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How Does Israel Treat Its Arab Citizens?

May 28, 2013
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Although revisionists have attempted to rewrite the history of Israel’s fight for survival, reports from news correspondents who were on site, as well as information published in the years directly following the war, paint a very grim picture. Israel’s forces were untrained and outnumbered, lacking even a common language; they had few, poor-quality weapons; they had no support from the international community; they faced a particularly vicious and determined enemy.

An Unfortunate Exodus

Another component of the war for independence that would have lasting ramifications was the mass exodus of the Arab population from what was then Palestine. Again, revisionists have rewritten the scenario, pointing an accusing finger at Israel, and demanding that the international community hold Israel responsible for the plight of a refugee population that has grown significantly in the past 65 years.

But news reports and official statements made at the time reveal a very different reality. Al-Huda, a Lebanese newspaper published in the USA, wrote on June 6, 1951:

“The Secretary-General of the Arab League, Abd ar Rahman Azzam Pasha, published numerous declarations assuring the Arab peoples…that it would be a simple matter to throw the Jews to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. Advice was given to the Arabs of Palestine urging them to leave their land, homes and property, and go to stay temporarily in neighboring, brotherly States, lest the guns of the invading Arab armies mow them down.”

A British eye witness was quoted in the London Economist on October 2, 1948, stating that the Arab Higher Executive urged all Arabs in cities such as Haifa to flee temporarily. The Near East Arabic Broadcasting Station commented on April 3, 1948, “It must not be forgotten that the Arab Higher Committee encouraged the refugees’ flight from their homes …”

An Untenable Situation

When the war ended, Israel faced an almost untenable situation. Many Arabs had ignored the advice of their leaders and remained in Israel, but most had lost everything, and were highly suspicious of the new State. The Arab governments remained virulently hostile to Israel and encouraged them to continue the fight. Guerilla warfare and terrorist activities cost the lives of countless Israelis, and propaganda campaigns poisoned the minds of Arabs and the international community alike against the fledgling nation.

It was against this complex and very difficult backdrop that Israel began life as an independent state after 2000 years of dispersion. The new government was dedicated to freedom and equality for its Jewish citizens that flooded in from all over the globe…and for its Arab citizens as well.

Starting Over

While integrating immigrants from the world over, as well as their own sizable Jewish refugee population, Israel was determined to do the best they could for those Arabs who now lived within the State. However, security remained a difficult issue. Since the Arab governments continued to encourage violence, and violent Arab incursions were common on virtually every border, some security restrictions remained in place for a number of years.

Yet on virtually every level of Arab life, Israel assisted in improving living conditions, increasing income, developing land and business opportunities, and providing education.

One of Israel’s first endeavors was to train a network of Arab social workers to help deal with the many needs in the Arab community. Local social service offices were established and training of both male and female Arab professionals was ongoing. At first, the entire budget of this initiative was covered by Israel’s welfare ministry. However, as time passed, Arab local councils gradually assumed responsibility as well, and by 1955, 30% of the budgets came from local councils. Israelis worked side by side with Arabs to deal with the many difficult issues faced by rural Arab populations, often providing personnel, emergency budgetary assistance, instruction, and supervision.

Particularly at risk were orphans, the aged, the sick, and the indigent. In the Middle East, these unfortunates were not afforded community assistance and often were reduced to begging, homelessness, and sometimes starvation. Israel embarked on a program of social awareness, helping the Arab population to take an active interest in assisting all elements of their community. Orphanages were built, teachers trained, special assistance provided for the blind, etc. Youth clubhouses were set up and employment projects were organized to help prevent delinquency among Arab youth, all initially under the direction of various Israeli ministries.

Dramatic Changes

By 1960, the standard of living for Arab–Israelis had increased dramatically. The infant mortality rate dropped from 32% to 9% while in other Arab countries it was 41%; every Arab village had a school with qualified teachers paid by Israel’s education ministry; the literacy rate rose to 88%, while in Egypt it remained at 43%; the situation for women improved dramatically as they were assured freedom to attend school, own property, vote, etc; and life expectancy increased with the availability of health care. Today, the vast majority of Israeli Arabs polled prefer life in Israel to that of any Arab nation.

Certainly, Israel has not been perfect in its efforts to assist Arab Israelis. Inequalities exist and much remains to be done. It is critical, however, in an environment where there is little regard for historical truth, to understand Israel’s intention to provide the same freedoms and benefits to its Arab citizens and the amazing lengths to which a struggling nation has gone to do so. Further, one fact remains constant: the progress of Arabs in Israel depends in the end on peace between Israel and her neighbors. When hostility and tensions subside, all of Israel’s citizens will be able to live full lives of freedom and opportunity in the Middle East’s only true democracy.

Source: By Cheryl Hauer, International Development Director

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