Knesset urged to aid 'volatile' mixed Jewish-Arab cities

MK Sarsour: They're hidden islands of the Third World.

The Knesset's Internal Affairs Committee called on Tuesday for the government to establish an interministerial unit to assist mixed Arab-Jewish cities, in the hopes of eliminating what MK Ibrahim Sarsour (United Arab List-Ta'al) termed "islands of the Third World" hidden in Israeli urban centers. "Mixed cities such as Lod, Ramle and Acre, where Arab and Jewish populations live side-by-side, are currently focal points for problems," said MK Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad), who initiated the proposal. "The establishment of a unit whose activities will be dedicated to these cities, whether on the governmental or municipal level, will turn these cities into focal points for the potential for building lives together." The status of such cities and possible solutions to their problems were presented during the afternoon meeting, which was called as an "urgent hearing" due to the pressing problem, particularly inequality in the services offered to Jews and Arabs. Dr. Eli Reches, an Arab affairs expert at Tel Aviv University, said that approximately 120,000 Arab Israelis - about 10 percent of the country's Arab population - lived in the mixed cities. "The situation is volatile and could become more severe," Reches said. "The cocktail of [cultural] Arabization and socioeconomic distress is very dangerous." During the hearing, community leaders from mixed cities raised some of their complaints concerning the situation in their towns, with a large part of the discussion focusing on the neighboring cities of Lod and Ramle. Representatives said that not a single employee of Ramle's welfare division speaks Arabic, whereas in Lod, two of 50 such employees speak Arabic. Arabs constitute 30% of Lod's population. Tali Alami of the Center for Social Defense said that to register an Arab child for kindergarten in Lod, parents were required to prove that their municipal tax payments were up to date - a requirement not placed on their Jewish counterparts. They also complained that no summer camps, nor even a community center, had been established for the city's Arab residents, leaving their children with nothing to do during the two-month summer vacation. "This is a population in a state of continued suffering, and it is a tragedy," Sarsour said. "Today, in the mixed cities, one can find islands of the Third World, a situation that demands immediate change." "We must make every effort to change these cities into models of optimism and coexistence," said MK Dov Hanin (Hadash), who chaired the meeting.