Thursday, May 13, 2021

Not so long ago, peace and cooperation were in the air.

And not just between Israel and Arab states.

There was a potential for the Abraham Accords to have an effect not only outside Israel but also inside Israel as well. I quoted from Yousef Makladeh of the consulting company StatNet who reported that "over 60 percent of the [Israeli] Arab population supports MK Mansour Abbas’ approach, that they can work with the [Jewish] right.” And that support extended to the Accords as well:

“The public wants peace, it does not matter with whom, because it will bring them economic advantages,” [Makladeh] said. More trade with the UAE, more UAE investors coming to Israel, and Israeli companies going to the UAE, will mean more opportunities for Arab-Israelis, who will be seen as the logical middlemen. [emphasis added]

I posted that in late December.
Things have changed, not just in terms of the latest terrorist attacks by Hamas -- but in terms of the reaction within the Arab-Israeli community itself.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin tweeted:

This was already spelled out on Twitter the previous day.

Zilber is a journalist and a fellow at the Washington Institute. Zilber added:

Israel Police Commissioner says govt has declared 'special civilian emergency' in Lod. Additional Border Police units to deploy as soon as tonight. Moving his HQ to Lod. Added that such Arab-Jewish communal violence in mixed cities hasn't been seen before, not even in Oct 2000 [emphasis added]

Lahav Harkov, of the Jerusalem Post, tweeted:

Regarding this apparent progress, Harkov adds:

Of course, if it's so easy to reverse, was there really any progress at all? Something to think about, I guess.

What is happening in Lod seems to be indicative of the larger problem happening in the Arab-Israeli communities, which affect Jewish communities and Israel as a whole.

In a 2018 blog post appearing on The Times of Israel, Sarah Gordon -- of The Abraham Initiatives -- wrote in response to a shooting attack, Lod Shootings Point to Larger Issue of Violence in Israel’s Arab Communities:

Unfortunately, these shootings reflect a broader trend of rampant crime and violence in Arab communities across Israel. According to a report by the Knesset Research and Information Center covering the period from 2014 through 2017, Arab citizens comprised 64% of murder victims and 57% of murder suspects. Moreover, between 64% and 84% of cases related to possession of illegal firearms were of Arab citizens. Relatedly, Arabs in Israel feel a significantly low sense of personal security. The Abraham Initiatives (TAI), a non-profit organization committed to advancing a shared and equal Israeli society for Arab and Jewish citizens, conducted a national survey last year and found that 54% of Arabs believe there is a problem of violence in their town compared to 14% of Jews; 49% of Arabs agree that weapons and shootings are widespread in their town compared to 7% of Jews; and 32% of Arabs consider their town “unsafe” compared to 13% of Jews. [emphasis added]

Gordon suggests that the complex problem can be traced to a number of issues:

The same Arab communities that rely on an effective Israeli police force to protect them, find themselves as perceived as a threat to that security
o  There is both a lack of sufficient policing due to lack of funding/attention while at the same time too much policing in the form of excessive violence against Arab citizens.
o  The high poverty rates in Arab-Israel communities -- resulting from widespread unemployment, low-paying jobs, weak education systems, and limited access to government services -- correlate with increased violence.
o  Inside the Arab communities, there is a transition from a society rooted in religion, rurality, and collectivism to a modern, urbanized society that values individualism as opposed to group cohesion. This has led to violence against those Arabs who challenge the traditional norms.

As noted above, this article was in December 2018 -- 3 years after the passing of a bill known formally as Resolution No. 922: a five-year Economic Development Plan for the Arab Sector, allocating 10 billion shekels, almost $3 billion.

An article in Haaretz from 2019 describing the bill, noted apparent improvements over the previous years:

o According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, over the past 7 years, the number of Arab students enrolled in universities and colleges in Israel has risen by 80%.
o Over 5 years, the number of Arabs studying computer sciences, and the number pursuing master’s degrees (in all fields) have both jumped 50%
o The number of Arab students studying for a Ph.D. has soared 60%.
o During the last decade, the number of Arabs working in high-tech has increased 18-fold -- and 25% of them are women.
o By 2020, it is estimated that Arabs will make up 10 percent of the country’s high-tech work force
o The proportion of Arab doctors in Israel has climbed from 10% in 2008 to 15% in 2018
21% of all male doctors are Arab, according to the Health Ministry.There is a natural carryover into the ability to get a job. In the private sector, for example, the proportion of Arab civil servants rose from 5.7% in 2007 to 11.3% in 2017.”

Resolution 922 expired in December 2020.
And then it was extended:

The plan, initiated in 2015, allocated NIS 10 billion ($2.96 billion) to reduce widespread inequalities between Arab and Jewish communities in Israel. The extension will add another NIS 1.7 billion ($500 million) to the plan through the end of 2021.
This begins to address the problem of joblessness and self-esteem in the Arab communities, but the issue of crime remains. It is an issue that Mansour Abbas, head of the United Arab List (Ra’am) approached Netanyahu about.

And what about Lod?

In a 2018 blog post for Times of Israel, Alexander Shapiro -- formerly a researcher and activist in Lod and now a member of the Israeli NGO Shaharit -- writes about Lod and describes its demographics as being 70% Jewish and 30% Arab. 

The Jews are Sephardi and Ashkenazi, some nationalist and others progressive, from a range of ethnic backgrounds, that include Ethiopians, Russians (nearly half), Indians, Georgians, and Moroccans, among others.

The Arabs community consists of Christians, Muslims and Bedouins. Some of the Arabs are descendants of families that have lived there since before 1948.

Lod has a long history and when newer cities were built nearby, the wealthier families left, resulting in a negative effect on the society. Jews and Arabs share in the resultant social and economic problems of lack of funding, crime and corruption. After various attempts at dealing with the problems, there was enough improvement that companies such as Bank Leumi, Mizrahi Bank, and Migdal Insurance built offices there.

Then, ironically, came the gentrification with wealthier families moving in, which led to further socioeconomic problems. There are claims of favoritism for Jewish families and reports that authorities “issued plans for new industrial zones or roads that are built on areas occupied by long-established but illegally-built Arab homes, forcing the demolition of those houses.”

Sounds familiar?

Shapiro writes that Lod is

one of the few remaining places in Israel that could provide a model for effective Arab-Jewish shared society. It represents a microcosm of Israel as a whole, containing mirror images of the country’s diverse populations, history, struggles, and opportunities.

and concludes

It can provide a model for the Israeli society it mirrors to move forward. But if shared society fails in Lod, there may be few others places it can be born.

Which brings us to today and Harkov's point that if the apparent progress is so easy to reverse, was there really any progress at all?

Polls that indicate that Arab-Israelis increasingly identify as Israeli as opposed to Palestinian are encouraging, and increased and apparently effective funding for Arab education and training are a good sign as well.

It is not news that a major issue in Arab communities is crime.
Will addressing that on a scale similar to addressing education and training help?

Israel needs to find out.
And soon.

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