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June 7, 2022


On the surface, Israel’s 1.4 million Arab citizens live on a different planet from Palestinians on the West Bank. There are no separate roads for Arabs and Jews, no checkpoints to negotiate every day, no razor wire or fences keeping farmers from their land, no burning of olive trees.

But, fact is, except for mingling while strolling weekend Arab markets, working and being treated in some of the same hospitals, and attending some of the same universities, most Jews live entirely separate lives from Arabs, almost as if they do not exist.

It starts with segregated housing. In a 2016 Haifa University survey, more than half of Jews polled said they did not want any Arabs living in their neighborhoods. And in fact very few do.

Most of Israel’s cities and towns are more than 90% Jewish or Arab; metropolitan Tel Aviv, home to 20% of the population, is 95% Jewish. Even so-called “mixed” cities like Haifa, also Lod and Ramle – previously known as al-Lydd and al-Ramleh from which Palestinians were expelled in 1948 – are highly segregated by neighborhood. Living together apart.

900 small Jewish towns have admissions committees that, by law, can keep Palestinians out as “not suitable for the social life of the community.” In short, Jim Crow is alive and well in Israel. And as the American experience shows, once segregation is baked into real estate, it becomes the construct for every facet of daily life.

51% of Arab families live in poverty, compared to 15% for Jewish, and the vast majority of Palestinians in Israel, 21% of the population, are crowded into 139 overwhelmingly Arab communities that receive less than 2% of the state budget for local councils.

Since 1948, Israel has built almost 900 new communities for Jews, but none, as in zero, for Arabs, except for seven towns in the Negev to house Bedouins forced off land that Israeli settlers wanted.

Treed hillside site of proposed Givat Tantur [Gil Elyahu]

Actually, there is one other, Givat Tantur, 30 kilometers east of Acre in northern Israel, designed to house 70,000 people in roughly 1,100 acres, 62 people per acre, and keep Palestinians from moving into nearby Jewish communities like Carmiel, population 44,000 on 8,000 acres, density less than 6 per acre. But Givat Tantur has been on the drawing boards for almost 20 years without even a teaspoon of earth moved.

Less than 3% of all land in Israel falls under the jurisdiction of Palestinian municipalities, and many Arab towns and villages are hemmed in, encircled, by Jewish towns and land set aside for agriculture, parks, nature reserves and security zones in which residential building is prohibited.

Jisr al-Zarqa satellite photo [Planet Labs]

Case In point, Jisr al-Zarqa, the only Arab town on Israel’s Mediterranean Coast, is abutted on the north by Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael and its extensive fish ponds, and the Taninim Stream Nature Reserve, 20% of which is on private land owned by Jisr al-Zarqa residents.

To the south is Caesarea, site of an ancient Roman amphitheater and port, and built on the ruins of the Palestinian town of Qisarya razed by the Zionist paramilitary Haganah in 1948. To add insult to injury, the good citizens of very upscale Caesarea – hometown of long-time Arab-baiter Benjamin Netanyahu – built an earthen berm 1.2 kilometers long and 12 meters high just so they don’t have to look at Jisr al-Zarqa.

Like most Arab Israeli towns, Jisr al-Zarqa, with 80% of its residents below the poverty line, is very crowded, 10 times more dense than Caesarea, 30 times more than Ma’agan Michael. But Israeli zoning authorities make it extremely difficult to get building permits, squeezing the Palestinians.

The Arab Center for Alternative Planning estimates that almost 20 percent of homes in predominately Arab towns lack permits, either because owners’ applications were turned down or they did not even apply knowing that Israeli zoning authorities would reject them.

As a result, 60,000 to 70,000 Palestinian homes inside Israel proper – not including East Jerusalem – are at risk of demolition orders, and the 2018 Kaminitz amendment to Israel’s 1965 Planning and Building Law increased to three years in prison the penalty for anyone convicted of building without a permit.

Segregated education tracks segregated housing. According to a 2017 University of Haifa poll, 49% of Israeli Jews do not want their kids in school with Arab children, and of Israel’s 1.6 million students in grades 1 through 12, 25% of them Arab, fewer than 2,000 attend mixed Jewish – Arab schools.

Hand in Hand

Most are in the aspirational Hand in Hand schools funded by an array of institutional and individual donors and a small grant from Israel’s Ministry of Education. A sliver of optimism: there is a long waiting list, both Jewish and Arab, to get into mixed schools.

But those are rare exceptions. Almost all Jewish students attend secular, religious or ultra-Orthodox schools taught in Hebrew. Arabs attend separate Muslim, Christian and Druze schools, overcrowded, understaffed and badly maintained, taught in Arabic. The Israeli government spends $11,800 a year for each student in the Jewish religious school system, $10,350 per student in mainstream Jewish schools, but only $6,900 in Arab schools.

[Taub Center]

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), of 79 countries surveyed, Israel had the largest gap between its highest-performing (all Jewish) and lowest-performing (all Arab) schools. Separate and not close to equal.

Palestinians say this is no accident, rather a purposeful effort to cement Jews’ educational and political advantages, summed up by Shimon Gafsou, former mayor of Nof HaGalil, an all-Jewish city above Nazareth in Galilee, “I would rather cut off my right arm than build an Arab school.”


Despite pervasive institutional discrimination, Palestinian Israelis have, by some metrics, made progress here and there. They are now 16% of all college students in Israel, up from 8.3% in 2000, and almost 8% of Ph.D. candidates, double 2008. The number of Arab students at Technion in Haifa – Israel’s MIT – has increased by 200% since 2004, the number of Arab women by 350%.

And the employment rate of Arab women ages 25-54 is now 40%, almost twice what it was 15 years ago; this Israeli authorities encourage, better that Arab women work than have babies.  

Suad Haj Yihye, M.D. – Yassin Sheba Medical Center [Tomer Appelbaum]

Arabs make up 17 percent of Israel’s physicians, 24 percent of nurses and a jaw-dropping 47 percent of pharmacists. When asked why, Dr. Zahi Said, head of a Haifa clinic, jokes, “The Polish [Jewish] mother used to want her son to be a doctor, now she wants him to get a tech job, but the Arab mother still wants her children to go into medicine.”

Jameel Mohsen, M.D. [AFP]

Dr. Jameel Mohsen, head of infectious diseases at Hillel Yeffe Medical Center and one of Israel’s top virologists, is more hard-bitten, “As Arabs, other jobs are closed off to us, so we become doctors.” 

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the critical role of Arabs in Israel’s health care system, indeed, according to Raphael Walden, deputy director of Sheba Medical Center, “The system would collapse without them.”

[Ahmad Gharabli / Getty]

In the glow of news stories of Arabs and Jews working shoulder to shoulder to fight the pandemic, Israeli Arabs increasingly began to see themselves as Israeli, hybrids to be sure, but Israeli nonetheless.

In a 2020 Tel Aviv University poll, 23% ticked the “Israeli” box, 51% “Israeli Arab,” only 7% “Palestinian.” When asked to rate how much they agree with the phrase “I feel like a real Israeli,” 65% responded “completely agree.” And in a 2017 Haifa University survey, 68% of Israeli Arabs said that they would rather live in Israel than a Palestinian state if and when one ever comes into being.

Golda Meir [Bar Tal Shalom]

These openhearted Palestinian sentiments are not, putting it mildly, reciprocated by their Jewish counterparts. For starters, according to a 2016 poll by Pew Research Center, 61% believe that 3,000 years ago “God gave all of Palestine to the Jewish people,” and 48% agree with Golda Meir, Israel’s 4th Prime Minister, who told the Times of London in 1969, “There is no such thing as the Palestinian people,” which is why most Jews insist on referring to them only as “Arabs.”

And although Palestinian Israelis can vote in national elections and there now are 15 Arabic-speaking members of the Knesset, in a 2012 Ha’aretz poll 36% of Jewish Israelis favored revoking the voting rights of non-Jews, and more than half said that marriage to an Arab is “national treason.”

More ominously, almost half of Jewish Israelis, 48% according to the 2016 Pew poll, believe that Arabs should be “transferred or expelled from Israel,” that it would have been better if they had “finished the job” in 1967, if not in 1948, because that “unpleasant business,” as some euphemistically put it, would now be in their collective rear-view mirror.

Ben-Zion Cohen, who commanded the Irgun forces who murdered 240 Arab villagers at Deir Yassin in April 1948, later said wistfully and without remorse, “If there had been three or four more Deir Yassins . . . not a single Arab would have remained in Israel.” If only.

Diana Buttu, a Canadian-born lawyer and Palestinian negotiator living in Haifa, cuts straight to the chase: “We are the people they mistakenly did not ethnically cleanse from this place.” But would now if they could.

[End 6, click on 7 below to continue]



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We live in perilous times, democracy is under attack, rationality and compassion are in short supply, and our planet, our home for 200,000 years, is burning up. We must resist, we must work for a better world. MacLeod Post is my voice in that struggle.

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