Israel: the Arab'demographische zeitbombe' doch nur ein mythos?

Karmiel – the mayor would rather not see Arabs here. Photo: Martin Hoffmann

Uncertain attitude toward the Palestinian state on the part of the Arab population, the majority of whom do not want to give up their Israeli citizenship

In Israel’s colorful population mosaic, local elections are often about more than just city services. They also reflect the country’s identity conflicts and the tense relationship between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority.

Auch die Kommunalwahlen Ende Oktober waren nicht frei von Politikern, die den Geist nationalistischer Ressentiments aus der Flasche lieben. The Likud candidate in the northern Israeli city of Karmiel tried to score points with the voters by evoking the threat of a growing influx of Arabs from the surrounding countryside into the city.

Currently, Arabs make up only about 10% of Karmiel’s population. New immigrants, mainly from the former Soviet Union, make up the bulk of the population. Nevertheless, Likud candidate Koron Neumark portrayed the city’s Jewish character as existentially threatened:

If more Arabs come, Jews will leave, and one day we will have an Arab mayor. Karmiel fights for its survival as a Jewish and Zionist town in 2013.

The mayor of Nazareth, Illit, took a similarly clear position against the influx of Arabs from Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel, down the valley. Housing in Nazareth Illit is prohibitively cheap, and the community experienced a massive influx of new immigrants in the 1990s, much like Karmiel. As in many Israeli provincial towns, it is common to hear Russian spoken on the streets.

In recent years, several thousand Arabs have also moved from the narrow Nazareth, which has grown without a development plan and on little land, to the more spacious hilltop community. But that’s all there is to it, if Mayor Shimon Gapso has his way: during his term in office, he rejected not only the building of a mosque, but also the erection of Christmas trees or the establishment of an Arabic-language school.

In Karmiel, the Likud campaign spread the rumor of a planned mosque construction at the highest point of the city during the election campaign. When the Arab residents were questioned, it turned out that none of them knew about the said mosque plan.

"The demographic threat in Galilaa"

However, the harsh campaigning of right-wing politicians against Arab immigration into Jewish-majority communities is no more than a reflection of a much older phenomenon: the proportion of Arabs in the country has been a political ie since the founding of the State of Israel. The buzzword "Demographic threat" is for many Israelis synonymous with the Arab population in Israel.

At present, the Arab population of Israel accounts for about one-fifth of the total population of 8 million. Their share of the population in the greater Tel Aviv area and in the south of the country is rather low, while in Jerusalem and in the north it is significantly higher. In Galilaa, the northernmost district in which Karmiel and Nazareth Illit are located, they account for 700% of the total population.000 people make up the majority of the 1.3 million inhabitants.

The hilly north of the country with its olive groves and numerous Arab villages was a problem case from the perspective of demographic strategists after the establishment of the State of Israel.

In the 1950s, for example, Jewish towns were deliberately built in regions with a predominantly Arab population. With the so-called "Developing cities" Two challenges had to be overcome: First, the accommodation of Jews who had fled from Arab countries, which built up into an exodus in the early years after the founding of the state. And on the other hand, the control of the country through the targeted settlement of new Jewish immigrants in peripheral regions and predominantly Arab-populated parts of the country.

The differences between Jewish and Arab localities

Part of the land for development towns like Karmiel or Nazareth Illit was expropriated from neighboring Arab villages. This poses problems for the inhabitants of Arab villages to this day: The common land is often so small that the natural growth of the villages is limited. New construction is often implemented within the towns, which further densifies the localities. Buildings located on the outskirts of the village, outside the municipal land, are officially illegal and therefore in danger of being demolished.

The contrasting townscapes of the dense Arab villages, which have grown up without a development plan, and the spacious development towns and kibbutzim with their flat areas immediately catch the eye.

Israel: the Arab'demographische zeitbombe' doch nur ein mythos?

Wadi Nisnas – a predominantly Arab neighborhood. Photo: Martin Hoffmann

The differences between Jewish and Arab communities are not only obvious, but also reflect a clear socio-economic divide: 36 of the 40 poorest communities in Israel are Arab.

There are few job opportunities around the Arab villages, no business parks to attract companies, and hardly any secondary schools. Even in the large Arab town of Nazareth, with its 80 villages.000 inhabitants, there is hardly any further educational institution so far. Planning for Israel’s first Arabic-language university in Nazareth is only now getting underway.

Arabs flee to the provincial Jewish towns

For example, not only is the rate of university graduation among Arab Israelis significantly lower than that of their Jewish fellow citizens, but so is the average Arab income. The poverty rate among Israeli Arabs is over 50%. Thus, Israeli Arabs, together with the new immigrants from Ethiopia and a part of the new arrivals from the former Soviet Union, are at the lower end of the socio-economic scale.

But investments in infrastructure, education and job opportunities in the Arab localities have not been a priority for any Israeli government (this is spectacular). For some right-wing politicians, a demand by the Arab population simply contradicts the country’s reason for being a Jewish state.

The lack of building facilities, a poor job market and few educational institutions in the Arab localities are major drivers that are causing a growing number of Arabs to move to the nearby majority Jewish cities. If the landlords rent or sell apartments to Arabs, they can also escape the confinement and social control of their home villages.

Jewish Israelis prefer to avoid passing through Arab localities

The social climate between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority is not as tense in all mixed cities as it is in Karmiel or Nazareth Illit: In traditionally left-wing Haifa, even right-wing local politicians refrained from hostility toward the Arab minority during the election campaign. On the bustling Herzl Street in the mixed district of Hadar, Arab bakeries line up with Russian supermarkets; at Haifa University, more than half of the students are Arabs.

But the relatively peaceful coexistence in Haifa trades off the more dominant part of reality: the majority of the Jewish and Arab populations still live largely segregated from each other, in fully Jewish or fully Arab localities.

In addition to the capital Jerusalem, in the eastern part of which approximately 200.000 Arabs, there are only a few mixed cities such as Haifa or Akko and a handful of small towns with a small Arab population.

In addition to this spatial distance between the Jewish and Arab populations, there is a tendency toward segregation in the minds, which was probably exacerbated by the second Intifada in 2000-2005.

According to a survey conducted in 2007 by the Jewish-Arab Center at the University of Haifa, two-thirds of Jewish respondents avoid driving through Arab towns.

Fear of the birth rate

The complicity of Arab Israelis in attacks on civilians during the Intifada years helped to reinforce the long-held image of the Arab minority as potentially dangerous "fifth column" of the hostile neighboring Arab countries.

From the founding of the state until 1966, Arab localities were considered a security problem and were under martial law. Full legal equality did not come until after 1966.

In the years that followed, however, the image of the Arab population as an "Demographic time bomb" for the Jewish state in circulation. Since the birth rate of the Arab minority was far higher than that of the Jewish population until the 1990s, some demoscopists predicted that Arabs would make up the majority of Israel’s population by the turn of the millennium.

Some right-wing politicians still use this fear scenario today, for example, to prevent Arabs from moving into the city, as in Karmiel or Nazareth Illit.

Demographic myth? Changing trends in population development

However, recent statistical surveys suggest a different trend. The percentage of the Jewish population in Israel will remain stable between 75 and 80% of the total population.

The main reasons for this are twofold: the mass immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union, which built up to a wave of immigration of one million people by the end of the 2000s, and the considerable drop in the Arab birth rate. As in almost all countries of the Muslim world, the birth rate has declined significantly in the last two decades. In the meantime, it is only slightly higher than the birth rate of Jewish Israelis, which in turn has increased.

These changing trends in population development have led some Israeli scholars to dismiss the thesis of changing trends in population development due to Arab Israelis, which has long been considered a fact "Myth" designate.

Although a quarter of newborns in Israel are currently the children of Muslim parents, the population group with the highest birth rate in Israel is no longer Muslim Arabs, but ultra-Orthodox Jews. Among Arab Christians and Druze, who together make up approximately 300.000 people, the birth rate is even lower than that of Jewish Israelis.

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