Palestinian Citizens of Israel
PALESTINIAN CITIZENS OF ISRAEL
a remnant of the larger arab community living in the parts of british mandate palestine that became the state of israel in 1948.
Until 1948, both Jewish and Arab residents of Palestine were called Palestinians. After 1948, both Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel were called Israelis. In recent years, many Arab citizens of Israel preferred to be called Palestinians. Of the approximately 900,000 Palestinian Arabs who lived in the area that became Israel in 1948, fewer than 170,000 (about 12.5 percent of Israel's population) remained after the Arab–Israel War of 1948: 119,000 Muslims, 35,000 Christians, and 15,000 Druze. About 32,000 were town dwellers; 120,000, villagers; and 18,000, nomads. Some 30,000 were internal refugees, having fled from one part of Israel to another during the 1948 war. Most of the community leaders and professionals had left the country (only ten Palestinian physicians remained); most institutions were in disarray; and nearly every family had some members in the surrounding enemy countries.
The Palestinian population was separated from the Jewish majority in western, central, and upper Galilee, from Nazareth north. A few thousand remained in the former Arab towns of Ramla, Acre, Jaffa, and the city of Haifa, the Negev, and several score of smaller villages—a distribution that remained basically unchanged. Initially, most areas where the Arab minority of the new Jewish state lived were under the military authorities and subject to restrictive military government emergency regulations, which limited freedom of movement, access to civil courts, and individual ownership of land. The military authorities controlled nearly all aspects of life in the Palestinian community. The military government had to approve the appointments for most positions, from teachers in village schools to mayors of Palestinian towns.
Many in Israel's government considered Palestinian Arab citizens a security risk because of the continuing state of war with the surrounding countries, although the severity of military government restrictions was gradually eased until the Knesset terminated most emergency regulations during 1966. Even so, Palestinians living in Israel continued to be mistrusted by many Israelis even though experience demonstrated that the number who might be a security risk was minute.
From 1948 until the early 1990s, government policy regarding Palestinian citizens of Israel was coordinated by the adviser on Arab affairs, a special office in the bureau of the prime minister. Several ministries—including education, religion, minorities, agriculture, and social welfare—also had special offices for Arab affairs, usually headed by Jewish officials. In the absence of most professionals, such as doctors, after the 1948 war, the government took initial responsibility for rehabilitating the Palestinian community. A social welfare network was introduced in Arab areas and welfare offices were opened. Special courses were organized to train Palestinian personnel, and clinics were established by the ministry of health. Village rehabilitation was organized to restore agricultural production through the re-planting of olive groves, the introduction of farm mechanization, and agricultural loans.
Policies emphasizing the security and development of Israel as a Jewish state often vitiated efforts to integrate Israel's Palestinian citizens. This was evident in policies regarding land and other immovable property belonging to Palestinians. Property, including homes and farms, belonging to the 30,000 internal Palestinian refugees and to several thousand other Palestinian citizens was taken over by the custodian of absentee property, who was charged with the administration of possessions belonging to those who left their homes during the 1948 war. Most of those affected by the Absentee Property Law had fled to surrounding countries. However, much of the agricultural land belonging to Israel's Palestinian citizens also was seized by the custodian. Other laws pertaining to the acquisition of land for reasons of security and for development resulted in government sequestration of about 40 percent of the land belonging to the country's Palestinian citizens.
Land requisition policies resulted in a shift in the occupational pattern of the Palestinian community, which before 1948 had been mostly rural and agricultural, to widespread employment in the Jewish urban economy. However, the rural social network, based on traditional hamulas (families), remained largely intact. The majority of those in the urban economy traveled from their villages or towns to work in centers of Jewish commerce and industry, where they were employed in unskilled or low-paid jobs at the bottom of the economic ladder. Government land requisition led to the depeasantization of the Palestinian community and to shortages of urban property, which resulted in greatly overcrowded villages and towns. Yet some who retained agricultural land prospered, despite the overall decline in Palestinian farmland. From 1949, with the assistance of the agriculture ministry, modern farming methods, extensive mechanization, and irrigation were introduced; Palestinian agricultural productivity increased several times over. Although the overall economy of the Palestinian community lags behind the Jewish sector, a few of those who pay the highest income tax in Israel are from the minority community.
Initially the MAPAI (Labor Party), which controlled the government from 1948 until 1977, organized Palestinian political parties headed by local notables who were co-opted by the military government. These local parties elected several members to the Knesset, where they usually voted with the MAPAI. Some were led by hamula or tribal or clan leaders; some identified with ethnic factions such as the Druze. Other Arab Knesset members were affiliated with the Communist Party and the MAPAM (Left Labor Party).
Government officials charged with policy for the minority communities encouraged each to develop its own institutions and organizations. Thus the system of religious courts established during the Ottoman era, and continued during the British Mandate, was maintained; these included shariʿa (Islamic religious) courts and separate courts for each of the several recognized Christian denominations. In 1962, the first Druze religious court, separate from the Islamic courts, was organized. The Druze were initially permitted to join Israel's military forces; later they were subject to the draft. A few Bedouin and Christian Palestinians also were permitted to join the armed or security forces, and some attained high rank. Government policy generally exempts Muslims other than Bedouins from serving, which results in the exclusion of most of Israel's Palestinians from certain family and other government allowances and increases the difficulty of finding employment, since prior military service is required for many jobs, especially in government jobs related to national defense.
Between 1948 and the early 1990s, the Palestinian community experienced rapid economic, social, and political development. A new generation of leaders replaced those who had fled before and during the 1948 war or who had been co-opted by Israel's government. By the late 1950s, and in the 1960s and 1970s, the new generation of Israel's Palestinians included many politically active professionals, university-educated in Israel or abroad. They became increasingly dissatisfied with the position of Israel's Palestinian citizens. Many with advanced degrees were unable to find employment in jobs commensurate with their training and skills. Issues that concerned them included the govern-ment's land policies; the citizenship law, which gave preference to Jewish immigrants; the lack of Arabs in responsible government posts; the disparities between government resources allocated to the Jewish and Palestinian sectors in education, housing, and other services; and the perception that they were not accepted as full citizens of Israel. Opposition to government policies was evidenced in a shift of Palestinian voting patterns away from Labor and other Jewish parties, initially to the Communist Party of Israel. Attempts to organize Palestinian nationalist parties were blocked by government authorities or by internal dissension among potential Palestinian leaders.
By the 1960s, Palestinian nationalist sentiment had increased, and many Arabs in Israel supported Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser. The rise of this national consciousness was demonstrated in 1965 when Israel's Communist Party split into a Jewish faction and a largely Palestinian nationalist faction, the New Communist List (RAKAH). Although several of RAKAH's leaders were Jewish, most of its votes came from Palestinian Israelis who perceived it as the principal legal vehicle for expressing opposition to government policies. Other groups attempted to organize opposition parties but were either banned by the authorities or failed to galvanize sufficient support. By the 1970s, RAKAH was winning more votes within the Palestinian community than any of the Jewish parties, and it became the principal voice opposing government policies toward what was officially called the Arab sector. Later, RAKAH was joined by organizations, such as the Committee for Defense of Arab Lands and the Committee of Heads of Arab Local Councils, to form HADASH (the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality). Like parties in the Jewish political spectrum, Palestinian parties often split, reformed, and acquired new names and leaders. Thus in the 2003 election, the main Arab parties included BALAD (National Democratic Assembly), HADASH, TAʿAL (Arab Movement for Renewal), and the United Arab List. More radical Arab parties included the Organization for Democratic Action and the Progressive National Alliance. All advocated equal rights for Palestinian citizens inside Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian state coexisting with it.
The Arab–Israel War of 1967 and Israel's occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem (formerly part of Jordan), and Gaza (formerly occupied by Egypt) constituted a watershed for Israel's Palestinian citizens. For the first time since 1948, they could establish direct contacts with Palestinians in surrounding countries. From 1948 until 1967, only a small number of Christians had been permitted to cross from Israel to Jordan once or twice a year, at Christmas and Easter. After 1967, Israel's Palestinian citizens could visit the West Bank and Gaza, and Palestinians in the occupied areas could visit Israel. Many family relationships were reestablished, Israel's Palestinians were increasingly exposed to new developments in Palestinian national consciousness, and they were no longer regarded by the Arab world at large with suspicion or mistrust. Larger numbers of Israel's Palestinians identified themselves not only as loyal citizens of Israel but also as supporters of the Palestinian national cause. Increasing numbers identified themselves as Palestinians first and as Israelis second.
Significant demographic changes characterized Israel's Palestinian community. It grew from 12.5 percent of Israel's population in 1948 to over 18 percent by 2000, mostly as a result of natural increase. By the 1990s, Sunni Muslims constituted 78 percent of the Arab population; the Druze, approximately 9 percent; and various Christian denominations, about 13 percent. Most Christians were Greek Catholic (32 percent), Greek Orthodox (42 percent), or Roman Catholic (16 percent). At the turn of the century, 1,200,000 Palestinians lived under Israel's jurisdiction, including over 200,000 residents of East Jerusalem (annexed by Israel in 1967; most nations, including the United States, do not recognize Arab East Jerusalem as part of Israel). Few East Jerusalem residents chose to become Israeli citizens; most retain passports issued by Jordan.
Despite great improvements in infant mortality, average life span, literacy, and similar social indicators by 2002, 92 percent of Palestinian workers were in the bottom half of the country's wage scale, and a third of Palestinian children lived below the poverty line. By 2002, only 5.7 percent of civil servants were Palestinian citizens. Of these, more than half worked in health and social services; few were directly involved in policy-making or decision-making roles. Of Israel's 5,000 college and university lecturers, only about 50 were Arab citizens. These were among the factors contributing to the growing radicalization of Israel's Palestinian community. Palestinian discontent led to increasing demands for full equality, expressed in support for groups such as the Democratic Arab Party, the Progressive List for Peace, and the Islamic Movement. Tensions also grew between the country's Jewish and Arab citizens, caused by wide differences over the peace process and Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Israel's Palestinian citizens were not consulted or involved in the Oslo talks or the negotiations that followed. Most supported or sympathized with the Palestinian intifadas of 1987 through 1991 and 2000. The brutal response of the Israeli police to nationalist protest demonstrations in October 2000 left thirteen Palestinian Israelis dead and scores more wounded, creating a deep wound among Israel's Palestinian citizens. These tensions were underscored in the election campaign of 2003 when the Central Election Committee attempted to strike BALAD leader Azmi Bishara and TAʿAL leader Ahmad Tibi from the ballot. Although Israel's Supreme Court overrode the decision, the key issue in dispute remained: Was Israel to be a Jewish state or a state of all its citizens?
see also aqsa intifada, al-; arab–israel war (1948); arab–israel war (1967); communism in the middle east; druze; gaza strip; intifada (1987–1991); israel: political parties in israel; knesset; nasser, gamal abdel; oslo accord (1993); shariʿa; west bank.
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