Israeli Arabs and Bedouin Citizens06 April 2011
The Paradox of Ethnicity and Citizenship
Bedouin protestors remain in place opposite the Knesset.
In every Arab community, and in the five mixed cities where both Jews and Arabs live, de facto discrimination is readily apparent. Israel's 1.37 million Arab citizens vote, pay taxes and speak Hebrew, yet suffer pervasive discrimination, unequal allocation of resources and violation of their legal rights. Housing, education, and income all substantially lag that of the Jewish majority. Only 3 percent of the land in Israel proper is owned by Arabs; permits are rarely granted to Arab families to expand their housing; and most Jewish towns and neighborhoods remain off-limits.
It is not surprising that Israeli Arabs – or Palestinian Israelis as some prefer to be called – see their situation as a cruel paradox. Second-class citizens of a nation at war with their ethnic brethren, in a state identified as the Jewish homeland, many are betwixt and between the demands of ethnicity and of citizenship.
The New Israel Fund was among the first organizations to see that civil, human and economic rights for Israeli Arabs is an issue crucial to the long-term survival of the state. From our inception, we have funded, mentored and trained the groups that represent minority issues from the Supreme Court to the playgrounds of mixed communities. While strongly affirming that Israel is and must be a Jewish and democratic state, we have led the way in insisting on the rights of Israel's most vulnerable minority. We are now happy to welcome the interest and participation of more traditional philanthropies, joining us in resolving some of Israel's most difficult issues.
The Bedouin in Israel: Caught Between Two Cultures
Try to imagine life in an unrecognized Bedouin village in Israel's Negev. Imagine life with no electricity, running water, or sewage facilities. Imagine walking several kilometers in 100-degree heat to reach overcrowded schools or health clinics. Assume that the land you have always considered the communal property of your nomadic tribe is now off-limits, and that your own village has never been recognized as legitimate by the national government.
Through advocacy, education, and leadership training projects, the New Israel Fund brings Jews and Arabs together to help thousands of Israel's Bedouin citizens achieve lives of dignity. Since 2004, 11 (out of 45) villages have been officially recognized by the government and now belong to a newly-created Regional Council. NIF is working to ensure its success as a replicable model for recognition and development of additional villages.
A new school is under construction in one of the villages and work has begun on infrastructure for running water in another, yet there is still so much to be done. Empowering Bedouin women, a longstanding effort by SHATIL, is an important component of assisting a nomadic society to adjust to new norms, without sacrificing its core beliefs and culture.
NIF believes that our efforts to attain freedom, justice and equal opportunity for all of Israel’s citizens are a critical prerequisite to achieve true co-existence within Israel’s borders.