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This post is not meant to declare that any one people is “good” or “bad.” I’ve repeatedly tried to move away from such simplistic binaries. The simple purpose of this post is to discredit some of the claims that Israel is an apartheid country. Many of these facts are overlooked–or not known–and so I wanted to highlight them. I have obtained some facts from the Jewish Virtual Library, which is a source of easy-to-access and reliable data, in case any one wants further information.

A Druze woman casts her ballot at a polling station in the northern Druze-Arab village of Maghar

In brief:

Roughly 21% of Israel’s more than eight million citizens are Arabs.

The vast majority of Israeli Arabs – 81% – are Muslims.

Arabs in Israel have equal voting rights; in fact, it is one of the few places in the Middle East where Arab women may vote. Arabs currently hold 18 seats out of 120 in the Knesset, the national legislature of Israel. Israeli Arabs have also held various government posts.

Only in 2004 did the first Arab justice receive a permanent appointment to the Supreme Court – Justice Salim Joubran, a Christian. Only upon his retirement was Justice George Kra, also a Christian Arab, appointed to replace him. There has never been a Muslim on the Supreme Court, and there has never been more than one Arab at a time. This is a problem.

Arabic, like Hebrew, is an official language in Israel. At the time of Israel’s founding, only one Arab high school was operating, today, there are hundreds of Arab schools. Most Arabs attend these schools. While this is good, it is also a problem. Most young people study at different elementary and secondary schools and therefore do not come into contact with one another until college. This lack of interaction exacerbates tensions and misunderstandings between the two communities.

The number of Israeli-Arab teachers in Israel’s state schools increased by 40% between 2013 and 2016, as reported by Israel’s Education Ministry in August 2016. According to the Ministry, 420 Arab-Israelis taught in Israel’s state schools in 2013, compared to 588 during the 2016 school year. The school subjects that experienced the largest jump were english, math and science, which all experienced a 76% increase in the number of Arab-Israeli teachers. The number of Israeli-Arab Arabic language instructors also increased by 40% during this time span.

The sole legal distinction between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel is that the latter are not required to serve in the Israeli army. The idea behind this was to spare Arab citizens the need to take up arms against their brethren. Nevertheless, many Arabs have volunteered for military duty.

Military veterans qualify for many benefits and jobs not available to non-veterans, which does provide an advantage in terms of opportunity to those who serve. On the other hand, Arabs do have an advantage obtaining jobs during the years Israelis are in the military. In addition, industries like construction and trucking have come to be dominated by Israeli Arabs.

Arab villages have historically received less funding than Jewish areas and this has affected the quality of Arab schools, infrastructure and social services. This is a problem. Arabs are also underrepresented in higher education and most industries. This is also a problem.

However, a study released in January 2018 by the Council for Higher Education found that the number of Arab-Israelis pursuing bachelors degrees at Israeli universities grew by 60% from 2010 to 2017. In 2017, Arab-Israelis accounted for 16.1% of all students in bachelors degree programs, 13% of all students in masters degree programs, and 6.3% of all students in doctoral programs. The total number of Arab-Israeli students pursuing all forms of higher-education in Israel rose by 78.5% from 2010 to 2017.

There are twenty employment centers established around Israel to help the Arab, Druze, and Circassian minorities find employment and receive assistance. According to the Israeli Ministry of the Economy statistics for 2015, 8,000 new Arab, Druze, and Circassian participants sought help or assistance from these employment centres. In total, these centers have helped 13,600 members of Israeli minority groups find employment, and have provided assistance for more than 24,000 individuals. Approximately 68% of candidates who have come into the employment centers since they were established in 2012 have found jobs.

The cadet course of the Israeli Foreign Ministry accepted their first Arab-Muslim woman in March 2017.  31-year-old Rasha Uthmani was nominated to be the spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in Turkey and has previously served as part of an Israeli delegation to the United Nations.  Israeli Muslim men have served as Israeli ambassadors, but never a Muslim woman.

Israel’s public health system is a model for Jewish/Arab collaboration.  As of May 2017, 42% of all nursing students in Israel were Arabs, 38% of pharmacists in Israel were Arab, and 38% of medical students at the Technion in Haifa were Arab, as well.

In April 2018, the Knesset committee for Arab affairs approved a $5.6 million two-year plan for the creation of technology parks within Arab towns in Israel to boost local employment opportunities and close income gaps between Jewish and Arab Israelis. An additional $1.4 million was earmarked to create access roads and transportation to and from these parks. This plan is an extension of a 2015 program for the economic development of the Arab Israeli sector and other minority communities from 2016 through 2020.

The impetus behind this move was the fact that Israeli Arabs account for just 2.5% of employees in the high-tech sector. “The plan is expected to create conditions for the creation of thousands of new jobs in the fields of development, software and services, and to contribute to narrowing the gap between supply and demand” for the employment of Arabs in the high-tech sphere, a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office said.

High-tech firms are increasingly opening offices and plants in Arab towns. In Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel’s Northern District, more than 950 high-tech employees — up from just 30 in 2008 — work in companies such as Amdocs, Microsoft, and Broadcom. Of these employees, 25% are Arab women.

Improvements in medicine have helped increase life expectancy by 27 years since 1948. Arabs in Israel tend to live 10 years longer than Arabs in neighboring countries. For instance, life expectancy in Israel is 74.6 years for men, while in Libya, the average lifespan is only 68.6 years.

In general, the standard of living for Arabs in Israel is significantly better than that of Arabs in other countries. The rate of female literacy in Israel is 88% among Arabs, while in Egypt, only 43% of females are literate. Also, in 1999, the infant mortality rate for the Arab population in Israel was 9 deaths per every thousand births, while in 2016, the rate had gone down to 6.2. Egypt’s infant mortality rate in 1999 was 41 deaths per every thousand, with an improvement to 19.4 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2016.

(Unfortunately, as a result of socio-economic gaps, the Arabic infant mortality rate in Israel, while still better than in neighboring countries, is higher than the infant mortality rate for Jews, which is currently — at 3.1 deaths per 1,000 births — lower than the average in developed countries.)

The Arab population in Israel tends to earn less money than the Jewish population. Arabs earn approximately 60% of the yearly wage of Jews. The cost of living, however, is lower among the Arab population. The cost of housing for Arabs is, on average, 490,000 shekels ($ 122,500). For Jews, the cost of a house is 805,000 shekels ($201,250).

The situation over there is miserably complex, and there is no easy solution that will satisfy everyone. The important thing to remember, however, is the complexity of both the situation and any potential solution. Beware of simplistic binaries and finger pointing, beware of sound bites and knee-jerk emotional responses, and recognize both the bad and the good.