Katsav: Arab citizens suffer discrimination

Arab citizens of Israel suffer discrimination, President Moshe Katsav acknowledged at the launching of a book on Arab-Israeli society in his official residence Sunday. "We are all responsible for the situation the Arab sector is in," said Katsav after he received a copy of a book edited by Dr. Aziz Haidar and published by the Van Leer Institute. Using statistics from the Central Bureau of Statistics, the book, The Arab Society in Israel: Populations, Society and Economy, reveals the unequal status of the Arab citizens of Israel. Katsav expressed hope that the next Knesset would implement the recommendations of the Or Commission, which was set up following the killing of 13 Arab citizens by Israeli police in the October 2000 riots to investigate the killings and the motives for the riots. The committee recommended creating equality between Arabs and Jews in Israel. Shimon Shamir, a member of the commission, gave a speech at the book launching in which he expressed his "deep disappointment in the lack of implementation of the recommendations and in the lack of serious investigations into the killings." The book was the first of its kind to examine the Arab sector by sub-groups rather than as a whole, said the institute's director, Shimshon Tzelniker. The result was that it gave a clearer picture and a deeper understanding of the Arab society in Israel. The book also revealed different facts from those presented by the CBS. The number of Arab citizens is 1,100,000, meaning 15% of the population. But the CBS says there are 1,400,000 Arabs in Israel. "The CBS counts east Jerusalem Arabs who are not citizens, it counts Christian Russians as Arabs and it counts the Druse in the Golan," explained Haidar. He believed that the reason for "inflating" the number of Arabs is "to scare" Jews worried about a demographic problem. Moreover, the book reveals that educated Arab women in Israel are the sector which participates more than any other in the workforce. "People often say that Arabs are economically weak because the women don't work," said Haidar. "But this shows that education is the most important mobility channel for the Arabs." Dr. Adel Manna, director of the Institute for Israeli-Arab Studies at Van Leer, applauded the recognition of Arabs' unequal status in society, but said that "new policies must be implemented in order to bridge the large gap between Arabs and Jews in Israel." The book also revealed that the percentage of single women is greater among Arabs than Jews, and that the birthrate among Arab women has gone down to four children per woman from nine in the 1960s. Haidar, who as a child sometimes studied under a tree for lack of classroom space, said that creating equality between Arabs and Jews in Israel would only benefit the country. "The state loses when Arabs don't get equal opportunities," he said. "It affects the GNP and creates bad attitudes towards the state and the Jewish majority." Sheikh Rayan Kamal, deputy director of the Union of Local Authorities in Israel, said the event was a turning point for him. "This is the first time I felt that we were recognized as a people [in Israel] who are discriminated against," said the gray-bearded Kamal. "The president talked about it."