Arabs in Israel

A minority in the Jewish state.

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The lack of a clearly-defined policy toward the Arab population leads to other problems in the political, social, and economic spheres. Government policies as well as spending budgets are largely directed by political-national considerations that favor the Jewish sector, leading to severe disparities in resource allocation and economic opportunities for Arab-Israelis, such as school funding. The dominant use of Hebrew in Israeli business and cultural spheres further exacerbates these gaps.

Guidelines for land purchased by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) also create limitations for Arab-Israelis trying to lease land. The JNF was created in 1901 at the Fifth Zionist Congress Meeting in order to raise funds for the purchase of land for Jews settling in Israel. Ultimately, the JNF purchased up to 13% of the most habitable land in the country--home to 70% of the population. This land is strictly to be leased, not sold, to Jews on a long-term basis.

The Israeli government passed a series of laws in 1960 turning administrative responsibilities for the land to a newly-formed agency, the Israel Lands Administration (ILA). The ILA continues to abide, however, to JNF's stipulations--thus limiting land leasing rights to Jews. Despite court rulings in favor of opening this land to all citizens, the Knesset has voted to exempt ILA from following a non-discrimination policy in JNF lands.

Arab-Israeli Political History

At the dawn of the establishment of the State of Israel, Arab society was an agriculturally-based community governed by a patriarchal clan system. It has since transformed into a stratified society that includes a stable working class, group of professionals, rising middle class, and intellectual elite.

In the early years of the state, the clan system's power was anchored in its close connection to the ruling leftist political parties--which would later become the Labor party (Mapai, Ahdut Ha'avoda, and Rafi)--and its ability to distribute land and government services. However, after the first two decades of Israeli statehood, clan leaders began to lose their political grip to a new generation of professionals operating in the local councils. This group, including many Arab lawyers educated in Israel's educational system, would later play a significant role in advancing Arab interests through the Israeli political system.

The 1967 Six Day War ushered in a period of increased political activity. Renewed exposure to Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip increased the momentum of Arabization and Islamic movements in the Israeli-Arab sector. Arabs turned their loyalties away from Zionist political parties and toward their own strictly Arab candidates and political parties.

Arab-Israelis felt pressure from the greater Arab world to integrate into Palestinian society and collaborate in their struggle against Israel. While some did join the Palestinian leadership and even participated in terrorist attacks against Israel, the vast majority opted to maintain their position in Israel. The latter contingency learned how to use Israeli institutions such as the Knesset and Supreme Court to advance their interests.

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Maya Kroitoru

Maya Kroitoru is a writer at the Joint Distributon Committee.