Israel, an Integrated Society

Looking out across the wadi (canyon) from my Haifa home, I hear the call to prayer from the white minarets of the Ahmadiyya Shaykh Mahmud mosque. My neighbors are a diverse lot, speaking Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, Filipino, and occasionally English, my native tongue. On the bus I may meet a Canadian follower of Bahai who is here to maintain their famous garden or an Indian or Chinese student of the Technion or the University of Haifa. At a synagogue where men and women sit together, a Chilean-born rabbi leads services in Hebrew. An elderly Druze woman makes and sells flat bread in a shopping mall.

In December, families with youngsters travel from as far as Tel Aviv to enjoy Haifa’s festive Hag HaHagim festival (“The Holiday of the Holidays” in Hebrew) in Wadi Nisnas and on Ben Gurion Avenue which features a tall Christmas tree, a Hanukkah menorah, and a Muslim symbol, all made of lights. The restaurants that line the avenue are decorated with strings of lights, a band plays on a corner, vendors sell popcorn and hot chocolate, and the three-dimensional Haifa sign with its shifting, lit images is a favorite place for selfies.

In April, led by a marching band with bagpipes and drums, and youths in khaki Scouting uniforms, Arab Christians pull a 900-kilogram (2,000-pound) float featuring a life-size Madonna out of Haifa’s St. Joseph’s Church during the annual Virgin Mary Procession. It is a century-old Catholic tradition that thousands attend regularly, and which some view as a testament to the freedoms that Israel affords its Christians, as compared to persecution and oppression through much of the surrounding region. Israel is one of a handful of Middle Eastern countries with a growing Christian minority, whose numbers increase by approximately one percent each year. By some metrics, their minority of about 200,000 people (or seven percent of all Arab Israelis) isn’t just growing — it’s flourishing. Consecutive mayors have promoted Haifa as a hub and model for interfaith dialogue and coexistence.

Facts about diversity in Israel

Stable population ratios: Of the total Israeli citizenry, 7,181,000 (73.3%) are Jews, 2,065,000 (21.1%) are Arabs, and 549,000 (5.6%) are “other”. These ratios have remained stable for over ten years.

Religious Affiliation: 82.9 percent of Israeli Arabs are Muslim, 9.2 percent are Druze, and 7.9 percent are Christian. The majority of Muslims are Sunni, with Ahmadiyya and Alawite minorities.

Women: Arab women have benefitted from a change in social patterns, including higher levels of education, their integration into the workforce, a higher average age at first marriage, and the abandonment of traditional lifestyles. At an average of three births per woman, the Arab fertility rate is close to that of Israeli Jews.

Healthcare: All citizens are encouraged to join a healthcare plan where they receive the same benefits.

Life Expectancy:  Over the last two decades, Arab life expectancy has improved by three years to 78 for men and 82 for women (average of 79). It is higher than the life expectancies in the U.S.A. (men, 73.2, women, 79.1) and in the West Bank (men, 74, women 78). Israeli Arabs have the longest life expectancy, compared to Arabs from other Middle East countries.

Education: The median education level of Israeli Arabs is twelve years. Arabs are welcomed in higher education; their share of the total undergraduate student population has almost doubled from 10 percent in 2010 to 18 percent in 2020.

Employment: Many Israeli Arabs are doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and lawyers.

Law: In 2022, Judge Khaled Kabub became the first Muslim appointed to Israel’s Supreme Court. All previous Arab justices on the 15-member court have been Christians.

Military: Arabs, except the Druze who proudly serve, are exempt from conscription, but many do enlist. Ella Waweya is the most senior Muslim officer in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), known to the Arab world as Captain Ella. She sees a shared fate for Jews and Arabs in Israel together against ISIS-Hamas. Lieutenant Colonel Amos Yarkoni is one of six Arabs to have received the IDF’s third highest decoration, the Medal of Distinguished Service.

Voices: Yoseph Haddad originally from Nazareth, is an Israeli-Arab activist working to bridge the gaps between Arabs and Jews in Israeli society. Commentator Mohammed Kabiya shares the bravery of soldiers from all parts of Israeli society and calls out Arabic-language reporting of the war.

Israeli Identity: On December 8, 2023, CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis) cited a survey by Tel Aviv University/Konrad Adenauer Program for Israeli-Arab Cooperation: “A recent survey shows that only 8% of Arab Israelis see their Palestinian identity as most important, down from 16.5% only six months ago. Furthermore, over 33% now see their Israeli identity as most important, up from 21%. The same poll shows that a plurality of Arab Israelis (47%) support Israel’s military operation in Gaza.”

Arab Integration:  Public facilities, transportation, and housing are open to all with no restrictions. Despite a long history of mistrust rooted in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens work and live together peaceably in many areas.  In the city of Haifa, with a total population of 282,000 (as of 2021), eleven percent are Arab, including the Ahmadi Muslim community who strongly support Israel because elsewhere in the Muslim world they are persecuted as heretics. Haifa is home to the second-largest Arab Christian community in Israel. The towns of Acre/Akko, Ramla and Lod, and the Jaffa neighborhood of Tel Aviv are also known for having mixed Arab/Jewish populations. Arabs are increasingly moving to Jewish areas to improve their standards of living as well as to work and attend school. In Haifa, Jaffa, and many other locations, the road signs are posted in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *