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Seal of State of Israel

MINORITIES IN ISRAEL

Israel's declaration of independence guarantees that the government will "uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens without distinction of race, creed and sex." Approximately 20 percent of Israel's population, about one million people, are not Jewish, comprising primarily Arabic-speaking groups.

Muslim Arabs number some 780,000, residing mainly in small towns and villages, over half in northern Israel. Bedouin Arabs belong to 30 tribes and comprise ten percent of Israel's Muslim Arab population. Living primarily in the Negev desert, they are a people struggling between an ancient way of life and the modern world. There are about 160,000 Christian Arabs who live mainly in urban areas; the majority of Christian Arabs are affiliated with the Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.

Some 80,000 Druze live in 22 villages in northern Israel. The Druze religion is not accessible to outsiders and Druze constitute a separate cultural, social and religious Arabic-speaking community. The Druze concept of taqiyya calls for complete loyalty by its adherents to the government of the country in which they reside. As such, among other things, the Druze serve in the Israel Defense Forces.

The Circassians are non-Arab Sunni Muslims who comprise about 3,000 people concentrated in two northern Israeli villages.

In keeping with Israel's democratic principles, the Arab citizens of Israel are afforded all the rights and privileges of Israeli citizenship. When the first elections to the Knesset were held in February 1949, Israeli Arabs were given the right to vote and to be elected. At the time, however, Israel was still in a state of war and threatened by its Arab neighbors and it viewed the Arab population within its borders as a security threat. This led to the imposition of a military government in all areas where Arabs lived from 1948-1966.

Today, Israel's Arab citizens are accorded full civil and political rights, entitled to complete participation in Israeli society. They are active in Israeli social, political and civic life and enjoy representation in Israel's Parliament, foreign service and judicial system. In the 1996 Israeli elections, nine members of Israel's Arab parties were elected to the Knesset.

At the same time, there do exist sizable economic and social gaps in the levels of development between Jewish and Arab societies. Israeli Arabs do face discrimination, not as a result of official policy but in practice. Israeli Jewish employers, for example, have discriminated against Arabs. On a more encouraging note, in recent years, Israeli Arabs have better mobilized themselves to lobby and fight within Israel's democratic system for what is rightfully theirs.

Today, many organizations in Israel and in the United States are working toward improving coexistence among Jews and Arabs inside Israel. Salem Jubran, the co-director of the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace at Givat Haviva, recently reflected on Jewish-Arab coexistence in Israel:

 

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