Israel’s Declaration of Independence (1948) states that Israel’s priority is to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture…”
A national 2008 study, conducted in both Hebrew and Arabic, found that:
- 77% of Arab citizens would rather live in Israel than in any other country in the world.
- 68% of Jewish citizens support teaching conversational Arabic in Jewish schools to help bring Arab and Jewish citizens together.
- A great majority of both Jewish citizens (73%) and Arab citizens (94%) want Israel to be a society in which Arab and Jewish citizens have mutual respect and equal opportunities.
- Arab citizens and Jewish citizens both underestimate their communities’ liking of the “other.”
Conclusion: It appears that Arab and Israeli citizens coexist more peacefully than outsiders often assume.
- Arabs in Israel have equal rights under the law.
- Arabs in Israel can vote for whomever they want – including Arab women. In most Arab countries, women do not have the right to vote.
- Arabs in Israel can worship freely – or reject religion, if they so wish (unlike in many Arab countries, where Islam is forced upon all citizens.)
- Arabs in Israel have the freedom of speech (unlike in most Arab countries.) They have their own newspapers, and they have the right to peacefully protest.
- Arabs in Israel are entitled to the full same state education as all other Israelis.
- Arabs are members of the Israeli parliament and ministers in the government. Over 1/10th of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, is Arab. There is even a mosque in the Knesset building for those who are Muslim.
Conclusion: As many Arab-Israeli journalists state, Arab citizens have far more freedom in Israel than they do in Arab countries.
Palestinian “permanent residents” (non-citizens):
Palestinians are offered Israeli citizenship, but most reject it.
- At the time of Israel’s founding in 1948, all Palestinian “refugees” were offered Israeli citizenship. However, most rejected this offer, as they did not want to identify themselves with the Jewish state. Thus, they identify as “refugees” by choice.
- As of today, the Palestinians of the West Bank (East Jerusalem) are still offered Israeli citizenship. Most still reject this offer, viewing it as an act of disloyalty to the Palestinian government.
- Nonetheless, the number of Palestinians who accept Israeli citizenship has risen dramatically in recent years.
- Today, most Israeli Arabs – about 20% of Israeli citizens – identify as “Palestinian” by ethnicity.
- The blue “identification cards” that Palestinian citizens carry are merely to prove that they are permanent residents. They are not “racial identification cards” as anti-Israel activists like to claim.
Palestinians’ rights as “permanent residents” of Israel:
- To live, work, and travel freely through Israel without the necessity of special permits
- To vote in local elections
- To purchase property in Israel
- To receive welfare payments from the Israeli government
- Eligibility for national health insurance
Disadvantages of permanent residency (vs. citizenship)
- After leaving Israel and living abroad for seven years, permanent residents may lose their official residency status in Israel. (Citizens, on the other hand, have an automatic right-of-return.)
- Spouses of permanent residents must apply for residency status; it is not automatically granted to them.
- The same is true for the children of permanent residents; parents must apply for their children to have official residency status.
- Cannot vote in national elections
Comparison with other Arab countries:
- In neighboring Arab countries, Palestinians face severe racism. For example, according to the Jordan Times newspaper:
- In Lebanon, under the Lebanese labor law that governs foreigners, Palestinians are denied 74 forms of employment.
- In Lebanon, Palestinians face tight exit and entry requirements.
- In Lebanon, Palestinians are not allowed citizenship.
- In Lebanon, Palestinians are confined to 12 camps with no medical, social or educational services from the government and are barred in some of those camps from building or even repairing homes.
Conclusions: Palestinians choose not to be Israeli citizens. Meanwhile, although neighboring Arab nations decry Israel for unequal treatment of Palestinians, those nations do not welcome Palestinians either; they would rather keep Israel as their scapegoat.
Israel today is one of the world’s most progressive countries in terms of equality for sexual minorities. Indeed, those in the LGBT community enjoy more rights in Israel than they sdo in America. By contrast, homosexuality is illegal in nearly all other Middle-Eastern countries, where it is often punishable by flogging, hanging, or stoning to death.
- Israel was the first country in Asia where homosexuals were protected by anti-discrimination laws.
- Openly gay soldiers serve without hindrance in all branches of the military. Discrimination against gay and lesbian soldiers in recruitment, placement and promotion is prohibited in Israel.
- Israeli law recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. It is the only country in the Middle East and all of Asia to do so.
- While gay marriage is not technically legal in Israel, this is because there are no “civil marriages” (legal marriages) in Israel; all marriages are performed by religious authorities. Currently, no Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or Druze religious courts in Israel will perform marriage ceremonies between homosexual couples.
- However, like unmarried opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples in Israel can access nearly all of the rights of marriage in the form of unregistered cohabitation status (akin to common-law marriage).
- Thus, as common-law spouses, same-sex couples are recognized as legal units for tax, real estate, and financial purposes.
- Spousal benefits for insurance and pension are extended to partners of same-sex couples.
- Gays and lesbians in Israel are legally allowed to adopt each other’s children.
- The majority of Israelis support gay marriage (60% of Israelis support it, vs. 40% of Americans.)
- The city of Tel Aviv recognizes unmarried couples, including gays and lesbians, as family units and grants them discounts for municipal services, day care, sports facilities, and city-sponsored activities.
- Israel has an active gay community, with well-attended annual gay pride festivals held in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem since 1998.
- Pride events are also held regularly in Haifa, Beer Sheva, Eilat and Rosh Pina.
- In 2009, Tel Aviv, often called the “San Francisco of the Middle East,” held its first International Gay and Lesbian Tourism Association (IGLTA) convention. The city aims to increase gay tourism in Israel.
- LGBT Palestinians often relocate to Israel proper, often fleeing harsh intolerance that includes disownment, physical abuse, and even death.
- In 2003, a support group for Palestinian lesbians, Aswat, was founded in Haifa, Israel.
Women in Israel have been guaranteed gender equality since the establishment of the state in 1948. Even when compared with other Western countries, Israel has been ahead of its time in terms of gender equality.
- In 1969, Israel elected Golda Meir, a woman, as its fourth prime minister. Israel was the third country in the world to be led by a female head of government.
- Women often rise to the highest political positions in Israel. In May 2006, the Knesset elected Dalia Itzik as their first female speaker of the Knesset. In 2006, Supreme Court Justice Dorit Beinish was sworn in as President of the Supreme Court.
- The Knesset (Israeli parliament) is very active in working to protect the rights of women, and it established “The Committee on the Status of Women” to address women’s issues. This committee brings together Knesset members from different parties to work together to prevent discrimination, combat violence against women, and promote equality in politics, lifecycle events and education.
- Israeli women have risen to the highest levels of both commerce and academia. 57 percent of all Israeli academic degrees are awarded to women, and women have risen to the level of CEO in many Israeli Fortune 500 companies.
- Arab-Israeli women hold the same opportunities; they too have held high-level political positions, including serving in the Knesset.
- By contrast, in most Arab countries, women possess few rights and are still treated as property. Under Shari’a, or Islamic law – which governs most Arab nations – women still cannot travel without a male chaperone, choose their own husbands, or own property. There are no laws protecting women from domestic abuse. When women are raped, it is typically the woman who is punished, rather than the rapist. So-called “honor killings” are common, in which a woman can be stoned for adultery (or even as punishment for being raped.)
Approximately one-quarter (24%) of Israel’s population is not Jewish, and everyone in Israel enjoys full freedom of religion. Among the religions observed in Israel are Christianity, Islam, Druze, Baha’i, Buddhism, and Hinduism.
- Christians elsewhere in the Middle-East frequently undergo violent persecution – even in Turkey, an officially secular country. In Israel, they have the unique freedom to practice their religion openly.
- Due to historic persecution in the Middle-East, there are relatively few Christians in Israel; they compose 2% of the nation’s population.
- However, the Christian population of Israel is currently 4.2 times larger than it was at the time of Israel’s founding.
- Most (81%) are Arab Christians. Most also work as caretakers of Christian holy sites, such as those in Nazareth (where 20% of Israel’s Christian population lives) and Jerusalem (10%.)
- The largest Christian denomination represented in Israel is the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, in addition to a vibrant Protestant community.
- Until 1967, Jordan controlled East Jerusalem. During this time, the Jordanian government only allowed a limited number of Christians to visit their holy sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and only on Christmas and Easter.
- Once East Jerusalem became part of Israel in 1967, Israel granted Christians the right to access their holy sites freely, at any time of the year.
- The Druze are a religious community living only in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel. Their culture is Arab, their language is Arabic, and their religious is an offshoot of Islam
- However, the Druze are known as loyal and patriotic Israeli citizens. They regularly serve in the army, and members of the Druze community have attained high-level positions in the political, public and military spheres.
- The Druze community Israel is officially recognized as a separate religious entity with its own courts (with jurisdiction in matters of personal status – marriage, divorce, maintenance and adoption) and spiritual leadership.
- The Baha’i are a relatively new religion, emerging in 19th century Persia (Iran.)
- Baha’i is a monotheistic, pacifist faith. The Baha’i believe strongly in the equality of women in society, the importance of science and education, and the elimination of prejudice worldwide.
- Since the Baha’i faith was established, Iran has violently persecuted Baha’i citizens and destroyed their holy sites.
- Israel is the only country in the Middle-East that allows Baha’i to practice their religion freely.
- The Baha’i faith has been associated with the land of Israel since 1868 – the year the faith’s founder was exiled and imprisoned there by Muslim authorities in Iran.
- Today, the Baha’i World Centre is located in Israel. The two most important holy sites to the Baha’i are located in the northern Israeli cities of Haifa and Acre. Israel’s Baha’i community serve as the caretakers of these sites.
- For this reason, Baha’i pilgrims journey to Israel from all over the world.
New York Times: “Both Israeli and Palestinian officials report economic growth for the occupied areas of 4 to 5 percent and a drop in the unemployment rate of at least three percentage points. The Israelis report that in 2008, wages here are up more than 20 percent and trade by 35 percent. The improved climate has nearly doubled the number of tourists in Bethlehem and increased them by half in Jericho.”1
Unemployment has dropped from 50% in 2003 to 16% in 2009.2
Info on West Bank from the CIA Factbook (except for the sentence footnoted)
- Palestinian Authority is government body ruling the West Bank, under the Fatah Party with Mahmoud Abbas as President and Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister. There is tension between Fatah and the PA government in Gaza, led by Hamas, since the Hamas members do not recognize Fayyad’s legitimacy3
- Some economic growth in 2009 due to improved security, $3 billion in foreign donations, Palestinian Authority implementing economic reforms, Israeli government easing access restrictions
- Standard of living is still below pre-second intifada levels. This downturn has been caused by Israel’s access regulations.
- Life expectancy of 74.5 years.
- 83% Palestinian Arabs and others, 17% Jewish.
- 75% Muslim. 8% Christian
- 92% literacy rate.
- Approximate population 2,461,000
Fence and Checkpoints
Number of terrorist attacks has declined by 90% since the security fence began to be built.4
BBC 2005: “Palestinian land is confiscated to build the barrier; hundreds of Palestinian farmers and traders are cut off from their land and means of economic survival. Most significantly, it creates “facts on the ground” and imposes unilateral solutions which preclude negotiated agreements in the future.
The impact of the plan has been felt acutely in Qalqilya, once known as the West Bank’s “fruit basket”, which lies within a tight loop in the wall. It is cut off on three sides – from the farms which supply its markets and the region’s second-largest water sources. Access to the 40,000-inhabitant town passes through a single Israeli checkpoint.”5
Smaller number of building permits issued in areas close to settlements or the fence, causing young families to often be forced to build houses without them at risk of having their houses destroyed by the IDF6
40% increase in checkpoints in 2006, from 376 to 528.7
607 in May 2008. However, number of “flying” checkpoints, which are temporary checkpoints put up at random times in random places, has decreased significantly8
Palestinians have specially colored license plates that cause them to be stopped at checkpoints. Checkpoints hinder business by increasing transportation costs. Many Palestinians see checkpoints as “collective punishment” that ordinary people don’t deserve.9
Village of Niliin protested the wall, and military put a temporary “closure” around the village in response (people cannot get in or out of the village). Protests have grown relatively violent, injuring both soldiers and protestors.10
Jerusalem post articleà some possibility that the Palestinian Authority is funding the protests of the wall in places such as Biliin and Naalin11
1) http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/24/world/middleeast/24bethlehem.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all (NYT article Dec. 23 2008)
Results of Israeli elections February 2009
-Main issue of election was security and ability to ensure safety from rocket firings and general violence.
-Likud made largest gains under Bibi
Jan 13 Hillary Clinton describes Obama’s position on Hamas versus Israel: “I think on Israel, you cannot negotiate with Hamas until it renounces violence, recognizes Israel and agrees to abide by past agreements.
Jan 22 Italy’s eminent newspaper, Corriere della Sera, reports that Hamas forced people to stay in homes from which they shot at Israeli soldiers. A Hamas soldiers is described as shouting to fellow Gazans: “Cowards, the soldiers of the holy war will punish. And in any case all will die, like us. Attacking the Jewish Zionists we are all destined for paradise. Are you unhappy that we die together?”
Apr 1 Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu returns to power as prime minister
-Only country to not be affected by global economic crisis (GDP actually rose by 2% over last fiscal year)
-CNN Feature on this: attributed to the great amount of innovation and business enterprise that is coming out of Israeli creativity and ingenuity.
- Country is largely conservative fiscally following the great success of the reforms of Netanyahu after his tenure as Minister of Finance