Israel is one of the most open societies in the world.
Out of 5.6 million people, nearly 1.1 million-19 percent of the population-are
nonJews (815,000 Muslims, 163,000 Christians and 96,000 Druze).
Arabs in Israel have equal voting rights; in fact,
it is one of the few places in the Middle East where Arab women may
vote. Today women hold 9 of the 120 Knesset seats. Eleven Arabs and
one Druze are in the current Knesset. Israeli Arabs have also held various
government posts, including one who served as Israel's ConsulGeneral
in Atlanta. Arabic, like Hebrew, is an official language in Israel.
Today, more than 200,000 Arab children attend Israeli
schools. At the time of Israel's founding, there was but a single Arab
high school in the country. Today, there are hundreds of Arab schools.
The sole legal distinction between Jewish and Arab
citizens of Israel is that the latter are not required to serve in the
Israeli army. This was to spare Arab citizens the need to take up arms
against their brethren. Nevertheless, Bedouins have served in paratroop
units and other Arabs have volunteered for military duty. Compulsory
military service is applied to the Druze and Circassian communities
at their own request.
Although Israeli Arabs have occasionally been involved
in terrorist activities, they have generally behaved as loyal citizens.
During the 1967, 1973 and 1982 wars, none engaged in any acts of sabotage
or disloyalty. Sometimes, in fact, Arabs volunteered to take over civilian
functions for reservists.
Some economic and social gaps between Israeli Jews
and Arabs result from the latter not serving in the military. Veterans
qualify for many benefits not available to nonveterans. Moreover,
the army aids in the socialization process. On the other hand, Arabs
do have an advantage in obtaining some jobs during the years Israelis
are in the military. In addition, industries like construction and trucking
have come to be dominated by Israeli Arabs.
Another impediment to the full integration of non-Jews
in Israeli society is the fact that Arab municipalities have historically
received less financial support from the government than Jewish ones.
Efforts are being made, however, to redress the imbalances. According
to the State Department's 1996 Human Rights Report, "Government
efforts to close the gaps between Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens
have resulted in an estimated 160 percent increase in resources devoted
to Arab communities between 1992 and 1996."
The United States has been independent for well over
200 years and still has not integrated all of its diverse communities.
Even today, more than three decades after civil rights legislation was
adopted, discrimination has not been eradicated. It should not be surprising
that Israel has not solved all of its social problems in only 49 years.