Palestinians In Israel

A Dangerous Position

Batya Kallus and Ron Gerlitz on the limited efforts by the government and advances for some Palestinian citizens of Israel.

The policies of the current government and Knesset in relation to Arab citizens include divisive and discriminatory statements. There are ongoing provocations against the Arab leadership and Knesset members which are reinforced by extremist government elements. However, Arab society has consistently fought these trends and promoted progress for the Arab population which periodically results in a positive response from government officials. Yet, anyone reading criticism directed toward the government’s policies regarding Arab citizens might think that all of the government activities and those of the government bureaucrats are aimed against Arab citizens, and that all of the efforts to advance equality policies have failed. This is not the case.

Over the last ten years, the government has begun to initiate significant and innovative processes to close the gaps, advance economic development, and promote employment for the Arab population. In 2003, the representation of Arabs in government service was 5 percent. By 2011 it had reached 7.8 percent. Arabs employed in government civil service increased from 2,800 workers in 2003 to 5,000 in 2011—a 78 percent increase compared to a 12 percent increase in the number of Jewish workers. This resulted from focused policies to advance fair representation in government service.

Other areas have seen improvement: public buses were introduced into a few Arab communities like Rahat and Kfar Kassem; gaps in welfare budget allocation are closing as Arab municipalities are given priority; Arab communities in Nazareth and Umm Al Fahem have seen development on their state-owned land; and the government started establishing 22 employment guidance centers in Arab communities.

Nonetheless, relations between the government and the Arab citizens have been characterized by racist legislation, attempts to harm the civil rights of Arabs, and racist declarations by public leaders.

The increases in government resources are insufficient to close the gaps. However, based on empirical research and our in-depth acquaintance with the bureaucracy and government policies, these are not just declarative statements or a few individual cases. Rather, the new policies indicates intent to advance policies that aim to close the gaps in the allocation of resources between Arabs citizens and Jews, and this intention has been agreed upon and implemented by significant numbers of senior level government bureaucrats.

Philanthropists—Israeli, international and especially among the Jewish community in the United States—also making significant, long-term investments to improve the situation of Arab society, particularly in education and employment. In Nazareth, there are now more than 300 Arabs working in high tech industries as compared to 30 in 2008. The dropout rate of Arab students at the Technion, Israel's technology institute, went from 28 percent to 12 percent. Philanthropy supports advocacy which effectively pressures the government to expand its work in the field of economic development.

Many voices in Arab society deny this trend, claiming that there is an overall decline in every field and that the advances are marginal. Arab youth who absorb the message that government of Israel only harms Arab citizens will not make an effort to apply for positions in government service or in high tech companies. A professional working in Arab local government who accepts these claims will not find the strength to fight for government budgets. Claiming that this negative trend also exists in the fields of economic development and the allocation of government resources is not only incorrect, it causes despair. This is perhaps, the greatest enemy of Arab society in Israel. This is a dangerous claim which weakens Arab society and binds the hands of those who are trying to do the work—in government ministries and in civil society activism—and thus harms the struggle for equality.