Arab Political Mobilization And Israeli Responses

Arab Political Mobilization And Israeli Responses

Osama Fouad Khalifa


IN A DEMOCRACY, THE SIZE of a minority group and its potential power is a positive factor. Political mobilization of such minority groups can be seen through their effort to establish political influence within the political atmosphere of the state. This implies that first, such a minority will try to increase its political clout through the decision making of the state that reflects the group’s interest. Second, the interest of the minority is usually enforced and applied in an organized way in the political process of the state. [1]

Upon establishing the state of Israel, the Jewish leadership tried to further tighten the screws on the 150,000 Arabs who remained in the newly founded political entity. First, they made sure that the Arabs, who left their villages in 1948, were not allowed to return, and called the returnees, ‘infiltrators’. Second, the government of the Jewish State imposed a harsh military regime in the region where the Arabs lived. Third, it continued the policy adopted by the Zionist agencies before independence in May 1948, of confiscation of Arab lands, the crops of which constituted the main income of the Israeli Arabs who were by far mostly rural people. This led to the eventual confiscation of over one million dunums (a dunum equals one-fourth of an acre) of land by the Israeli Land Administration, which belonged to the Arab citizens of Israel. This reduced Arab land ownership to an average of one dunum per head, whereas, during the British mandate, the average had been sixteen dunums per head. [2] Needless to say, the properties of those Arabs who had fled Palestine were never returned to their rightful owners.

The 1948 War resulted in a massive exodus of Arabs; out of a population of 900,000, about 750,000 fled Palestine to neighboring Arab countries. For those who remained in Palestine after 1948, it was a time of severe chaotic and catastrophic consequences. The fleeing Arabs included the political elite, professionals and the business class. Those who remained after the declaration of the State of Israel were mainly rural villagers, unskilled laborers and the poor who had no means to leave. Their normal cycle of life suffered from heavy, nearly catastrophic blows.

There was confusion and shock, mainly due to their new status as a minority. Over night, they had become leaderless and without any clear vision of what tomorrow would bring. In addition, they lacked reliable information about events around them, and the contradictory rumors, of either being killed, or driven from their homes by the newly created Israeli armed forces, further helped this state of chaos. [3]

The majority of Israeli Arabs lived in the northern part of the state. They were not a united minority mainly due to the fact that they suffered from such blows as being leaderless and economically dependent on the Jews in the newly created State of Israel, and unable to organize or mobilize. In addition, they were fragmented along religious and geographical lines, which the state helped accentuate. While the Druze and the Circassians were made to serve in the armed forces, Muslims and Christians were not allowed to do so. Israeli authorities introduced a separate ID card for the Arab Druze and replaced their Arab identity with a Druze one. This complete disarray, division, and confusion about their presence and future made the Arabs think of preserving what they have, their property and the safety of their families. They never thought in terms of plans to destroy the state or to connive with the Arabs in neighboring countries to help them in a future attack on Israel. Even the economies of the villages were in chaos and turmoil. Before May 1948, 50% of the Arabs in Palestine were employed in agriculture as small farmers and agricultural laborers. Their work primarily centered on the citrus groves, most of which were later confiscated by the Israelis. The loss of the Arab agricultural lands transformed a minority of villagers employed by Jewish agricultural private enterprises into laborers. The Arabs’ lack of any industrial base and the high level of Jewish immigration resulted in severe restrictions on Arabs entering the Jewish labor market. This caused massive unemployment among the Arab work forces. But what was most stressful, since the Arabs now lacked any sort of leadership after the departure of all Arab elite, there was no one left to struggle against the Zionists and the new state. There was no longer any Arab controlled industries, nor labor unions, political parties, or commercial institutions. In addition to urban areas, Arab villages have been evacuated. Out of 550 Arab villages in pre-1948 Israel, only 121 remained. [4] The Arabs who remained were in fact the periphery of the Arab community.


The objective of this essay is to examine the evolution of Arab mobilization in Israel since the founding of the Jewish State in Palestine. Furthermore, this paper also assesses the political influence of the Israeli Arabs in the Jewish state from an ethnic minority perspective and notes the evolution of the Israeli political system and the pressure it puts on the Arabs to organize and participate in the political system.

There has been some improvement in the political situation of the Arabs in Israel. The slow, but growing Israeli Arab influence is seen later in the paper, as their political development, economic relations with the Jews, and their social positions in Israeli society evolved throughout the years to engulf more influence in these arenas. They came a long way from the early days of the state when they were under military occupation. By the 1992 elections, the Arabs in Israel demonstrated that their vote must be taken into account in Israeli politics, because Israel is a democratic society where Arab citizens can enjoy the right to express their political views. The 1992 elections changed the taboo associated with Zionist parties relying on the Arab parties to form a government. In that election, and for the first time in Israel, the Arab voters decided who would form the next government of Israel. Yitzhak Rabin did not shy away from the Arab support that he needed to form the government and declared that his g overnment would get the support of Hadash and the Democratic Arab Party, which supported the coalitions without being part of the government. [5] Arab support for the Labor government was essential for the survival of the government in the face of the 1993 Oslo Accord. In this view, Arab influence may even grow stronger in the future if the Arabs know how to benefit from the ability of Arab members of the Knesset to keep a government in office as was the case with the Rabin-Peres government from 1992-1996.

A significant aspect in this study is the Arab economic dependence on Jews and their resultant weakening position in Israeli society. The one factor that enhances Israeli Arab future is their demographic numbers, which will create a crisis if their grievances are not met. In the future, Arabs will tend to use democratic procedures as a way to advance their position in Israeli society. If peace among the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and Israel ever materializes, this will give special advantages to the Israeli Arabs and will end their status as an enemy within the state.


Most of the time, in an ethnic state, the state’s name, dominant culture, and symbols are associated with one ethnic group and not with the less dominant ethnic community. Also, in an ethnic state, access to power, resources, governance, and decision-making is limited to the dominant ethnic group and not to the state’s citizens. In a nation state with a democratic system, the state’s goals and identity derive from all its citizens and not from a specific ethnic group. Moreover, it is citizenship that counts and not what ethnic grouping one belongs to, which defines his or her rights as a citizen within that state. The problem with ethnic states is the clash between the exclusivity of a particular ethnic group and the quest for equality from the other weaker ethnic group or groups. This causes conflicts if the issues are not dealt with and worked out to ease the tension in such communities.

It is important to note that when an ethnic group or minority, or for that matter an indigenous group becomes politicized, this translates into a group’s demand for respect and power. [6] Such politicization of an ethnic group can change a state’s political atmosphere for better or for worse. Since mobilization brings new actors into the political game, it changes the state’s political atmosphere. Politicization of an ethnic community usually comes into being when such a community becomes less equal in socio- economic and political power distribution than the other ethnic or dominant group within a state. Nowadays, ethnic political consciousness is widespread, since many nation states seem to be multi-ethnic. The leaders of these ethnic groups try to mobilize depending on an ideology of ethnicity where their shared feelings can be used to entice and unite their ethnic community. This happens usually in times of economic or political difficulties. The leader of such an ethnic community usually unites the grou p, regardless of its members’ class and education, under the fear of extinction. When that happens, an ethnic group usually poses various political demands. Once an ethnic group becomes politicized, it is very difficult to reverse that. It would be very difficult to satisfy an ethnic group’s demands of something less than their expectations. Some ethnic groups resort to violence and militancy and some do not when their demands are not met.

The state has developed into a political arena for ethnic groups (both dominants and non-dominant). To protect their interest, stay in tune with what is going on in the state, to “play the game”, and be counted in a state, an ethnic group must enter the political arena. As Rothschild mentioned, “ethnic groups must add the quality of becoming conflict groups to their previous qualities of being status groups, interest groups, and cultural groups.” [7] Without such political leverage, their position is politically, socially, culturally, and economically jeopardized. If an ethnic group fails to reach its objectives, it then tries to secede and fight for a separate state of its own. This option is usually open for geographical areas where the concentration of the ethnic group is usually high. For each ethnic group to prove and to preserve its unique status in society, it must use the building blocks of ethnicity. These building blocks are the body (which makes up the ethnic group), the language, the shared histo ry (which gives a sense of shared struggle and fate), the shared religion, and the nationality (which is the right to a territory like most ethnic groups around the globe). [8] The claim of the ethnic group to status involves its insistence on its ‘rightful place’ in the society. [9] This rightful place means that the ethnic group is allowed to practice its own cultural uniqueness without any interference or persecution from the state. Thus when an ethnic group is supported by state power, the ethnic group is strong. When the ethnic group is not supported by the state, its position is vulnerable and weak even if this takes place in an ethnic democracy.


The Arabs of Israel currently enjoy citizenship in an ethnic state where they are a weak minority. They are not satisfied with this reality and tend to seek to acquire a taste of equality. This is a very difficult thing to do. Indeed, the Arabs of Israel have moved tremendously towards their goal ever since the early days of Israel in 1948. But they still have a long way to go in order to have an equal status with their Jewish counterparts. This difficult task centers on Israel’s ethnic democracy where the tension is between the Jewish character of Israel and a democratic form of government. Israel, up until today, is still defined as a Jewish State only. So Israel is an ethnic democracy that grants a republican citizenship to the Jews and a second-class citizenship to the Arabs. But, what is helping the Arabs in their fight to acquire equality and creating an official binational state with equal rights to both Arabs and Jews is their increasing demographic numbers. In the year 2000, Arabs number around 997, 000 inhabitants of Israel proper of the 1948 borders. This number constitutes about 17% of the total population of Israel. [10]

A leading Israeli Newspaper, Haaritz, wrote in its 28 February 1990 edition: “since the establishment of the State of Israel, and despite advancement in the Israeli infrastructure which have had a positive impact on the Arab citizens, a clear discrimination policy has been adopted toward the Arab community. The government conducts a rebuke discrimination.” [11]

Legal Discrimination

There is no clear law protecting equal rights for the Israeli Arabs. The Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom, which is Israel’s mini bill of rights, does not mention the Arabs’ right of equality. However, this law stresses the ethnicity of the state as Jewish. Furthermore, the Israeli Supreme Court has dismissed all cases dealing with discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel. [12] The Arab citizens of Israel have the right to vote and be elected to the Knesset, but discriminatory laws limit these two rights. Such law is the Basic Law: The Knesset and the Law of Political Parties section 7(A) amended in 1985. This law mentioned above states that, first, a political party will be disqualified at election time if it calls for the State of Israel to give its Arab citizens full and equal rights as its Jewish citizens. Second, a political party, to be qualified to run for elections, must not challenge the Jewish character of the State of Israel. The law states, “a list of candidates shall not participate in the elections for the Knesset if its aims or actions, expressively or implicitly, point to the denial of the existence of the State of Israel as the State of the Jewish people.” Tawfik Toubi, an Israeli Arab, who is a member of the Knesset, finds problems with this law. He opposed the law by saying: “to say today in the law that the State of Israel is the State of the Jewish people, means saying to 16% of the citizens of the State of Israel that they have no state and they are stateless, that the state of Israel is the state only of its Jewish inhabitants, and that Arab citizens who live in it reside and live in it on sufferance and without rights equal to those of the Jewish citizens…. Don’t the people who drew up this version realize that by this definition, they tarnish the State of Israel as an apartheid state, a racist state?” [13]

The Israeli Supreme Court faced a challenge posed by this law in the 1988 General Elections. Ben Shalom, a right wing activist, filed an appeal to the Supreme Court against the Knesset Election Committee because it allowed the Jewish- Arab party, (The Progressive List for Peace (PLP)), to run in the elections. The PLP’s constitution stressed equality between Arabs and Jews, “the PLP will struggle for another Israel, an Israel that is for all its citizens.” [14] Shalom’s claim was that the PLP “denies the existence of Israel as the State of the Jewish people.” [15] By a narrow vote of 3 to 2, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Knesset Elections Committee, which enabled the PLP to participate in the elections. But there was a consensus among the Justices that a political party may be disqualified under section 7 (A) (1) if it rejects the ideology of Israel as the State of the Jewish people, even if there was no danger to the security of the state. Justices Levin and Elon even went further to state th at redefining Israel as the state of all its citizens is like denying the existence of the state. The Justices added that the definition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people is based on three givens. First, that the Jews are the majority in the state. Second, that the Jews are entitled to preferential treatment such as the “Law of Return”, which guarantees any Jew from any part of the world automatic citizenship upon arrival in Israel. Third, that the Jews outside Israel enjoy a strong relationship with Israel. The Supreme Court, by denying any role of the Arabs in the definition of the state, is denying the democratic status of the state. In this action, the court further strengthened discrimination against the Arabs by denying them any significant presence in the state. David Kretzmer, professor at the Hebrew University and member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, criticized the court’s decision and said that such a decision would mean that: “there can not be total equality between Arabs and Jews in Israel. The State is the State of the Jews, both those presently resident in the country as well as those residents abroad. Even if the Arabs have equal rights on all other levels, the implication is clear: Israel is not their state.” [16]

Another law, which is the Law of Political Parties provision 5 (1), discriminates against the Israeli Arabs. It states that a political party should not be registered if its aims are “the denial of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” [17] According to such law and in order for an Arab party to be qualified to run for the Knesset, it must agree to laws that discriminate against Arab citizens of Israel. Finally, Israeli discriminatory policies towards its Arab citizens are seen as a primary source for Arab deprivation and a stimulus for the Arab citizens to increase their attachment to their collective identity.

Economic Discrimination

Jews and Arabs in Israel are competing for the same economic rewards but on unequal footings. Jews have a better position in society to begin with. This is taking place in an environment where discrimination against Arabs and their exclusion from firms, especially from advantageous positions involving greater degree of autonomy, is the norm. [18] This phenomena contradicts with the Israeli law, ‘Male and Female Workers Law, 1964’, which states: “An employee shall pay to a female worker a wage equal to the wage paid to a male worker at that place of employment for the same, or substantially the same, work.” [19] There is no mention here of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religious domination of one group, or even nationality. [20] The National Labor Court states that discrimination between employees on the ground of race, national origin, religious or sex is invalid. [21] But as will be clear later on, this law is violated in the Israeli economy and discrimination against Arabs and women is indeed t he norm in the labor market. But the trick here is that an employee can register in an employment office serving his or her place of residence. But because Jews and Arabs are highly segregated in their place of residence, this makes the backbone of discrimination in recruitment and jobs very discriminatory. And since economic opportunities in the Arab economy in Israel are scarce, many Arabs will seek employment in the Jewish labor markets where the least desirable jobs are always reserved for the Arabs. [22]

According to Noah Lewin-Epstein, Arabs were hired only after companies were unable to recruit Jewish workers. This was based on personal preference of managers who wanted only Jewish workers. [23] From the data of Lewin-Epstein in the mid-1980s (the feelings might not have changed today in the early part of the 21st Century), the Jewish public supported the idea that Jewish workers should be given priority over the Arab workers. [24] The twenty-two firms surveyed, none of which employed Arabs, were asked why Arabs were not employed, and all gave security considerations as the reason. In one of the twenty-two companies, the closeness of the physical plant to a ‘sensitive industrial facility’, deterred the owners from hiring Arabs. But further investigation showed that the ‘sensitive industrial facility’, did indeed employ Arabs. [25] Employees who seek to discourage Arabs from applying to jobs in their firms usually ask for military service credentials. But since almost all Jews serve in the military while mo st Arabs do not, this automatically excluded the Arabs. It should be noted however that Druze who are Arabs (but not recognized as such by the Israeli government) and who do serve in the military were absent from many of the business houses which asked for military credentials for employment. [26] It boils down to the fact that since Jewish-Arab competition is very high in Israel, economic discrimination is likely to continue.

Economic discrimination against Arabs exists in the labor market where Arabs work alongside Jews. The implication of competition where discrimination is a factor forces members of minorities to make themselves more attractive to employers in order to gain access to jobs. Thus their wages are much less than those of the Jews who would be more desirable. The greater the discrimination, the higher the relative gain for the Jewish workers, with those at the top of the “occupational hierarchy” mostly gaining. [27] Job discrimination has two aspects. First, wage discrimination among those working in similar jobs, and second, job discrimination where the Arabs are denied such opportunities because of their ethnic background. The discrimination felt in employment hurts most when a person is discriminated against because of his or her ethnicity. As one Arab engineer said, “we are graduating as engineers from the Technion (an engineering and technical institute) but there is no work available for us in this country be cause Jewish firms refuse to hire Arab engineers.” [28] The Institute for Economic and Social Research in 1988, reported that when Jews and Arabs are employed in the same jobs, Arab men earn 80 percent of what Jewish men earn. [29] Discrimination against Arab workers is so effective that even after the labor market opened following the Six Day War, the occupational status of the Arabs did not improve.

Social Discrimination

Menachem Begin, Prime Minister of Israel in 1977, announced the creation of ‘Project Renewal’. Such project was to benefit the depressed and rundown neighborhoods of Israeli cities. The initial phase of the project encompassed eighty neighborhoods throughout Israel. This project included the infrastructure, social and welfare services. All the neighborhoods chosen were Jewish neighborhoods, even though there were Arab neighborhoods that were more rundown. The excuse that all the neighborhoods were Jewish came from the fact that the funds came from the Jewish Agency. After some investigation, it was found that ‘Project Renewal’, may not be regarded solely as a Jewish Agency project. In fact the Israeli government funded more than half of its expenses. [30] Thus the excuse that it was a Jewish Agency project was clearly meant to justify the government’s social discrimination against Israeli Arabs. Furthermore, discrimination against Arabs on the part of individual Jews is found mostly in rentals of housing and employment.

Discrimination against Arabs, which is very common in Israel, is the outcome of racism and social discrimination. This social discrimination is based on negative stereotypes against the Arabs who are viewed with hostility by the Jewish public and considered a potential fifth column by which Israel would be destroyed internally. [31] The Zionist character of the state and its dominant ideology prevent the Palestinians from having equal rights in Israel. [32] Ariel Sharon, a minister in the Likud government and head of his party, after its defeat in the 1999 general elections, best summarizes this attitude. He said: “We came here to establish a Jewish State and not a democratic state.” [33] Discriminatory policies against Arab students are clear from the records of financial assistance, which was almost nil. In 1974, the share of the Arab students from this assistance was 0.33 percent. [34]

The Killing of Thirteen Israeli Arabs

Not since 1976, during the Land Day protests, had so many unarmed Israeli Arabs been killed by the security forces of Israel. Early in October 2000, Israeli Arabs were demonstrating, showing solidarity with their brethren in the Occupied Territories after the ‘Aqsa Intifada’, when Israeli security forces opened fire on them in the village of Umm al Fahm and elsewhere killing 13 and injuring scores of others.

Ahmad Tibi, a former advisor to Yaser Arafat, and a member of the Knesset said: “It is inhuman to demand us to sit aside when we are seeing Palestinian children shot and killed in cold blood by Israeli soldiers.” [35] He urged Israeli forces to stay out of Israeli Arabs towns to prevent ‘friction’ between the people and the security forces. In early November 2000, 5000 Israeli Arabs demonstrated in Umm al Fahm and Arraba against the killings of the 13 Israeli Arabs. They demanded to find out about the inquiry that Prime Minister Ehud Barak promised to make in conjunction with the death of the Israeli Arabs. This latest instance of state violence against Israeli Arabs showed clearly that whatever their achievements, Israeli Arabs are still viewed with suspicion, fear, and treated as second class citizens by the Jews of the state.


Arab politicization and demand for equality is a result of rigid Jewish attitudes of superiority. Arabs are trying to enter Israeli politics through the democratic avenues of Israeli laws. Meanwhile, Jews perceive such changes as a threat to their superior position, because the Arabs are still seen in a mistrustful way and their loyalty to the state is always in question. [36]

The Arabs made alliances with the Israeli Communist Party because of the support the communists gave to their demands for equality. This was in response to the dominant political culture of the Jewish State. Meanwhile, the Jewish response was not positive and warned the Arab traditional leaders not to allow their constituencies to vote for the Communist Party. Prior to Israel’s formation in 1948, there were several Zionist parties in existence, both political and military. Such political parties included the Histadrut, Hashomer, Haganah, Mapai, Mapam, Progressive Party, Mizrahi, Hapoel Hamizrahi, Augudat Yisrael. The parties also included military militias that were disbanded by David Ben Gurion in 1948, such as the Haganah, Palmach, and the Lehi. [37] When Israel was formed in 1948, all the Arab elites, political and otherwise, left Palestine. Therefore, the experienced political figures that would have stayed to start new political parties have already left. So the only remaining Arab leaders in the new st ate of Israel were the Communists. These early Arab communist leaders, together with their Jewish counterparts, formed the Israel Communist Party (Magi). This enabled the Israeli government later on to stop any attempt made by the Arabs to form their own political parties. In 1965, Rakah, the New Communist Party, split from Magi. Thus, these two Communist Parties were the only non-Zionist parties in Israel. This led the Rakah Party, which later became mostly the party of Arab communists and less of Jewish communists, to increase in strength among the Arabs. Magi, which was largely made up of Jewish communists, became less attractive to the Arabs. The popularity of Rakah was evident in the 1973 elections when it won four Knesset seats while the Magi won only one seat. [38] An example of how the state tried to foil an Arab attempt to form a political party in the early 1960s came when the Pan-Arab political movement, AI-Ard, was made illegal by the state. After the split from Magi in 1965, Rakah increased its s hare of the Arab vote and became the single most powerful political force among the Arab voters. But it is important to note that Rakah kept its commitment as an Arab- Jewish party and opposed any separatist or autonomous feelings among the Arabs.

The first real test of Arab political mobilization with communist backing came about in March 1976 when Arabs organized general strikes opposing the government’s confiscation of Arab lands. Those land day protests were organized by the Communist Party, which made itself accepted by the Arabs as a non- Zionist party that serves their interests. The Arabs saw the Communist Party as the most important organization, desiring to see equality in social, political, and economic status of Arabs and Jews. Meanwhile, the state saw the Communists as a conniving force trying to influence the Arabs to rebel. The Communist Party, Rakah, was able to get 30% of the Arab vote in 1969 and 37% in 1973, making it then for the first time, the single largest party in the Arab sector. [39] This high vote went to the Communist Party even though the government made warnings to the Arabs not to vote for the Communists. Although some Arab communist party members did not join the Party, for ideological reasons, they saw the party as a vehicle for Arab political mobilization and equality with the Jewish majority [40]. The March 1976 Land Day protest marked a change of tactics for the Arabs and the communists, which entailed a direct confrontation with the authorities, unlike previous times when clashes were prevented. As Sammy Smooha noted, the term “Arab radicalization” was synonymous with the term “Arab politicization” because the Arab quest for equality and their reliance on the communists were the only political means to champion Arab rights and equality. Ilana Kaufman mentioned that the politicization of the Israeli Arabs is viewed as the Arabs’ quest for equality in economical, social, and political rights and their interest in integration within the state as equals to the Jews. [41] Furthermore, this Arab radicalization is due to the inequality and the difference in the standard of living and political status between the Arabs and Jews, and not due, as many Israeli Jews think, to the radicalization of the Arabs. After the intifada of the late 1980s, it was expected that the Israeli Arabs might join in the protest. But as it turned out, the Arabs of Israel did not join in the protest with their fellow Palestinians in the occupied territories. According to Ilana Kaufman, Ian Lustick saw the Arabs of Israel after the intifada as a maturing ethnic group with “power and political strategy, instead of patronage and protest.” [42] Israel’s Arabs expressed sympathy and moral support with the intifada and their support for the thousands of the injured and the killed. They collected money for the wounded, and demonstrated peacefully. All this was done within the limits of the law, always respecting their limits and never crossing the boundary of constraint. This was much different than the occupied territories, where the Palestinians used all available means to revolt against the Israeli occupation. This is how the Arabs were able to politicize, mainly due to the democratization process in the Israeli political system, and the support they got ini tially from the communist party to utilize this right in election times. Protest methods were similar to those used by the Jews of Israel, and were manifested in low violence. In 1982, Dr. Sam Lehman-Wilzig of the Political Science Department of the Bar-Ilan University, conducted a study were he found that the percentage of protests of the Arabs in Israel was about 15.4%, very similar to the Arabs’ percentage of the population back then. It is therefore easily deduced that the Israeli Arabs have adopted the democratic methods of the Israeli society. [43]

Kaufmann argued that the Communist Party was weak in the Arab rural areas mainly due to the Arabs’ attachment to their traditional leaders and to a traditional social structure. Those leaders thought that in order to assimilate in the society and the political atmosphere they had to cooperate with the ruling political parties. [44] In those days the Communist Party was made up mostly of Greek Orthodox Christian Arabs from northern urban areas. Thus in the early 1960s, the Communist Party was in constant clash with the military government over confiscation of Arab Lands. The small and medium sized villages where the local traditional leaders were strong, tried to stay in good relations with the military government. Those local leaders were pressured not to let the communists have influence among the rural Arab population. In the eyes of those leaders, the communists were troublemakers who provoked the military government unnecessarily, causing more problems for the Arabs. In those days, the Communist Party in Israel tried to incorporate Arab nationalism as a vehicle to attract Arab participation for political support. Thus the Communist Party tried to tie itself to Arab national sentiments and to champion Arab causes of equality in social and political activities. Thus, during the first of May rally in 1958, the Arabs protested against the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel. The communists tried to mobilize and trying to connect opposition to the status quo with their own efforts. This was the first attempt to link Arab ethnonationalism with communism in Israel. [45] There were a lot of Arab urban dwellers, mostly educated, who saw the link as a possible vehicle for Arabs to reach their goals. Meanwhile, in the early 1960s, the communist party did affect the Arab rural men who sought work in the city.

Additionally, the Communist Party helped Arab students seek a better educational curriculum, which stressed Arab literature and culture and deemphasized the Zionist and Hebrew culture in Arab schools. The Communist Party gave Arab high school graduates scholarships to enter universities in communist block countries. In return, these students stayed loyal to the Communist Party and stressed their support to it at election time, even though some did not support the communist ideology. In addition to these students, their parents would vote for the communist party in most elections as well.


This section relates to the Israeli Jewish responses to Israeli Arab politicization and mobilization and their situation as a minority group. The Arabs in Israel are discriminated against because of fear that they could be a fifth column which would destroy the state from within. And like any minority group in a third world country, they are discriminated against legally and socially but they seek improvement of their standard of living. This politicization and mobilization are the result of such ambition. The best example of that, as will be mentioned later in this chapter, is the Arabs’ refraining from creating an internal intifada in solidarity with events in the occupied territories. There are restrictions on the Arabs by the Israeli government. The dependence mechanism, which the Jews in Israel used to mold the Arabs’ growth and restrict it, is the best example of how a majority controls a minority. This dependence mechanism was supported by both the government and the Zionist parties which view Arabs a s ideologically imcompatible. [46] The peace groups see the Arabs as equal and can perceive a partnership in running the country with them. Arab economic dependence on the Jews was used as a system allowing the Arabs to have no political independent means other than the State for their livelihood. This dependence is used by the State as a coercive measure against anyone who tries to cause “trouble”, such as organizing strikes, demanding civil rights, or refusing to give up their land peacefully. In 1976, Tawfiq Zayyad, member of Knesset and mayor of Nazareth said: “the central role of this government policy is to impose retardation on Arab villages and towns, freezing their developments, embittering and impoverishing their life, to weaken any influence they might have on the political or economic life of Israel. This makes it easier to control the villages and to encourage their inhabitants to look for another homeland.” [47]

Official Responses

One of the former advisors on Arab affairs to the Prime Minister of Israel said: “Our policy towards the Arabs is to keep them illiterate by preventing the Arab students from reaching the universities. If they were educated, it would be difficult to rule them. We should make them wood-cutters and water-carriers.” [48] Official Israeli response to Arab political mobilization is expressed in a very similar way by the Likud and Labor governments both of which rotated in power from 1948 to the present. In Israel’s ethnic democracy, the Arabs are perceived as outsiders. They are allowed to grow slowly and always with a lot of suspicion. Economic dependence is a major reason why the Arabs of Israel were able to politicize gradually without a revolt or an internal armed conflict. The Israeli official response is to keep the Arabs dependent on the Jewish majority in such a way that their rights are not denied but are not equal to those of the Jewish majority. What has been preferred and implemented was the dependenc e of the Arabs on Jews and Arabs serving the interests of Jews. [49] In due time the Arab notables in the villages were forced to turn to the authorities in order to maintain services in their villages. [50] Arab reaction to state domination created an Arab economic dependence. This was a result of poor state planning which was deliberate in most cases. For example, although manufacturing expanded in Israel tremendously, it still played a small role in the Arab sector. In the Arab economy there is a substantial decline in self-employment and ownership of manufacturing enterprises. Most of the Arabs in the Israeli economy are either employed by the local or national economy, or by businesses owned by Israeli Jews. 51 This is true also for the white-collar workers and fresh university graduates who depend solely on Jewish firms and institutions for employment.

Israel under Labor and Likud

Initially, Likud’s policy towards the Arab citizens underwent a more radical change than Labor. For Likud, the Arabs of Israel constitute a security threat even more so than the Arabs in the Territories. [52] But in the broader picture, both Likud and Labor see the Arabs in the same perspective and consider the increased politicization of the Arab community as a dangerous development. [53] The political leadership in Israel, both Likud and Labor, has enhanced the notion that Arabs are enemies. The right or left Israeli Governments view the non-Jewish population of Israel as a collection of different minorities. Both Labor and Likud see this minority as a divided Arab people. Therefore they do not recognize the collective political mobilization of the Arabs as a legitimate process seeking equality with their Jewish counterparts. Likud and Labor see the Arab minority as different sectarian people who happen to speak Arabic by the influence of the Arabic culture. These two parties with similar views regarding t he Arabs were successful in changing the Arab identity of the Druze, such as, official documents, of the Druze community, describing their ethnicity as Druze and not Arabs. The two Israeli parties are trying, unsuccessfully so far, to do the same with the Arab Christians in Israel. Meanwhile, the Druze and the Circassian Muslims serve in the armed forces while their fellow Muslim and Christian Arabs do not. There is a deliberate destruction of everything Palestinian or Arab in Israel. The state’s deliberate policy was made in an amendment after the State of Israel was established. This amendment of the ‘Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance 1948’, states that any “public action of identification or expression of sympathy (raising a flag, displaying symbols, voicing slogans, singing the Palestinian anthem)”, was considered a criminal offense. [54]

Likud Prime Minister, Menahem Begin, did not accept that there was a Palestinian national identity, because he was convinced that such acceptance would undermine the moral claims of Zionism. A member of Kibbutz Em Hahorish once asked him about the rights of the Palestinians. Begin responded: “My friend, take care. When you recognize the concept of ‘Palestine’, you demolish your right to live in Ein Hahoresh. If this is Palestine and not the Land of Israel, then you are conquerors and not tillers of the land. You are invaders. If this is Palestine, then it belongs to a people who lived here before you came. Only if this is the Land of Israel do you have a right to live in Em Hahoresh.” [55] Likud’s leadership thus considers the Arabs of Israel as enemies of a state that does not belong to them.

The Likud began to respond and react to Arab demands mainly after it came to power in 1977. It had and still has a relationship based on narrow interests and suspicion. With its nationalist Zionist ideology the Likud does not approve or support any Arab demand for greater equality with the Jewish majority, be it political, economical, or social. Knesset member Eitan Livni, who heads the Likud’s Arab and Druze Affairs Section in the party, said: “I was a freedom fighter, whereas they (the Arab guerrillas) are just criminals. But I’ve learned to understand their way of thinking. It helps me to do my job.” [56] A conference of the National Committee of Arab Mayors, which headed fifty Arab towns in Israel, took place after Benjamin Netanyahu took office in 1996. A major item of the conference was municipal budgets and funding promises from the previous Labor Government which the Netanyahu government did not honor. Broken promises have characterized the Likud’s government policies towards the Arabs of Israel, suc h as, the money committed by the Labor Government to projects such as the “Nazareth 2000”, designed to improve tourism in Arab areas. [57] After the 1992 elections the Arab community could swing elections either to the side of Labor or to the side of Likud and could no longer be ignored as a political force. Thus, the Likud leaders in the early 1990s informed the Arab traditional leaders that there was no difference between Likud and Labor when it comes to Arab rights. [58] They told the Arabs that they should vote for Likud.

Non-Official Political Groups

The response to Arab needs and development from non-official political groups, such as the Jewish Agency, has been nonexistent. Thus the quick development of Jewish areas in Israel was due mainly to the large amount of investment the Jewish Agency and other Jewish institutions invested. From 1948 to 1977, the Jewish Agency alone poured over five billion U.S. dollars into the development of the Jewish sector. [59] Therefore, the Jewish settlements in rural areas enjoyed all the infrastructure services from running water, electricity, paved roads and industrial projects, while many Arab areas located near urban places have been ignored. The Jewish Agency, with the help of western agricultural technical assistance and with their own financing, was able to introduce sophisticated agricultural techniques and even new crops to help the farmers compete not only in Israel but also export agricultural products to Europe and the United States. [60] This agricultural technical assistance was not available to the Arab f armer, thus making him much more inferior to his Jewish counterpart. Another example from the industrial field was the inability of a large Arab owned companies in Israel to survive. The Arab Cigarette and Tobacco Factory Ltd., in Nazareth, could not secure a loan at the same terms as its Jewish competitors from the Jewish Agency, thus facing heavy losses and eventual liquidation and closure. [61]

After the creation of the State of Israel and until 1957, the Arabs could neither become members of the Histadrut nor could Arab labor be unionized. This pushed the Histadrut to demand the dismissal of Arab labor when Jewish labor became available. Also, a major cause of the Arab economic decline had to do with the massive land confiscation of the Arabs who left Palestine before May 1948, or those who stayed after the creation of Israel, as was previously mentioned. Furthermore, the National Planning and Building Law does not allow basic services, such as running water and electricity, to forty unrecognized Arab towns located throughout Israel with a combined population of 60,000 people. [62] Some of these villages existed before May 1948. As late as 1998, the Likud government refused to recognize and develop these villages. The main reason for this policy was to force Arab citizens to live on the designated lands that the State picked for them. One example of further economic discrimination has to do with p ublic housing. In 1998, government plans for land allocation for housing ignored the Israeli Arabs completely. Under this plan, there would be construction of 23,000 apartments, all of which will be in Jewish areas of Israel. [63]

Israeli Government’s Economic Policy toward Arab Localities

The government did not plan for the industrialization of Arab localities in Israel to prevent the Arabs from controlling industrial centers that might turn into economic powerhouses. Thus in this manner, the Arabs will remain dependent on the Jewish economic control. For example, the Little Triangle, area in northern Israel which is mostly Arab inhabited is almost completely devoid of industries. Arab–Jewish enterprises have jointly owned the miniscule light industry that was introduced in Arab villages. One out of one hundred and four Arab villages in 1976 had a sewage system. [64] The director of the Arab Department of the Histadrut in the mid-1970s, Yaacov Cohen, rejected the industrialization of the Arab parts of Israel as a policy goal. There were 70,000 Arab members of the Histadrut in the mid-1970s, where the Histadrut owns one-fifth of all industries in Israel, yet not a single factory was located in an Arab area. [65]


The Arabs in Israel have made significant achievements in their struggle for equality in the face of Jewish discrimination. Even though the Arabs seem to have a long way before they can achieve the universal equality they envision, they have at least rid themselves of the psychological fear that petrified them following the decimation of their society in 1948. The Arabs in Israel have displayed a great deal of political maturity in rejecting violence and revolutionary tactics as means of achieving equality, while establishing their rightful position among their fellow Arabs in the Middle East as a community to be recognized and appreciated. Azmi Bishara, an israeli Arab member of the Knesset, wrote: “The only possible way for the Arab minority inside Israel to confront the challenge of Israelification is to engage in a struggle for equality. A struggle which can simultaneously challenge the Zionist-Jewish essence of the Israeli State, while at the same time mobilizing the Arab minority in battle for gaining their national rights as Arabs belonging to a wider collective national identity than that of the Arabs inside Israel.” [66]

Today, a new generation of Israeli Arabs is ready to participate in Israeli society. They are more educated, able to converse in Hebrew, and lead an integrative lifestyle of integration in that society. However, this new generation is more conscious and proud of its Palestinian national identity. It does want to integrate and receive their share of rights and duties in Israel. But their chances are limited and so are job opportunities and economic freedoms because of social and economic discrimination. In addition, this new generation has limited outlets for economic and political participation and is growing demographically, which will create a crisis if their grievances are not addressed. Thus demography is the central point in the changes within the Arab community. The demographic changes and the democratic tendencies of the state require a solution to their disadvantaged position in Israel.

In the event of total peace, Israeli Arabs would be positioned to improve their status, and stand a good chance of further eroding, if not eliminating, the discriminatory policies against them. Israeli Jews might accept them more as a non-threatening minority in the Israeli society. They should be positioned to improve their lot, both economically and politically. But they will fail to abolish the Jewish character of the state. Their new status, if their numbers keep on increasing, will help them eventually join coalition governments and hold key positions in future cabinets. If this happens, Arabs will tend to use democratic procedures to advance their position in the Israeli society. [67] The Arabs’ final and main goal is to have equality with the Jews of the state. For now, the Arabs desire to promote their acceptance and recognition by the state as a national minority in a democratic society. According to Smooha, this option falls between a democratic Jewish state and the option of a bi-national state. [ 68] But the Jewish apprehension regarding the acceptance of the Arabs strains the latter’s Israeli identity and weakens it within the Israeli Arab mind.

The idea for Arab self-rule in Israel, initially a Jewish idea, might be an option the Arabs will fight for if their demands for equality are not met. Azmi Bishara, wrote: “It is important to remember that, contrary to the belief, selfrule for the Arabs inside Israel was not an idea initially forwarded by Arab intellectuals. Rather, it was an idea developed and favored by the Israeli Academic establishment in an attempt to abort any other development of a conceptual framework capable of reconciling the notion of self- rule with that of equal rights: Something that would necessarily require a redefinition of the essence of the state as it exists now.” [69]

Finally, according to Smooha, if a comprehensive peace develops between Israel and the Arab states, the Israeli Arabs will be able to adopt a new plan in their fight for equality. This will be similar to many minorities around the world who use the military service as a means for social equality. [70] Furthermore, the compulsory service for Jews will make the request for equality in Israel stronger. According to Smooha, after Israel and the PLO recognized one another, Palestinian identity among the Arabs of the state did not mean that the Arabs are disloyal or that they reject Israel as a state. [71] Also, an eventual rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world will make it easier for the Arabs in Israel to accept Israel openly. This will make the Arabs in Israel ‘natural’ intermediaries between the Arab world and Israel in commerce, diplomacy, business, etc. Knowing two cultures and living bi- cultural diversity will make the Arabs in Israel perfect candidates for the role of intermediary. [72] I believ e that Israeli Arabs will have a better role to play in the future especially in political terms. The new State of Palestine will free them from anxiety over the suffering of their brethren in the Occupied Territories. On the other hand, as we saw in September and October 2000, a new intifada is raging in the Occupied Territories as the result of the near collapse of the peace process, due mainly to Israeli insistence that East Jerusalem remain under Israeli sovereignty. This possible total collapse of the peace process will reflect negatively on the Israeli Arabs in the short run. But I believe that in the long run, their political status will improve, if there is a comprehensive peace in the Middle East or not.

Osama Fouad Khalifa is an independent writer living in Beirut. The author would like to thank Hilal Khashan for his comments on early drafts of this article.


(1.) Bookman, Milica, The Demographic Struggle for Power, (London: Cass & Co. Ltd., 1997), p. 18.

(2.) Touma, Emile, “The Political Coming-of-Age of the ‘National Minority’.” Journal of Palestine Studies. vol. 14, no. 2, (Winter 1985), p. 75.

(3.) Stendel, Ori, The Arabs in Israel, Brighton, (U.K.: Sussex Academic Press, 1996), p. 2.

(4.) Lustick, Ian, Arabs in the Jewish State, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980), p.48.

(5.) Ori, p. 19.

(6.) Rothschild, Joseph, Ethnopolitics, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981), p. 6.

(7.) Ibid, p. 232.

(8.) Nash, Manning, The Cauldron of Ethnicity in the Modern World, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1989), p. 6.

(9.) Ibid, p. 16.

(10.) Courbage, Youssef, “Reshuffling the Demographic Cards in Israeli Palestine”, Journal of Palestine Studies. vol. 28, no. 4, (Summer 1999), p. 29.

(11.) Haaritz, 28 February 1990, “Deliberate Neglect”, p. B1.

(12.) Jabareen, Hasan, Legal Violations of the Arab Minority Rights in Israel, (Shfaram: Israel. Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, 1998), p. 43.

(13.) Ibid, p. 44.

(14.) Ibid, p. 44.

(15.) Ibid, p. 44.

(16.) Ibid, p. 45.

(17.) Ibid, p. 46.

(18.) Lewin-Epstein, Noah and M. Semyonov, The Arab Minority in Israel’s Economy, (Boulders, Colorado: West View Press, 1993), p. 82.

(19.) Ibid, p. 79.

(20.) Ibid, p. 79.

(21.) Ibid, p. 79.

(22.) Ibid, p. 80.

(23.) Ibid, p. 81.

(24.) Ibid, p. 81.

(25.) Ibid, p. 81.

(26.) Ibid, p. 82.

(27.) Ibid, p. 131.

(28.) Lustick, p. 23.

(29.) Lewin-Epstein, and Semyonov, p. 79.

(30.) Kretzner, David, The Legal Status of the Arabs in Israel, (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1990), p. 120.

(31.) Ghanem, As’ad, “The Limits of Parliamentary Politics: The Arab Minority in Israel and the 1992 and 1996 Elections”, Israel Affairs, vol 4 no 2 (Winter 1977), p. 62.

(32.) Ibid, p. 62.

(33.) Ibid, p. 65.

(34.) Zayyad, Tawfiq, “The Fate of the Arabs in Israel”, Journal of Palestine Studies, vol 6 no I (Autumn 1976), p. 100.

(35.) International Herald Tribune, 3 October 2000, “Fear in Israel Rises as Rage Spreads to its Arab Minority”, p. 6.

(36.) Smooha, Sammy, The Orientation and Politicization of the Arab Minority in Israel. (Haifa: Institute of Middle Eastern Studies, 1984), p. 168.

(37.) Zureik, Elia, The Palestinians in Israel, (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979), p. 67.

(38.) Ibid, p. 167.

(39.) Kaufman, Ilana, Arab National Communism in the Jewish State, (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1997), p. 94.

(40.) Ibid, p. 88.

(41.) Ibid, p. 12.

(42.) Ibid, p. 15.

(43.) Landau, Jacob M, The Arab Minority in Israel, 1967-1991, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), p. 189.

(44.) Kaufman, p. 81.

(45.) Ibid, p. 87.

(46.) Terry, Janice J, “Zionist Attitudes Toward Arabs”, Journal of Palestine Studies. vol 6, no 1, issue 21 (Autumn 1976), p. 67.

(47.) Zayyad, Tawfiq, “The Fate of the Arabs in Israel”, Journal of Palestine Studies. vol 6, no 1, issue 21, (Autumn 1976), p. 92.

(48.) Ibid, p. 100.

(49.) Lustick, Ian, Arabs in the Jewish State, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980), p. 169.

(50.) Ibid, p. 155.

(51.) Lewin- Epstein, and Semyonov, p. 35.

(52.) Darweish, Marwan and A. Rigby, Palestinians in Israel: Nationality and Citizenship, (Bradford: University of Bradford), 1995, p. 11.

(53.) Ibid, p. 11.

(54.) Sa’di, Ahmad H. “Between State Ideology and Minority National Identity: Palestinians in Israel and in Israeli Social Science Research”, Review of Middle East Studies, vol. 5, (1992), p. 116.

(55.) Ibid, p. 112.

(56.) Al- Haj, Majid, Arab Local Government in Israel, (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press), 1996, p. 65.

(57.) McKay, Fiona, “Israeli Arabs and the Natanyahu Government”, Middle East International, no 541, (10 January 1997), p. 20.

(58.) Neuberger, Benyamin, “The Arab Minority in Israeli Politics 1948-1992- From Marginality to Influence”, Asian and African Studies, vol 27, no 12, (March- July 1993), p. 153.

(59.) Lustick, p. 163.

(60.) Ibid, 164.

(61.) Ibid, 164.

(62.) McKay, p. 20.

(63.) Jabareen, p. 13.

(64.) Lustick, p. 191.

(65.) Ibid, p. 184.

(66.) Website, Al-Ahram Weekly, 4 May 1998.

(67.) Smooha, Sammy, Arabs and Jews in Israel, Volume 2: Change and Continuity in Mutual Intolerance, (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1991), p. 267.

(68.) Ibid, p. 275.

(69.) Website, Al-Ahram Weekly, 4 May 1998.

(70.) Smooha, Sammy, “Arab- Jewish Relations in Israel in the Peace Era”, Israel Affairs. vol. 1 no. 1. (Autumn 1994), p. 232.

(71.) Ibid, p. 236.

(72.) Ibid, p. 237.


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