In 1949, at the end of Israel’s War of Independence, having lost one percent of
its citizens in the battle for freedom, the new-born nation found itself with
156,000 Arabs within its borders, about 12 percent of the total population at
that time. The United Nations estimated that 711,000 Arabs became refugees
following Israel’s establishment, joining in the battle against Israel’s
Those who did not become refugees were granted citizenship by the
new state and were placed under a military government until 1966.
birth, Israel promised all of its citizens that “it will be based on freedom,
justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure
complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants
irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion,
conscience, language, education and culture.”
At the time of Israel’s
founding and during its first decades, it was a poor country.
first 10 years its population doubled, and many of those newcomers came from the
Middle East and North Africa and arrived with no possessions and no money. But
Israel’s Arab citizens were its poorest. They were devoid of almost their entire
The intellectuals, political and religious leaders, the urban
elite, were among those who became refugees. Those who remained were mostly
village peasants, 92% of them illiterate. There remained one working secondary
school. Israel immediately expropriated most of their land and created security
belts around all of their communities. Most of the Arab villages were without
electricity, piped water systems and other basic infrastructure.
this population numbers more than one million, about 20% of Israel’s total
population. They have made remarkable progress in every area of any development
scale. There is almost no illiteracy; there are schools in every
Tens of thousands of Israel’s Arab citizens attend
universities and excel in every subject area. Israel’s hospitals are filled with
Arab doctors, pharmacies all over the country employ Arab pharmacists, hi-tech
industries are hiring more and more Arab engineers.
citizens have a lot to be proud of. All of these achievements belong to
TODAY, 65 years after the creation of the state, Israel is no
longer a poor country.
Israel leads the world in many fields and it has
many achievements to be proud of.
Sixty-five years after the birth of
Israel there can no longer be any excuses for not fulfilling the promises of the
founding fathers and mothers regarding equality for all of its
Unfortunately no one can claim that there is equality between
Jews and Arabs in Israel. We must be honest with ourselves and admit openly that
there is still too much discrimination between Jews and Arabs in this country.
The discrimination is systemic, it is not only sociological – discrimination at
the level of stereotypes and prejudices between people – it is governmental and
it penetrates almost every aspect of life which is under the mandate of the
Every single government of Israel since 1948 until now has
included in its guidelines the abolition of discrimination. All of them have
made promises to close the gaps, to provide more budgets, to hire more Arabs in
government, to build more classrooms, to improve the Arab education system, and
more. The promises reappear with each new government, just as they are made by
all the political parties seeking to get votes from the Arab citizens prior to
We should be embarrassed after 65 years by the continued
discrimination. This should not even be a subject for discussion.
should simply admit it and remove it. The State of Israel has to make a decision
that it is no longer tolerable for such deep discrimination to continue to
exist. We cannot continue to claim our democracy and at the same time continue
to accept the discrimination.
Yes, it is true that those we once called
Israeli Arabs now define themselves as Palestinian citizens of Israel. Yes, it
is true that the majority of those who vote, no longer vote for Zionist
Yes, it is also true that they feel great empathy and
solidarity with their brothers and sisters who are fighting for liberation and
independence from Israel’s occupation over them in Palestine. But at the same
time, they remain Israeli citizens and they are struggling for full equality
within the State of Israel and this struggle is just.
There are those who
make the claim that if they paid their dues – served the country – then they
would get their equal rights.
But there are several things wrong with
that claim (I also believe that they should be called upon to serve in their
communities, in hospitals, schools and other social and community
STATES PROVIDE their citizens with rights on the basis of
their birthright – they were born in the state and the state has certain
obligations to all of its citizens – to provide healthcare, education, welfare,
to develop the economy, to provide infrastructure, and all of this should be on
an equal basis for all citizens. If citizens don’t pay their taxes, or break the
laws, the state determines how to punish them.
Israel does not draft its
Palestinian citizens into the army. It does not relieve them of the duty of
service either. According to law, they are obligated to serve, but the army does
not draft them, for obvious and understandable reasons. Yet, the army does draft
Israel’s Druse citizens and most of them have serious claims against the
discrimination that they face even after serving in the army.
There is no
draft of a national or a civilian service and the state cannot link rights and
obligations if the obligations do not exist. The state can reward those who
choose to volunteer and serve, but not by granting them benefits which are
supposed to be within the contract between the state and its
Israel’s Palestinian citizens are law abiding and are
struggling for an equal share in their role of citizenship. More than 50% of the
Palestinian citizens will probably not exercise their right to vote in the
coming election and that is a grave error on their part. That is a vote of no
confidence in Israel’s democracy, and that is a marked failure of Israel’s
Israel’s first president, Dr. Chaim Weitzman, said, “I am
certain the world will judge the Jewish state by how it will treat the Arabs.”
It is also appropriate for us to judge our own state by that standard and
instead of talking about all of the achievements that Israel has made in closing
the gap, it is time to close the gap.
The author is the co-chairman of
IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for
The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel
for the release of Gilad Schalit.