What Is An Israeli Arab?

12/21/2015

I was visiting Israel recently and while driving around I was thrown off by their street and highway signs. The street signs, you see, are in Hebrew, English…and Arabic!  I wondered, why Arabic?  Well, it turns out that Arabic is an official national language of Israel (along with Hebrew naturally) and that’s why the street signs are also in Arabic.

Show of hands.  How many people already knew that Arabic was an official national language of Israel.  No one, of course.

That got me to thinking.  What else didn’t I know about Arabs in Israel.  Turns out that I didn’t know very much.  Here’s a short list:

  • The Arab population in Israel is approximately 1.7 million, which is more than 20% of the country’s total population. One in five Israelis are Arab!
  • Arab citizens are granted the same rights as Jewish citizens under law.  They are, in fact, Israeli citizens.
  • Arabs are allowed to serve in the Israeli military (although service is not mandatory).
  • Arabs have political representation in the Israeli Knesset and currently hold 17 of its 120 seats.  There currently is even an Arab serving as a justice on the Israeli Supreme Court.

During my stay in Israel, I also noticed a number of other somewhat unusual things, at least from my perspective:

  • While shopping, I noticed that some of the shop owners were actually Arabs.
  • I saw an Arab woman jogging on the beach boardwalk (in jogging gear and headphones no less).
  • In the malls, I repeatedly ran into Arab women shopping without their husbands, sometimes attired in blue jeans (of all things).
  • Arabs from other countries come to Israel for medical care – even the King of Jordan, so I am told.

All of which made me question what an Israeli really is. There are over 1 million Russians that came to Israel in the 1990s. The current immigrant wave is from France and when you walk the streets in some cities you see large numbers of Anglo-Saxon looking people.  It’s very multi-cultural…

and, then, there’s the Israeli Arabs.

Turns out that Israeli Arabs enjoy more civil rights than Arabs living in any other Middle Eastern country. In fact, a study by the Harvard Kennedy School found that 77% of Israeli Arabs would rather live in Israel than in any other country.

So, street signs, blue jeans and headphones.  It sort of tells you something about the new reality of Israeli Arabs.

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