Did you know that one in five of Israel’s citizens are Palestinian? Israel refers to them as “Israeli Arabs”. They are citizens whose cultural and linguistic heritage or ethnic identity is Arab. Many of them identify themselves as Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The story began when Israel’s founding fathers removed by force the native Palestinian Arab population living where they intended to establish their state, they murdered or displaced more than 80% of that population.
This act of ethnic cleansing phrases was given a name in Arabic: the Nakba, or catastrophe. The Palestinian Muslims, Druze and Christians who remained in what became Israel have been, and are today, approximately 20% of the population. These are indigenous Palestinians and their descendants, who have had Israeli citizenship imposed upon them.
Roughly 21% of Israel’s more than eight million citizens are Arabs (they number around 1.7 million). The vast majority of the Israeli Arabs – 81% – are Muslims.
In addition, there are about 250,000 Arab residents of occupied East Jerusalem. The majority have refused citizenship, so are not described as Israeli Arabs, but still have Israeli residency.
The majority of Israeli Arabs identify closely with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and often describe themselves as “Palestinian citizens of Israel” and “1948 Palestinians”.
Where do they live?
The largest concentration of Israeli Arabs is in the north of Israel, in towns such as Nazareth, Um al-Fahm and Sakhnin. Many also live in mixed cities such as Haifa, Jaffa and Acre.
The Israeli state appropriated what is described as “vast expanses” of land owned by Arabs who fled or were forced out in the wake of 1948.
This and subsequent policies resulted in a “drastic decrease” in the land available to Israeli Arabs.
Although determining accurate figures is difficult, advocacy groups say Israeli Arabs now live on about 3% of the land in Israel, despite making up about 20% of the population.
Since 1948, no new Arab towns – apart from Bedouin townships – have been founded, although the Israeli-Arab population has grown at least sevenfold.
Many Arab communities were surrounded by areas used for security purposes, Jewish regional councils, national parks and highways, that prevent or block future expansion.
According to advocacy groups, some 160,000 Bedouin Arabs live in the Negev in southern Israeli, about half of them in “unrecognized settlements” which are cut off from basic services.
Most of the rest live in impoverished towns established by the state.
What are Israeli Arabs’ living conditions like?
More than half of Israeli-Arab families are living in poverty, compared to about 15% of Jewish Israeli families, and the gap is widening.
For all but one of the past five years, Israeli-Arab communities have received less than 5% of government development funding each year, according to the Mossawa advocacy centre.
Municipal services in many Israeli-Arab communities are inferior to those in Jewish areas, with classrooms shortages, ageing roads and a lack of local employment opportunities.
The US state department says Israeli Arabs are “underrepresented in most fields of employment”. For example, the Mossawa Centre says only 8% of employees in government offices are Israeli-Arab and of 70,000 employees in hi-tech companies only 300 are Arabs.