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Israeli Arabs:
Status of Arabs in Israel

by Mitchell Bard


Israeli Arabs: Table of Contents | History of Community | Population Statistics


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Roughly 21% of Israel’s more than eight million citizens are Arabs. The vast majority of the Israeli Arabs - 81% - are Muslims. 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. Arabs currently hold ten seats in the Knesset. Israeli Arabs have also held various government posts.

Arabic, like Hebrew, is an official language in Israel. At the time of Israel’s founding, only one Arab high school was operating, today, there are hundreds of Arab schools. Most Arabs attend these 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, many Arabs have volunteered for military duty and the Druze and Circassian communities are subject to the draft.

Some economic and social gaps between Israeli Jews and Arabs result from the latter not serving in the military. Veterans qualify for many benefits and jobs not available to non-veterans. Moreover, the army aids in the socialization process. On the other hand, Arabs do have an advantage 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.

While there is no institutional segregation, Jews and Arabs have chosen to live separately in all but a handful of cities. Israelis all recognize that Arab villages have historically received less funding than Jewish areas and this has affected the quality of Arab schools, infrastructure and social services. Arabs are also underrepresented in higher education and most industries.

Israeli Jews and Arabs have surprisingly little contact with each other. Most young people study at different elementary and secondary schools and may not come into contact with one another until college; by then, many preconceived opinions have been formed. This lack of interaction exacerbates tensions between the two communities.

Israeli Arabs also face their own conflicts as Palestinians in a Jewish state. While identifying with the Palestinian people and disputing Israel's identification as a Jewish state, they see their future tied to Israel. They have adopted Hebrew as a second language and Israeli culture as an extra layer in their lives. At the same time, they strive to attain a higher degree of participation in national life, greater integration into the economy and more benefits for their own towns and villages.

Although Israeli Arabs have occasionally been involved in terrorist activities, they have generally behaved as loyal citizens. During Israel’s wars, none engaged in acts of sabotage or disloyalty. In some instances, Arabs volunteered to take over civilian functions for reservists.


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