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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Arabs in Israel

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Israel Facts
Area:    20,770 sq. km.
Capital:    Jerusalem
Total Population:    5,644,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Perhaps the greatest risk to Israeli Arabs lies in the construction of a security wall and the 2008-2009 fighting between Hamas and Israeli Defense Forces that left more than a thousand Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead. Perceived abuses during the bombing of Gaza may fuel distrust between Israeli Arabs and Israelis. While the Israeli Arabs have several of the risk factors for future rebellion, such as recent repression, persistent protest, group cohesion and discrimination, rebellion is unlikely as they have not frequently employed it in the past. Furthermore, despite an outpouring of empathy for their Palestinian brethren, Israeli Arabs have chosen non-violent opposition, and this will likely remain the same; despite obvious discrimination, Israeli Arabs are relatively much better off economically than neighboring Arabs, and Israel has been their homeland for generations. However, as long as intense fighting between Palestinians and Israelis persists, coupled with the relative lack of interaction between Jews and Arabs, Israeli Arabs will largely remain at the fringes of mainstream Jewish society.


Analytic Summary

Arabs in Israel comprise nearly one-fifth of the population, and the majority live in Arab towns in northern Israel while others are scattered in the few inter-ethnic cities of the country (e.g., Haifi, Nazereth) (GROUPCON = 2). Nearly all Israeli Arabs speak Hebrew as well as Arabic (LANG = 1), but differ from the Jewish majority in their religious beliefs and customs (BELIEF = 2; CUSTOM = 1), with most Arabs practicing Islam and some Christianity.

In 1992, for the first time in almost 2 decades, Israel's left wing Labor party won the election and took over the Knesset. This had an immediate impact on how Israel dealt with the peace process already underway. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin ordered a freeze on new settlements in the territories and began secret negotiations with the PLO in an effort to produce a Palestinian self rule agreement. In addition, 1992 marked the first election where the Arab Democratic Party was allowed to take part. They won two seats. Also, following his election, Prime Minister Rabin appointed two Israeli Arabs to his cabinet. In September 1993, Israel and the PLO recognized each other and signed a basic plan outlining the steps toward Palestinian self-rule. In May 1994 an agreement on Palestinian self-rule by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) was signed. Violence resumed in 1999 and has continued through 2003 as part of the Second Intifada, adversely affecting the Arabs within Israel. One result of the escalation of the intifada in the occupied territories has been a slight rise in inter-communal Jewish-Arab violence in Israel, such as the incident after the bombing by Palestinians at the Dolphinarium discotheque in 2001, when a crowd of several hundred Jews attempted to attack a mosque across the street from the site of the bombing. Intercommunal conflict has remained steady, involving mostly bombings and assassinations, with fighting between Arabs and Jews, Druze and Palestinians (INTERCON04-06 = 1). The Israeli Arabs also faced displacement in 2006 after Hezbollah bombarded northern Israel (DISPLACE = 1).

Arabs in Israel, although full citizens under the law, suffer political discrimination based on decades of social exclusion. In 2003 and extended through early 2006, a marriage law in place prohibited citizens’ spouses from residing in Israel if they are Palestinian. (POLDIS06 = 3). As an ethnic democracy, the nationalism inherent in Israel’s foundation as a "Jewish state" is at odds with its political basis of democratic governance vis-à-vis the Arab minority. Although there is no official policy of discrimination, Arabs are restricted from military service and political organizing, as a 1985 law has required that to participate in elections Arab parties must accept the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state. Israeli Arab parties include the Arab Democratic Party, Ta’al, Balad (National Democratic Alliance) and the Progressive List for Peace (GOJPA06 = 2), but because Arabs in Israel do not vote as a block, Arab presence in the Knesset is not proportional to their overall numbers. De facto discrimination also occurs against Israeli Arabs in the economic sphere (ECDIS06 = 3). Tangible benefits in housing, employment, taxes and education are provided by the government upon completion of military service, yet Arabs are barred from the military. As a result, Arab Israelis have consistently demanded more employment opportunities and funding for its population (ECGR06 = 2). Following the demonstrations in September and October 2000, the Government passed an economic assistance plan for its Arab citizens to be phased in over 4 years; however Israeli Arab leaders criticized the plan because it was inadequate and was not based on a comprehensive survey of the economic needs of the Arab Israeli population and because only half of the total sum represented newly allocated money. In 2006, the Israeli Cabinet approved a plan to increase the number of Israeli Arabs in public service. Additionally, the Jewish National Fund (JNF), an organ of the voluntary, nongovernmental World Zionist Organization, owns a high percentage of Israeli land, and yet by established JNF policy, these lands cannot be alienated to non-Jews. An Arab Israeli couple legally fought the JNF for not allowing them to purchase land, and the High Court ruled in 2000 that the JNF policies for developing public land were discriminatory. However, since the fund's bylaws prohibit the sale or lease of land to non-Jews, the High Court determined that differentiating between Jews and non-Jews in land allocation might be acceptable under unspecified "special circumstances." The Arab couple as of 2002 had still not been able to purchase a home.

During the 2000-2003 intifada, there was a slight worsening of political freedoms for Arab Israelis because Israeli authorities stepped up enforcement of censorship regulations and monitored Arabic newspapers based in East Jerusalem, sometimes ordering newspapers to halt publication of stories about the intifada until the story first appeared in the Israeli media, or even closing newspapers down as in the case of the Arab publication Sawt al-Haqq Wal-Hurriya. Nevertheless, Israeli Arabs still enjoyed the political freedom to demonstrate, which they exercised in protests against the past expropriation of their lands, against the violence employed by the military in the occupied regions, and in remembrance of the riots in October 2000 (PROT01 = 4; PROT02 = 3). Protests increased from 2004-2006 due to the construction of a news security wall cutting off Israeli Arabs from their land and relatives in addition to protests in 2005 after four Israeli Arabs who were killed by extremist Kach Movement (PROT04-05 = 4; PROT06 = 3). Protests were generally peaceful with police officials maintaining a low profile, though some limited force was used (REPNVIOL04 = 3; REPNVIOL04 = 4).

In keeping with the democratic side of Israeli values, Arabs do enjoy almost the full gambit of cultural rights such as the right to practice their religion and attend Arabic-language schools, although cultural organizations which openly promote Arab culture are prohibited (CULPO106 = 0; CULPO206 = 0). Also, for security reasons, in 2001 and 2002, the Government did not allow male Muslim citizens under 30 to perform the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia), although this restriction was lifted in 2003. Additionally, Arab Israelis married to Palestinians have long experienced difficulties in obtaining permits to get their spouses into Israel, forcing the couples to live apart, sometimes for decades. This law was amended to allow women over 25 and men over 35 to join their spouses in Israel.



Amnesty International. Various reports. 2001-2003.

BBC News. 1/18/2009. “Hamas announces ceasefire in Gaza.”, accessed 01/27/09

Congressional Quarterly Inc. 1990. "The Middle East, Seventh Edition." Congressional Quarterly, Washington D.C.

Congressional Quarterly, Washington D.C.

Dgenhardt, Henry W., ed. 1987. Revolutionary and Dissident Movements: An International Guide, A Keesing's Reference Publication. London: Longman.

International Crisis Group. 3/4/2004. " Identity Crisis: Israel and its Arab Citizens.", accessed 09/16/08.

LexisNexis. Various reports. 1994-2006.

Metz, Helen Chapin. 1988. "Israel: A Country Study." Washington, DC: Library of Congress.

U.S Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Israel and the Occupied Territories. 2001-2006.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006