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March 3, 2017 7:19 am

Israel’s Arab Citizens Enjoy Rising Economic Integration Amid Cultural Tensions

avatar by Ariel Ben Solomon / JNS.org

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A recent event held by the Israeli-Druze Alliance. Photo: Facebook.

A recent event held by the Israeli-Druze Alliance. Photo: Facebook.

JNS.org The Israeli media has been highlighting the varied and complex nature of Arab life in the Jewish state — namely, rising economic integration amid lingering cultural differences.

In February, Israel’s Channel 10 broadcast a report featuring interviews with hundreds of young Arab Israelis — some of whom described themselves as Palestinians — who have moved to Haifa and Tel Aviv. In Haifa, there are bars specifically dedicated to these new Arab customers.

Asked if this phenomenon represented coexistence, a group of young Arabs rejected that notion, with one woman saying, “There is no such thing.”

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Yet it is difficult to generalize about Israel’s Arab citizens, who make up approximately 20 percent of the country’s total population.

While Arab Israelis are integrating economically into various sectors, they mostly remain culturally distinct — and often maintain a separate way of life in Arab-majority cities and villages.

Rodayna Badir, an Arab doctoral candidate and the coordinator of a special master’s program for Israeli Arabs at Bar-Ilan University, told JNS.org that there is a stark cultural separation between Israeli Arabs and Jews.

“The difference between me and most Arab women is that I studied in the university and advanced professionally within Jewish society,” she said, adding that many Arabs working with Jews do not progress within the Jewish-dominated Israeli workforce.

When spending time in an Arab town in Israel, the differences from Jewish areas are obvious. Most signs are in Arabic, there are mosques and the women are often wearing hijabs. And the religious holidays, customs and other daily routines are completely different from the landscape in Jewish-majority cities such as Tel Aviv and Herzliya, which are particularly Western in comparison.

“Arabs work with Jews, but go back to their traditional framework in the village,” Badir explained. There is also a feeling among many Israeli Arabs that they should not abandon their culture, she noted.

“I spend a lot of time in Tel Aviv, but I live in Kfar Kassem. I don’t leave my roots. I return home every day,” she said. Arabs who live in villages in the center of Israel tend to be more wealthy, more integrated economically and more adept at speaking Hebrew than those in the north, who are more separated from Jewish-Israeli society, she added.

‘We live in Israel’

Despite the cultural differences, there are many subgroups within the Arab community who support Israel more than the Palestinians in the ongoing quest for peace.

Many Israeli Druze, and a growing number of Christian Arabs, have positive views about the Israeli government, voluntarily serve in the military (which is only a requirement for Jewish Israelis) or complete national service and do not identify with the Palestinian struggle against Israel.

Ismail Amr, who served for three decades as the treasurer of Kfar Kassem, an Arab city situated about 12 miles east of Tel Aviv, told JNS.org, “We live in Israel, a state with the rule of law, and the city is under the jurisdiction of the [Israeli] Interior Ministry.”

Amr claimed that there remains discrimination against Arab towns compared to Jewish ones, but that such towns’ working relationship with the national government continues.

The Druze sector

Assad Assad, a Druze Israeli who is a former IDF colonel and former Knesset member for the Likud Party, told JNS.org that although the Druze are model citizens of Israel, they “receive less than the Arabs.” He says that the Druze are discriminated against in Israel.

But Atta Yemini Farhat, chairman of the Druze Zionist Council for Israel, rejected Assad’s claim.

“Today, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the government has increased the budget to develop Druze villages,” Farhat told JNS.org, adding that “there still are problems such as illegal building, but things continue to improve.”

In December 2015, the Israeli government passed a budget that included a five-year plan of around 10-15 billion shekels ($2.7 billion-$4.1 billion) for developing the Arab sector in areas such as housing and infrastructure.

Farhat went on to point out that the Druze are receiving quality positions in Israeli companies, state institutions, the military and the police force. Additionally, his Druze Zionist Council for Israel is promoting activities with support from the World Zionist Organization — including Zionist summer seminars for Druze youths, as well as trips to the Knesset and the Western Wall to “show why Jerusalem is so important for the Israeli nation,” said Farhat.

“We want more,” he said, “but we need to look at the cup as half full.”

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