In Israel, inequality takes different forms and is experienced among different groups. Some of the enormous fault lines dividing the Israeli society and forming relatively deprived and privileged groups include men versus women, Ashkenazim versus Mizrahim, rural versus urban residents, and straight versus gay persons. On the other hand, differences are experienced among the rich versus the poor, Orthodox versus non-spiritual Jews, and Israel born citizens versus immigrants (Saban, 2004). This paper mainly focuses on the inequalities between the Palestinian Arab citizens and non-immigrant minority Arabs staying in Israel. Additionally, the main political, policy, and legal structures institutionalizing prejudice against Palestinians in Israel and creating inequalities between Jewish and Arab citizens are discussed. Finally, the paper reveals the impact of inequality on Arabs in Israel and its consequences for the nation as a whole.
According to Saban (2004), present-day Palestinian citizens in Israel make up 20% of the whole population, numbering to approximately 1.2 million people. They remained in their native place after the state of Israel was formed in 1948, making them involuntary minorities. Other Palestinians staying in the Gaza sector, West Bank, and the Diaspora belong to three spiritual communities including Christians, Druze, and Muslims. Christians comprise 9.5% of the population, while Druze and Muslims comprise 8.5% and 82% respectively (Jamal, 2011).
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The status of these Arabs in the structure of international human rights, which Israel is a state party is described as ethnic, religious, national, and linguistic minority. Regardless of this status, the Arabs are not acknowledged as national minorities in Israel’s Basic Laws. Israel became a Jewish state in 1948. Consequently, the definition of Israel as a Jewish nation makes inequality a political, practical, and socio-political reality for Palestinian minorities, who are discriminated and marginalized by the government on the basis of their religious and cultural affiliations. The people being discriminated are frequently viewed as a fifth column because of their national identity and their cultural, ethnic, and religious ties to other Palestinians in the neighbouring Arab and Muslim nations. Many of these neighbouring nations are considered by Israel to be enemy states (Bligh, 2003).
Different groups of Palestinians in Israel face various kinds of discrimination or compound discrimination based on their membership in more than one distinct subgroup or national belonging. For example, Arab women living in Israel are discriminated against because they are affiliates of the Arab minority. Since they are women, they experience social and institutional discrimination. Studies reveal that some of the disabled Arab female children staying in unrecognized towns, in the Naqab face discrimination (Ghanem, 1998). This is because their settlement is denoted by the Israel government as unlawful. Although there are many marginalized communities and anti-discrimination policies and laws that protect disabled people and women in Israel, they do not protect Palestinians in Israel.
Arabs, who are also part of the marginalised communities, do not benefit from state protection policies in Israel. This is proved by the results of a recent poll, which revealed that 51% of Jewish people living in Israel resist total equality in rights between Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel. This same perception prevailed among Jewish youth, with 49.5% of it reacting negatively to whether or not the Arabs should be provided with rights equal to those of Jews (Bligh, 2003). Inequality between Jews and Arabs in Israel has persisted for a long time and spanned within public life. Indirect and direct discrimination against Palestinians is embedded in the government’s practices and legal systems.
Jamal (2011) asserts that freedom from discrimination and right for equality are not enshrined explicitly in the Israeli law as constitutional rights. These statutes are also not protected by the law. Even though the Supreme Court has interpreted the Liberty and Human Dignity laws as having equality principles, people continue to violate them. This is because this essential right is only protected by judicial interpretation. As it was already stated, the situation is aggravated by defining Israel as a Jewish nation, which makes inequality and discrimination against the Arabs a political project and reality. The pairing of Jewish citizens and democratic government leads to discrimination against the Arabs and slows down the progress of achieving full equality.
There are over thirty main Israeli legislations that directly or indirectly discriminate the Arabs and Palestinians living in Israel. Additionally, the current government has recommended new discriminatory and racist bills, which are in legislative process stages. In the citizenship rights, Arabs and Palestinians are offered unequal handling under the Israeli law. Significant nationality and immigration laws, including the Citizenship Law of 1952 and the Law of Return of 1950, only benefit Jewish immigrants (Bligh, 2003).
In case a spouse of an Israeli is Arab, it is difficult for him or her to get citizenship in Israel. This restriction has existed since May 2002. Israel amended this ban for what they termed security reasons. This regulation was issued to preserve Jewish demographic majority by the government. There have been attempts of passing additional laws that were indirectly targeting citizenship rights of the Arabs and Palestinians in Israel (Smooha, 2003). This is aimed at keeping the Arabs from becoming Israeli citizens. On the other hand, majority of Arab families in Israel are poor. More than half of Arab people in Israel live in poverty. This poverty among Arab minorities is a result of economic marginalization.
Arab villages and towns largely belong to the lowest socio-economic level. Moreover, unrecognized Arab, Bedouin villages located in Naqab are the poorest society in Israel. These poverty gaps and income rates are related directly to institutional discrimination against the Arabs. Even though the right to equality requires local government to take affirmative steps to bridge the gap between different population groups in Israel, the government still heavily directs its resources to the majority and privileged Jewish citizens (Jamal, 2011).
In various policy areas, such as those relating to the use of military service criterion in allocating resources and naming of National Priority Areas, the government perpetuates and preserves inequalities between Jews and Arabs living in Israel. The Israeli government failed to take effective and adequate action to address the phenomenon of poverty among the Arabs living in the country. In places where development programs that targeted Arabs were introduced, the government did not manage to fully implement them or has failed entirely. Policy measures aimed at reducing poverty only target Jewish citizens. This shows why rates of poverty have declined among Jews and not among Arabs living in Israel. Consequently, inequalities have persisted (Maoz, 2000).
Additionally, Arab and Palestinian citizens are discriminated against even in their places of work since they are paid low wages and work in poor conditions (Semyonov & Raijman, 2002). This is due to inadequate implementation of legislation that was aimed to achieve equal opportunities as well as due to presence of embedded structural barriers, which mostly affect women. These structural barriers include non-existent or poor public transportation and shortages of government run day-care centres (Smooha, 2003). Arabs and Palestinians are also left out of the labour force. This is done by using military service as a criterion for getting employment. In addition, the rates of unemployment are still higher among Arabs and Palestinians than among Jews. Participation rate of Palestinian women in the labour force is about 20%, which is the lowest rate worldwide (Smooha, 2003). Palestinian women in Israel continue to be neglected by the civil service, which is the biggest employer in the country.
As stated by Ghanem (1998), Arabs constitute only 6% of all employees regardless of affirmative action legislation demanding fair representation of Arab minorities. The economy of Israel has been inhibited by the lack of investment and development of Arab towns in the country and by unexploited human resources of Palestinian and Arab minorities. Israel’s economy loses approximately US$ 8 billion yearly due to lack of development and investments in these Arab towns (Ghanem, 1998). Arabs and Palestinians in Israel are still being deprived of using and accessing land under long standing and recent land policies and laws. Additionally, new measures, such as the new land reform statue of 2009 and adjustment to the Land Ordinance from 2010, intend to confirm government ownership of the land taken away from Arabs and Palestinians.
The statutes rejected Arabs’ and Palestinians’ compensation claims. In Israel, admission committees run in almost 700 agricultural and community townships, but the Arab applicants still are rejected. This is because the government views them as socially unsuitable for future residency in these agricultural towns. These practices of admissions committees add to the formation of racially segregated cities in Israel. On the other hand, it leads to imbalanced access to land. It is imperative to point out that Jews control over 13% of Israeli’s land and have significant influence on land policies. Arab towns in Israel continue to suffer from overcrowding (Semyonov & Raijman, 2002).
Currently, Israel is making more effort to forcibly evacuate residents from the unrecognized towns in the Naqab region. Israel is doing this by demolishing towns, as it was witnessed recently from the repeated demolition of Al-Araqib town. By pursuing this policy, the Israeli government had precluded the opinion of recognizing these towns, many of which existed before Israel was established. More than 90,000 Arabs live in these unrecognized towns in Naqab, and they have been significantly affected by these acts.
Even though Arabic is the national language in Israel, there is still clear discrimination against Arabs compared to Hebrew speakers, who enjoy and speak their language in public places (Maoz, 2000). The status of Arabic language is lower in comparison to the one of Hebrew language. This is in terms of resources dedicated to the use of language, despite the duty of Israeli state to protect Arabic language under the international human rights law (Smooha, 1990).
Although Israeli law allows for equal provision of healthcare services to all citizens, lack of hospitals and clinics in Arab cities is a clear indicator of how Palestinians have poor health standards. As a result, Arabs in Israel have shorter life expectancy compared to Jews because of poor health standards. The rate of infant mortality among Arabs and Palestinians in Israel is two times higher than that among Jews.
In conclusion, it is essential to affirm that Palestinians and Arabs have lower participation levels in decision making in the legislature, government, judiciary, and civil service in comparison to Jews in Israel. This makes them have less abilities to redress discrimination and inequality in the society. In the Israeli legislative and political process, the voice of Arabs has increasingly been delegitimized. Arab demonstrators are arrested regularly, and the police use excessive force to silence their protests. These years of intentional discrimination and limited voice in government have left Arabs and Palestinians with a sense of uncertainty, mistrust to the state, marginalization, and susceptibility.
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