economic development. In the first four decades after 1948
this was especially the case in agriculture. As a result of the expropriation of land and limited
access to capital or irrigation, the share of the Arab workforce engaged in agriculture fell from
over 40 percent in the 1950s to 5.8 percent by 1983. To a significant degree, Arab labor was
increasingly marginalized as its share of Israeli unskilled labor increased from 18.2 to 31.1
percent between 1972 and 1983.6
The share of the Arab workforce employed in unskilled positions remained at around 13
percent between 1983 and 2007 while the share in blue collar positions actually increased
modestly from 36 to 41 percent.7 Table 1 documents the occupational distribution disparities in
2009. Among men, Arabs are far more concentrated in blue collar occupations and much less in
professional employment.
By contrast, it appears that the occupational distribution of Arab and Jewish women is quite
similar. This occupational distribution, however, reflects the disparate behavior of Arab women
from middle class and working class backgrounds. A significant share of Arab women from
middle-class backgrounds obtains professional employment, principally as teachers. However,
those from poorer backgrounds have very low rates of labor force participation. As a result, the
Aziz Haidar, On the Margins: The Arab Population in the Israeli Economy (St. Martin’s Press, 1995) Table 5.8.
Haidar, Table 5.8; Jack Habib et al., “Labor Market and Socio-Economic Outcomes of the Arab-Israeli
Population,” OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Paper #102 (Mar 18, 2010) Table A.5.
labor force participation rate of Arab women 25-54 years old was only 29.6 percent in 2008,
dramatically lower than the Jewish female rate of 82.4 percent.8 Thus, as more Arab women from
poorer backgrounds enter the labor force, the share of Arab women in professional employment
will be lowered substantially.
These employment and occupational disparities remain despite the dramatic decline in the
share of Israeli Arabs with less than nine years of schooling: From 90.9 percent in 1961 to 52.1
percent by 1989 to 35 percent by 2000.9 While progress has continued, Arab educational
attainment still lags Jewish educational attainment (table 2).10
The government has taken steps to improve the quality of education received by Arab
students. In 2007/8 Arab schools had almost double the overcrowding found in Jewish schools.
Specifically, 35 percent of Arab but only 19 percent of Jewish classrooms had more than 35
students. As a result of additional funding, by 2010/11 only 15 percent of Arab classrooms
compared to 11 percent of Jewish classrooms suffered overcrowding.
Together with other
initiatives, during this time period, the scores on the GEM standardized exams for Arab fifth
graders increased by more than 30 percent; and by more than 40 percent for Bedouin Negev
students.11 These efforts have also increased the performance of Arab high school graduates.
The share of Arab graduates meeting university entrance requirements has grown from 23.7
percent in 1996 to 30.7 percent in 2008, which is still one-third lower than the Jewish rate.12
Ibid., Table 12.1.
Haidar, Table 5.3; and Central Bureau of Statistics, “The Arab Population of Israel,” Statistilite #27: 8.
Aiman Seif, presentation; Habib et al., Table A.1.
Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute, 94 and Table 7.
CBS, “Statistical Abstract of Israel 2010,” Table 8.23.
Though a smaller share of Israeli Arabs than Jews has a college education, there are even
fewer jobs available to them so underemployment among more educated Israeli Arabs is
For those with 12 years of schooling, 48.8 percent of Arabs but only 21.4 percent
of Jews are employed in blue collar positions.13 As a result, targeted policies to improve the
employment of Arabs high school graduates and those with college training are necessary.
At least a portion of the income gap between Arab and Jewish households reflects the low
employment rates of Israeli Arab women. Amalia Sa’ar enumerates three factors that limit the
employment rate of Arab women. A large share of Arab women is homebound because their
domestic work “comprises a critical component of the economy of their households, because it
avails the men to enter the official workforce, and because it saves significant expenditures on
education, care and home maintenance.” A second limiting factor is the experience of Arab
women in the local enclave economy. Sa’ar contends that these firms must keep labor costs as
low as possible so that female employees “are likely to be underpaid, overworked, and
maltreated, while withstanding continuous messages that they are neglecting their children and
their homes.” This contention points to the third limiting factor: patriarchal notions of the
proper, complementary role of women puts pressure on Muslim women to remain in the home
even when economic calculations indicate the superior benefits from paid labor.14
Recognizing that many Arab women have low-levels of Hebrew and computer literacy, the
government has developed training program that aid in overcoming these employment
handicaps.15 In addition, in conjunction with the non-profit organization TEVET, the
Habib et al., Figure 3.5.
Amalia Sa’ar, “Culture and the Failure to Be Modern: The Debate over Palestinian-Israeli Women’s Absence
from the Workforce as a Lens to the Paradoxes of Cultural Competence,” paper presented at the 28 th International
Conference of the Association for Israel Studies (Haifa, June2012).
Sixty-eight percent of Jewish women but only 37 percent of Arab women surveyed used computers in the last
three months.
government funded a Women Empowerment Program to train Arab women for vocational hi-tech
employment positions. These programs were set up in Arab villages and training was scheduled
mornings to be more compatible with family responsibilities.
The Center for Jewish and Arab Economic Development (CJAED) has been active in
developing entrepreneurial skills among Arab women. CJAED has developed a network of 1800
Arab women business owners and through an organization, Jasmin, helps them interact and
coordinate activities. Since 2008, Jasmin has organized a trade show in Tel Aviv at which
hundreds of these businesswomen present their products and services. In addition, CJAED
launched Project Sama through which participants gain confidence in using the internet to
conduct focused information searches, manage emails, build databases of clients and suppliers,
market their businesses, build websites, and manage their finances.
To increase industrial employment, the Israeli government has begun funding joint industrial
parks that link neighboring Jewish and Arab communities. To guarantee equality of opportunity,
the Social Venture Fund coordinated by the Jewish Federations of North America provided seed
money to Arab entrepreneurs to set up businesses there.16 At the same time, CJAED offers
training to maximize Arab employment. The success of these industrial zones has led the Israeli
government to take unprecedented action: for the first time, it has allocated fund for thirteen
industrial parks in Arab communities.
To improve the ability to commute to work in these industrial parks, the government has
improved transportation infrastructure. Woeful transportation infrastructure in Arab towns makes
it difficult for workers to commute to these industrial parks.
Recent improvements have been
helpful but inadequacies remain. A 2012 study by Sikkuy found that “the number of daily [bus]
trips in Jewish locales was between two and 14 time higher” than in Arab locales.17
The problems faced by male Arab college graduates are substantial. In 2008, Arab men with
a four-year college degree earned only 58.7 percent as much as their Jewish counterparts. This is
much lower than 75 percent Arab-Jewish earnings ratio among men with 9-15 years of
schooling.18 One reason has been that Arab college graduates do not have significant access to
employment in the high-paying, high-tech sector.
To combat this problem, there have been a number of programs designed to increase the
pipeline of trained Arab professionals who can succeed in the high-tech sector. Interestingly, the
major private Israeli funders of these efforts are some of the industrial giants that have fueled the
high-tech boom. First among them is Stef Wertheimer, the Israeli Bill Gates who sold 80 percent
of his company to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway for $5 billion. Dov Lautman, founder of
Galil Industries chairs the advisory committee on investments in the Arab sector in the Prime
Minister’s Office. These industrialists are not motivated by moral imperatives but the realization
that the continued success of the high-tech boom requires utilizing the labor potentials of the
entire Israeli workforce.
Lautman was instrumental in the government’s Tevel program which provides Arab
business-owners professional training and advice that will enable them to increase their exports.
Initially seventeen companies signed up for the program but it will be expanded as 120 ArabIsraeli companies were identified with export potential.19 As Oren Coren reports, “From liquor
Jack Khoury, “Jewish towns get up to 14 Times More Buses than Arab Counterparts, Report Finds,” Haaretz
(Nov 30, 2012).
Center for Employment Statistics, “Statistical Abstract of Israel 2010,” Table 8.66.
Ora Coren, “First Seventeen Companies Sign up for Government Program to Boost Arab firms’ Exports,” Haaretz
(July 20, 2010).
to jewels, pita to biofuel, businesses run by Palestinian Arabs are ramping up their exports thanks
to the guidance of the government’s Tevel program.”20
Between 2008 and 2011, helped by the joint Arab and Jewish organization, Tsofen, Arab
employment in the hi-tech sector more than doubled. Recognizing its success, the government
has provided funding to Tsofen, enabling it to double again the number of Arab graduates
enrolled in its transitional programs. In addition the government joined forces with Kav Masve
to provide assistance in placing Arab academics. In 2011, 271 Arab academics and students were
place, many in the hi-tech sector. To aid these efforts, the government has also instituted a policy
to subsidize up to 40 percent of the salary of all Arab citizens hired in the hi-tech sector for up to
two years.21
Nazareth has become a favored site of new Israeli start-up companies, reflecting the efforts
of New Generation Technologies (NGT) which acts as an incubator for biotech companies.
Founded in 2001 with funding from the government Office of Chief Scientists, NGT is the first
and only joint Arab-Israeli incubator in the country – and the only one established specifically to
target the country’s Arab entrepreneurs. Nazareth will also benefit from a government funded
industrial park that is expected to house up to 25 export-oriented enterprises and to create 500 to
1,000 new jobs in the short term.22 Ron Gerlitz and Batya Kallus point to “the expansion of
high-tech in Nazareth in the last few years (there are more than 300 Arabs currently working in
high tech in Nazareth as compared to 30 in 2008); and the success at the Technion which with the
Oren Coren, “Israeli Arab Exports, in a Country Near You,” Haaretz (July 20, 2012).
Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute, “Progress Report on the Implementation of OECD Recommendations: Labor
Market and Social Policies,” Israel Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor (June 2012) 44.
Stacy Perman, “In Israel, Commerce amid Conflict,” Time Magazine (Aug. 15, 2010).
support of philanthropy has reduced the dropout rate of Arab students from 28 percent to 12
The growth of Arab entrepreneurs in the hi-tech sector was reflected in a 2012 business
conference held in Nazareth sponsored by the Arabic business publication, Malacom. The Arab
entrepreneurs mingled with important counterparts in the Jewish community including Esther
Levanon, chair of the board of directors of Bank Hapoalim, Yair Saroussi, chair of the Israel
Association of Electronics and Software Industries, Elisha Yanal, CEO of Motorola Israel, and
Shimon Dik, founder and director of JVP Venture Capital Fund. Conference organizer, Basel
Ghattas pointed out, “If given the chance, talented Arab hi-tech people could make a significant
contribution to the Israel economy.”24
Government Employment
National agencies have begun to take seriously their commitment to increase Arab
government employment. In 2006, Arabs comprised only 6 percent of all government
employees and comprised only about 6.6 percent of newly-hired employees. To meet a 10
percent goal, 30 percent of new hires were reserved for Arab citizens of Israel. When this goal
was not met, the government set up “incentives packages” for educational and housing expenses
that would make it more viable for Arabs to relocate to Jerusalem. These efforts have increased
Arab government employment from 2,800 in 2003 to 5,000 in 2011.25
Government policing has also been transformed. In October 2000, at the beginning of the
Second Intifada, Israeli police forces were heavy-handed in their response to demonstrations by
Ron Gerlitz and Batya Kallus, “A Dangerous Position,” +972 (Oct 19, 2012).
Greer Cashman, “Grapevine: A Musical Bone of Contention, Jerusalem Post (May 31, 2012).
Gerlitz and Kallus.
Arab citizens of Israel. After a drawn out inquiry, the Or Commission recommended reforms of
the Israeli police and prosecution of the officers involved in the deaths of thirteen Israeli Arab
demonstrators. The Justice department, however, refused to prosecute any of the officers,
claiming there was insufficient evidence. .In response to the October 2000 confrontations, the
Abraham Fund engaged Israeli police in successful training programs that transformed their
approach to Arab demonstrations so that there was no repeat during the Arab demonstrations in
2008 during the Lebanese incursion.
The Abraham Fund initiative also led to providing community police units to over 100 Arab
towns in contrast to only 3 towns a decade earlier. Each of these units is comprised of both
Jewish and Arab personnel, increasing the Arab share of Israeli police from 1.0 to 4.5 percent.
In June, 2011, Deputy Inspector-General Jamal Hakroush became the first Muslim police officer
to ascend to his rank in Israel. "It's a position I have been waiting for, and it offers many
challenges," Hakroush said. "I am proud of Israel Police for choosing me based on my
qualifications and nothing else."26
Almost three-quarters of Arab women with academic certificates are employed in the
education sector.27 Employment of Arab teachers received a boost in 2010 when the government
announced that it was immediately implementing an Arab language requirement for fifth graders
in 170 Jewish schools in northern Israel with an expectation that this requirement would be
expanded nationally.28
Finally, in 2007 the government created a civic service option to substitute for military
service. Arab women who volunteered were overwhelmingly assigned to agencies within their
Omri Efraim, “Muslim Police Officer Ascends to New Heights,” YNetNews.Com (June 15, 2011).,7340,L-4082782,00.html
Habib et al., 28.
“Arab Studies to Become Compulsory in Israeli Schools,” Haaretz (Aug 24, 2010)
villages. Arab leadership has actively campaigned opposed civic service. Despite these
campaigns, based on survey data, Sammy Smooha told reporters, “Most Israeli-Arabs look
positively on national service as a voluntary contribution to their communities and the state.”29
As a result, despite intimidation, the number of Israeli Arabs in civic service increased from 289
in 2006, to 1,459 in 2010, to 2,399 in 2012.
Smooha and Lechtman find that civic service has had an overwhelmingly positive effect on
Arab participants. At the end of their service year, 90.9 percent expressed satisfaction with their
service experience, 89.0 percent were proud of it, 85.1 percent would have volunteered again.
Indeed, when interviewed at least six months after finishing their service, over 90 percent
believed that “civic service helped or would help them fulfill their aspirations.”30
While this evidence suggests that civic service can have a positive role on both Arab and
Israeli society, Smooha and Lechtman point to some troubling factors. First, the harsh campaign
conducted by the Arab leadership in the streets and in the schools is one important reason for the
continuous reduction of the share of Israeli Arabs supporting civic service: from 78.2% in 2007
to 62.2% in 2011.
Second, this decline was most prominent among those most hostile to the Israeli state.
Support of Arabs who acknowledge Israel’s right to exist was 79.2% in 2007 and 77.0% in 2011
while it declined significantly from 76.7% in 2007 to 45.2% in 2011 among Arabs who rejected
this right. Likewise, support of Arabs who identified as Israeli Arabs (not Palestinians) was
David Rosenberg, “Israeli-Arabs Grow Cooler to National Service,” The Media Line (May 9, 2012).
Sammy Smooha and Zohar Lechtman, “Civic Service of Arabs in Israel: Research Report 2007-2011,” (Haifa
University, Sept 2012), 3.
86.3% in 2007 and 77.9% in 2011 whereas support of Arabs who identify as Palestinian Arabs
(not Israelis) decreased from 68.1% in 2007 to 31.3% in 2011.31
As a result, volunteers did not come from the lowest stratum of Israeli Arab society; none
belonged to the 40 percent of Arab youth who neither study nor work. Instead, Arab volunteers
“belong to the two middle quartiles of the Arab population: almost all have completed high
school education (as against only 70% of Arab youth) and 80% have matriculation diplomas (as
against only 29% of Arab youth).” They are overwhelming individuals for whom civic service
“can serve as a channel of social mobility, Arabs who hold less critical views of the state and
Jews, Arabs whose identity is Israeli Arab and not Palestinian, and Arabs whose families have
ties with Jews or it is important for them to have such ties.” 32
Government Policies towards the Bedouin Community
The Bedouins are the poorest of all Israeli Arab communities, with poverty rates
approaching 80 percent in the unrecognized villages (figure 1). 33
In 2009, about two-thirds of
the 188,100 Negev Bedouins reside in eight recognized communities while the rest reside in
unrecognized villages.34 For some, the high rate of poverty among Arabs in general, and
Bedouins in particular, is considered primarily a function of their inability and reluctance to adapt
to modern society. These observers point to the large families and the severe culture restrictions
placed on women to explain the low rates of female employment and high rates of poverty. In
2009, while 11.9 percent of Arab families with two or three children had no paid employment, it
Ibid., 6.
Ibid., 3.
Abu-Bader and Gottlieb, Chart 1.
The Negev Bedouin Statistical Data Book # 3, Robert H. Arnow Center for Bedouin Studies and Development
(Ben Gurion University, 2010). Note that when a consumption bundle is used rather than the one-half median,
poverty rates are considerably lower.
was 15.7 percent among families with more than three children.35 Kimhi found that in 2009,
poverty rates were 58 percent with five or more children but only 15 percent for families with no
more than two children, respectively.36
Unlike other Arab communities, the majority of Bedouin families have at least four children.
Indeed, whereas one-quarter of Bedouin families contain at least seven children, such large
families are a rarity in other Israeli Arab communities (figure 3).37 In addition, Bedouin women
have the lowest employment rates among Israeli Arabs (figure 4). As a result, 37 percent of
Bedouin families have no employed household member.38
These cultural impediments, however, cannot be the only important explanation for Bedouin
poverty. Bedouin employment rates are much lower than other Israeli Arabs.
One important
source of this disparity is the lack of basic infrastructure provided to Bedouin communities.
Compared to other Muslim communities, Bedouins have much more limited access to public
transportation, medical facilities, primary schools, and shopping centers (figure 2).39
Fortunately, there have been significant improvements in the government’s behavior towards
the recognized Bedouin towns. Rahat was selected to be the site of the first government-funded
industrial zone in the Bedouin community. Public transportation has been expanded there and in
four of the other seven recognized towns, linking them with Beersheva. Complementing this aid,
the government, in coordination with JDC-TEVET, has budgeted 21 employment centers in the
Arab community, 8 of which will be in the Bedouin south, and another four for Bedouin
communities in the north. These one-stop centers provide employment referrals, counseling
services, soft skill workshops, and referrals to vocational training programs.
“Statistical Abstract of Israel 2010,” Table 5.17.
Kimhi, figure 5.
Abu-Bader and Gottlieb, Chart 8.
Habib et al., Table 3.5.
Habib et al.
In addition, in 2012, the government enhanced its general employment subsidy given to
firms that employ Arab and Bedouin workers from 25 to 35 percent of wage costs for up to thirty
months. The government has also allocated funds to have a specific subsidy track focused on
integrating Bedouins in the Negev into industry. To further this goal, in September 2011, there
was a special allocation to provide vocational training and practical engineering studies for
Bedouin Negev students that will cover tuition fees, living stipends, and other associated costs.40
One of the sore spots was the lack of medical treatment. In 2007, Riad Agbaria, director
of the Center for Bedouin Studies and Development at Ben-Gurion University, and chairman of
the Department of Clinical Pharmacology, cited, “A lack of adequate resources accounts for
Bedouin having the highest infant-mortality rate in Israel -- 16 percent, compared with 11 percent
for other Arabs, and 6.5 percent for Jews. It accounts for the fact that up to 85 percent of patients
in intensive-care units in hospitals and health clinics in the Negev are Bedouin.” She continued,
“Genetic diseases remain high, due to marriage within tribes. Breast cancer goes untreated,
mainly due to the fact that a mere 3 percent of Bedouin women get mammograms, as opposed to
some 98 percent of Jewish Israelis who do.”41 In response, Soroka Medical Center in Beersheva
has begun to offer more comprehensive services linked to newly-established community health
clinics in numerous Bedouin communities. Ben Gurion University trains Bedouin women to be
employed as nurses in these facilities.
The improved transportation to Beersheva has also enhanced the lives of the Bedouin
community in other ways. In its absence, many Bedouins traveled to Hebron to shop but now
have more easy access to improved consumption choices in Beersheva. In addition, for many
Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute, cf. 43-44.
Carin Smilk, “No Room Left for Nomadism: The Growing Modernization of Bedouin Culture in Israel,” Jewish
Exponent (May 31, 2007)
Bedouin women, it has expanded their horizons, no longer being trapped in villages surrounded
by only their relatives in tightly-controlled environments.
A 2010 report commissioned by the OECD found that expenditures have already provided
“new public transportation in ten Bedouin localities that previously had no public transport at all
and an effort is currently underway to upgrade the level of service in localities where
improvements are required.”42 The report also noted that the government has completed
constructing sewage purification plants in the recognized Bedouin towns of Rahat, Hura and
Arara while other localities use the purification plants of neighboring cites. The connection of
houses in a number of the Bedouin towns to the central system has been completed and the
government is working on accomplishing this in the remaining towns.
In addition, over the next five years, the government has an ambitious plan for the Negev
Bedouin communities. It will allocate NIS 277 million, divided equally between developing the
public transportation system and transportation infrastructure for the region. An additional NIS
100 million has been allocated to upgrade of the public transportation system in 13 Arab
localities nationally including Rahat and NIS 68 million has been allocated to provide access
roads to service centers and educational facilities in the Negev Bedouin areas.43
These government policies may be a catalyst to changing attitude Bedouin residents have
toward their local governments. In virtually all of the recognized towns, the share of residents
paying their municipal taxes is less than twenty percent; indeed, less than ten percent in some.
Without funds, municipalities have erratic services, like water, sanitation, and street repair.
Progress is hindered unless the community and its leaders overcome a victimization mentality
that views constructive engagement with government agencies as hopeless.
Ministry of Industry Trade and Labor, “Progress Report on the Implementation of the OECD Recommendations:
Labor Markets and Social Policy,” Jerusalem, June 2012.
Hopefully, these villages will follow the successful strategy implemented by Mohammed
Alnabari, mayor of Hura. When he became mayor in 2006, only four percent of Hura residents
were paying their municipal taxes as low employment made it difficult for families to meet their
own expenses. He set about finding ways to work with government agencies to improve the
economic conditions. Alnabari induced firms to set up Arabic call centers in Hura. In 2008, he
garnered foundation funding to set up the Women’s Catering Enterprise to produce meals for the
schools replacing those brought in from commercial vendors in Beersheva.44 Albanari also
convinced the government agricultural ministry to fund a joint project with a nearby Jewish
kibbutz to produce high value-added agricultural produce, using the latest technical facilities.45
Thanks to Albanari’s efforts, Hura has a central role in the Jewish National Fund’s Project
Wadi Attir to provide environmentally-sound sustainable development, including raising a mixed
herd of sheep and goats for organic meat and dairy products. The project will include cultivation
of desert medicinal plants that have been valued by generations of Bedouin for their health
benefits and the development of a line of healing and body care products. The site will also
function as a research and learning center and as an ongoing source of empowerment and training
for surrounding communities.46 As a result of his successful efforts, Huri residents have begun to
prosper and now more than sixty percent of households pay their municipal taxes.
Low collection rates not only limit the ability of Arab towns to maintain public infrastructure
but also the ability to access state funds for government positions. For example, the Welfare
Ministry funds three-quarters of welfare spending in local authorities so that communities must
pick up one-quarter of the cost in order to get the state funding. As a result of funding problems,
“Hura’s Women’s Catering Enterprise,” Bernard Van Leer Foundation (July 2, 2008)
Personal interview with Mayor Alnabari on June 28, 2012.
“Project Wadi Attir” Jewish National Fund (2011)
Arab local authorities utilize only 87 percent of the positions allocated to them compared with 96
percent in Jewish and mixed local authorities.47
These improvements in the recognized villages are only beginning to overcome the
employment obstacles there. Employment centers will not be sufficient to substantially change
employment rates without creating jobs inside the Bedouin towns, establishing more day care
centers, and offering reliable and more frequent public transportation inside the towns.
Educational initiatives are also moving forward. There has been a substantial improvement
in the share of Arab children in government-funded preschool programs. In 2000, the share of
Jewish and Arab children in these programs was 85 and 49 percent, respectively. While the share
of Jewish children was virtually the same in 2010, the share of Arab children increased to 71
percent.48 As mentioned earlier, smaller class sizes have increased by over 40 percent the
performance of Bedouin fifth graders.
In 2011, the government highlighted its support for the new science high school in Hura. In
2012, AHD had its first graduation class of more than 70 students, highlighted by visits by
Shimon Peres and Stanley Fischer. Its student body draws substantially from both the recognized
towns and unrecognized villages, enabling the students to develop social ties across family and
town lines. The goal is for is for 80 percent to pass college entrance exam whereas the typical
share for Bedouin high schools is 25 percent or lower. To strengthen student backgrounds, a
large share of students are engaged in research projects supervised by faculty from Ben Gurion
Michal Belikoff and Maha Abu-Saleh, “The Allocation of the Welfare Ministry’s Budget …” In From Barriers to
Opportunities, Sukkuy 2012.
Dan Ben-David, “The State of Public Preschool Education in Israel,” The Rosshandler Bulletin 4 (Taub Center,
August 2012).
Interview with AHD director, Hala Abu Shareb on June 29, 2012. Also see, “Israeli Science High School
Advances Bedouin Community” UJA Federation of New York (Aug 15, 2011)
Local Arab Attitudes
Hura and its mayor Mohammed Albanari is not an isolated example of Arab communities
seeing the benefits of constructive engagement. Over the last five years, Tsofen has noticed a
major change in the behavior of Arab mayors. When it started working in Nazareth, Tsofen’s
executive director Smadar Nehab noted that there was a lack of trust. As a result, neither the
mayor nor other municipality leaders actively supported their efforts. Their attitudes changed
dramatically over the next couple of years as the benefits from projects were substantial. Today,
the Arab leadership in Nazareth, particularly Mayor Ramiz Jaraisy, works closely and in
collaboration on a wide range of public projects. The political transformation has also occurred
in Kafr Kassim.50 There Mayor Nader Sarsur worked closely with the Israel Ministry to
successfully improve the town’s transportation infrastructure.
Ron Gerlitz concurs. As co-executive director at Sukkuy, he has come to know many of the
Arab mayors through his involvement with the Arab-Jewish Mayor Forum; an organization that
facilitates dialogue and coordination of activities between Jewish and Arab mayors of adjoining
towns. Gerlitz, too, noted that a few years ago Arab mayors were distrustful and pessimistic of
government initiatives. In addition, they often did not have the professional capacity to aid these
initiatives. Change began with the Olmert government when serious initiatives convinced some
mayors that the government was making a sustained commitment to their communities. This
transformation has been uneven with mayors aligned with Hadash, like Jaraisy, being the most
willing to forge cooperation with government agencies while those mayors aligned with Balad
have been the least willing.51
Personal communication with Smadar Nehab, January 20, 2013.
Personal communication with Ron Gerlitz, January 28, 2013.
Certainly, an important reason for the changing attitudes of Arab mayors has been the
successful projects undertaken. This shift also reflects a trend in many Arab communities to give
increasing priority to solving practical problems faced by the residents. This changing attitude
has been most noticeable in Arab East Jerusalem.
In 1967, East Jerusalem was annexed with its Arab residents provided with residency cards
and generally treated by the Jerusalem administration with benign neglect. In the last few years,
particularly under the leadership of Mayor Nir Barkat, this has changed dramatically. First,
Barkat has substantially improved government services to East Jerusalem: investments in
infrastructure and transportation, planning of neighborhoods, building of schools, and a dramatic
expansion of medical facilities where today the health quality indices for East Jerusalem are the
same as for West Jerusalem.
Barkat solved the problem of ownership rights that has been a barrier to housing renovation
by allowing “tentative” ownership to be conferred if a local Arab board judges that the current
occupant is the legitimate owner. Barkat has also made it easier for East Jerusalem residents to
be connected to the Israeli water system. In addition, a light rail was completed which link East
Jerusalem to the city center.
These efforts have led many East Jerusalem residents to link themselves to the Israeli state.
For example, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of East Jerusalem residents
seeking Israeli ID cards. No longer are they considered traitors. “The shame barrier has fallen,”
says attorney Amnon Mazar, who specializes in applications for Israeli citizenship. “People have
reached the conclusion that the PA will not be their salvation and that Israel is a cornucopia.”
Indeed, in a 2012 poll when asked “In the event of a permanent two-state solution, which state
would you prefer to live in?” 35 percent of Arab East Jerusalem residents preferred Israel, 30
percent opted for Palestine while 35 percent refused to answer.52
The link to Israel is noticeable in the shopping patterns and educational plans of East
Jerusalem families. As a result of the light rail system, there is now widespread shopping by East
Jerusalem Arabs in the center of West Jerusalem, in malls and in the open shopping area of
Mamilla, adjacent to the Old City’s Jaffa Gate. There is also growing cooperation between Arab
merchants in the Old City and the city government. Barkat cites the full participation of the Arab
merchants in the city-spoinsored Festival of Light in the Old City. “At first the [Arab] merchants
were afraid to open up for the event because they got threats. But then they saw that one store
opened and then another, and before you knew it they were all open.”53
Immediately after annexation, the Israel government attempted to implement the Israeli
curriculum in East Jerusalem schools. After two years of boycotts, the Israeli government agreed
to allow the schools to continue to follow the Jordanian system and eventually the curriculum
developed by the Palestinian Authority. This victory for Palestinian autonomy is now under
pressure as an increasing number of families want their children to obtain an Israeli matriculation
certificate. More and more East Jerusalem Arab high-school graduates are attending special
schools that prepare them to enter Israeli colleges.
Amal Ayuub is the founder of Promise, an East Jerusalem school that adopted the Israel
curriculum in 2009. “What is happening is completely new,” she says. “First of all, there is
openness. We are a coed school, which at one time was taboo. When parents visit the school I
Nir Hasson, “A Surprising Process of ‘Israelization’ Is Taking Place among Palestinians in East Jerusalem,”
Ha’aretz (Dec 29, 2012).
see in their eyes why they don’t want their children to do the tawjihi [Palestinian
In the past, East Jerusalem Arabs would overwhelmingly reject accommodations. They
would comment, “Why are you going to school with the Jew?” Indeed, Hatam Hawis, the
spokesman for the united parents’ committee of East Jerusalem, terms the phenomenon
“appalling, because it undermines the residents’ Palestinian identity.”55 But today, few have
encountered a hostile reaction from family and friends for deciding to take the Israeli
matriculation exams.
It is pragmatism that is driving Palestinians to shop in Jerusalem, prepare themselves to
enter Israeli colleges, and to seek Israeli citizenship. According to Israel Kimchi, a senior
researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, “Things are moving towards greater
moderation, more of an acknowledgment of the existing situation … What interests them is
having a playground for their children, like in the western city.”
This attitude was reflected at the installation of a new East Jerusalem post office. Its
announcement sparked a violent protest by nationalists “against normalization and collaboration
with the municipality.” When Barkat appeared at its grand opening, “the local mukhtar, Darwish
Darwish, joined a group of villagers who positioned themselves … to protect the mayor and other
This Israelization among Arab residents of East Jerusalem, follows a pattern Sammy Smooha
observed a decade ago. Based of survey data collected in 2004, he concluded that Israeli Arabs
Op. Cit.
Op. Cit.
Op. Cit.
“are getting used to, and finding numerous advantages in, life in Israel: modern lifestyles, welfare
state benefits, rule of law, democracy. They dearly cherish Israeli citizenship.”57 He continued,
“I believe that politicization, rather than radicalization, squares better with the hard facts: the
intense Arab struggle is largely democratic and peaceful, the Arabs have not participated in the
two violent intifadas, they continue to take part in parliamentary politics despite its limited gains,
they believe in a two-state solution, and they reject vehemently any intimation to cede the Arab
Little Triangle to a new state.”58
Concluding Remarks
Economic advancements among Israeli Arabs will continue as employment and earnings
gaps between Jews and Arabs will decline, government Arab employment will increase, and Arab
poverty rates will decline. These advances will also be extended to the Negev Bedouin
community. There also should be many firsts as Israeli Arabs attain a larger number of
prominent positions in industry, education, and government.
These economic advances will make Israeli Arab lives better – and counter some of the
harshest criticisms of Israeli policies towards its Arab citizens. They will not, however, bring
about full democracy as long as government policies continue to: (1) restrict Arab access to land;
(2) privilege Jewish immigrants; (3) maintain exclusively Jewish national symbols, and (4)
exclude Arab parties from governing coalitions. Ilan Peleg and Dov Waxman have a set of
proposals that should be taken seriously. Besides further enhancing the efforts to improve the
economic wellbeing of Israeli Arabs, their recommendations include extending cultural autonomy
Sammy Smooha, “Are the Palestinian Arabs in Israel Radicalizing,” Bitterlemons 24#2 (June 24, 2004).; quoted in Peleg and Waxman, 28.
Smooha, “Are the Palestinian Arabs in Israel Radicalizing.”
in certain areas of public life; introducing symbolic changes that can bolster a sense of shared
citizenship and a feeling that the state belongs to all of Israel’s citizens; resolving land and
housing problems in an equitable manner; and a willingness to include Arab parties in governing
Despite serious impediments, I am hopeful that these economic policies will help bring
about the political and social changes that are necessary. In particular, a growing middle class of
successful Israeli Arab professional and business leaders is strengthening these tendencies:
Moving the Israeli Arab society away from mobilized confrontation to constructive engagement.
These economic advances and willingness to coordinate efforts with government ministries
have certainly created some tensions between local community concerns and the national
leadership. Steven Spiegel, a national scholar with the Israel Policy Forum wrote, “[Y]oung
Arabs are gravitating to more centrist parties and away from the Arab parties that are not really
viable in Israel.”60 Jodi Rudoren reported that one reason for Arab voter apathy in the January
2013 election was “a growing frustration with Arab lawmakers’ focus on the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, rather than local concerns like crime, poverty, and unemployment.”61
These tensions, however, have not as yet undermined unity within the Arab community with
its national leadership. While there is a group of Arab mayor who reject completely the national
politics of the leadership, wanting to focus solely on local issues, they are a small and not
influential minority. The most important mayors, including Jaraisy, chair of the Association of
Peleg and Waxman, chapter 7.
Quoted in Joshua Mitnick, “Netanyahu Weakened; Seen Having to Form ‘A Wider Coalition’,” The Jewish Week
(Jan 25, 2013) 31.
Jodi Rudoren, “As Israeli Vote Nears, Arab Apathy Is a Concern,” New York Times (Jan 16, 2013).
Unfortunately, she quickly moves on to give voice to these political parties and emphasizes the discrimination Israeli
Arabs continue to face.
Arab Mayors, see no contradiction between having a working relationship with government
agencies on local projects and still supporting nationalist demands in the larger political sphere.
A real test will be how both Israeli Arabs and the Netanyahu government coalition resolve the
issue of national service. In response to the growing numbers of middle-class Arab youth who
are volunteering for civic service, “the Council of Arab Mayors said that the establishment of
new guidelines, according to which young Arab citizens might volunteer through local
governments, could pave the way for Arabs to volunteer for civilian services.”62 Of course, there
have been outcries from the separatist Balad party leadership and the unelected High Follow-up
Committee for Arab Citizens; and unfortunately these are the voices that have been picked up by
wire services and the liberal press.63
Hopefully, as more Arabs complete civic service, it begins to include a broader segment of
the Arab community. One guidepost will be the stance of Hadash which is a joint Jewish-Arab
party. Hadash members are most accepting of the national service initiative. However, out of a
willingness to maintain solidarity with the Arab parties, it has refrained from actively supporting
the initiative.
As more Arabs enter the mainstream of the Israeli economy, the case for modifying current
state policies will be strengthened. In addition, these changes may move Hadash or the Arab
parties away from separatism and confrontation. In this altered environment, many of the
sensible recommendations made by Peleg and Waxman and others can be implemented.
Ruth Eglash, “Young Arab Israelis Volunteering for National Service,” Yahoo! News (June 28, 2012).
Robert Cherry, “NYT Bias on Alternative Service for Arabs,” Jerusalem Post (July 30, 2012).
Table 1: Occupational Distribution, by Group and Sex, 2009
Jewish Men
Arab Men
Jewish Women
Arab Women
Unskilled, Manufacturing, Construction, and Skilled Agriculture
Clerical, Sales, and Service
Professional, Technicians, and
Academic, and Managers
Source: Statistical Abstract of Israel 2010, Table 12.18.
Table 2: Educational Attainment of Jewish and Israeli Arabs, 2009
Years of Schooling
0-10 Years
11-12 Years
13 Years or more
Source: Jack Habib et al., “Labor Market and Socio-Economic Outcomes of the Arab-Israeli Population,” OECD
Social, Employment and Migration Working Paper #102 (Mar 18, 2010).
Figure 1
Poverty Rates Am ong Israeli-Arab Com m unities, Alternative Measures (2004)
Basic Consum ption Expenditure
Half Median
Muslim s
Jew s
Source: Sulieman Abu-Bader and Daniel Gottlieb, “Poverty, Education, and Employment among
the Arab-Bedouin Society: A Comparative Study,” Society for the Study of Economic Inequality
(October, 2009).
Figure 2
Source: Sulieman Abu-Bader and Daniel Gottlieb, “Poverty, Education, and Employment among
the Arab-Bedouin Society: A Comparative Study,” Society for the Study of Economic Inequality
(October, 2009)
Figure 3
Source: Sulieman Abu-Bader and Daniel Gottlieb, “Poverty, Education, and Employment among
the Arab-Bedouin Society: A Comparative Study,” Society for the Study of Economic Inequality
(October, 2009)
Figure 4
Source: Sulieman Abu-Bader and Daniel Gottlieb, “Poverty, Education, and Employment among
the Arab-Bedouin Society: A Comparative Study,” Society for the Study of Economic Inequality
(October, 2009)
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