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A Reading into the Conditions of Arab Women in Israel

By Yoseph Ouda

Since the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948, Israel has exercised racist policies against minorities living within its borders. This naturally contravenes the democratic principles it claims to pursue and uphold as a way of life. Nevertheless, it continues to consider itself the only democratic state in the Middle East.

This self-portrait is wholly inaccurate, particularly given the detailed evidence of its somewhat characteristic discriminatory treatment of entire ethnic groups within its population. The Arab minority forms one such group in Israel.

Following the outbreak of war in 1948, countless Palestinians were expelled from their homes and lands. Out of the almost a million Palestinians that had inhabited the land prior to its occupation that year, only 150,000 remained by the end. The extensive war time expulsion of the indigenous population severely limited Arab presence in the new state, particularly in cities. It can be deduced that the Arabs who did remain on their land were residents of villages in which life became characterized by weak social, educational, economic and even political ties.

This may be explained by the fact that from 1948 until 1966, the Arab minority lived under military rule which succeeded in isolating them from any economic, social or political activity. Yet despite the harshness of the period and the isolation they faced, the new state failed in its attempts to push these Arabs to leave their lands or to seek refuge in neighboring Arab states as others had done. To the contrary, it helped to strengthen their resolve and determination to hold fast to their land, and in 1967 they began working toward creating a separate, independent identity of their own.
The frightening prospect for the Israeli government of Arabs within the state developing an identity apart from Israeli interests forced them to pay attention. In this way, Arabs began to obtain some of their rights and in the mid-seventies, began demanding these rights through protests such as the demonstration that took place in March 1976 known as 'Land Day'. Nevertheless, to this day, they are yet to obtain all their rights or to achieve equality with Jewish citizens. Just as with Arab men, Arab women suffer greatly from these racist policies inaugurated at the birth of the state, and which persist into the present.

The extent of this discrimination is made clear through the reports published by non-governmental organizations in Israel as well as other research centers that focus on Israel's implementation of UN Charters on discrimination. Despite Israel having ratified the 1991 UN convention that calls for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women – that they be given their full rights and have absolute equality with men in accordance with the principles of equality and human dignity – the situation inside the state is very different from other countries. This is highlighted by the presence of a wide gap in the status of Jewish and Palestinian women in all fields within Israel

Perhaps the main reason for such a gap lies in the absence of any laws; a constitution that clearly stipulates the rights of Palestinian citizens in Israel. This of course stands in the way of giving Arabic women their rights like Jewish women.

Although Palestinian citizens in Israel make up 20% of the population, according to figures from 2003, they only make up 5.5% of the workforce in state service. In 2003, the proportion of Palestinian women working in state services fell from 2% to 1.7% and in 2004, only 1.3% were members of boards in government companies. As such, official figures prove how slight Arab women's participation in the Israeli workforce is compared to that of Jewish women and indicate deep differences between the two in various fields.

As an example, the percentages of Arab women working within education exceeds that of Jewish women [38% for Arab women compared to 19% for Jewish women]. However, these figures are contrary to those for the financial and business services where it is 7% for Arab women compared to 17% for Jewish women.

The reasons for this are twofold; Arab women in Israel face major challenges as members of a minority group on the one hand, and on the other hand, they face the challenge of being women in a traditional Arab society. These factors of course allow employers to discriminate in their selection procedures as well as to impose lower wages and poor working conditions on women – conditions lower than the standards set for the state in international human rights law.

Discrimination between Arab and Jewish women in the workplace is most clearly demonstrated in the area of government services where women make up 97.3% of the workforce, 82% of which work in the Ministry of Health. Yet no Arab women work in the following ministries: science, state, homeland security, transportation, infrastructure, construction and housing and tourism and media. Only one Arab woman works in the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and one in the Ministry of the Environment, while two work in the Ministry of Industry and Trade.

With regards to women working within the judiciary, the 2003 statistics indicate that women constituted 40.9% of the workforce – 198 Jewish women [80.2%] and only 6 Arab women [2.4%]. Within the arena of education, there is a big difference between the education of Arab women and their Israeli counterparts. For example, according to figures from 2003, illiteracy among Arab women is at 14.7%, while that percentage does not exceed 4.5% among Jewish women. With regards to higher education, it is notable that percentages for Arab women are lower than for other population groups, for example, only 7.1% of Arab women received 16 years of education or more, while 19% of Jewish women received the same length of study.

Within the arena of health, the average life expectancy of an Arab woman is four years less than that of a Jewish woman due to a lack of the formers access to appropriate diagnostic tests related to women's health issues. According to a poll conducted by the European Union with the assistance of the Israeli Ministry of Health, 31% of Arab Palestinian women in Israel have undergone an examination to detect breast cancer at least once, compared to 49.5% of Jewish women. The failure of the government in terms of health provision is underscored by the situation that existed in Arab villages unrecognized by Israel before 2001. Only after a lawsuit was filed by those villages at the High Court of Justice were six clinics for mothers and children's health opened, with a doctor and a nurse in each.

Finally, it can be concluded on the basis of these statistics that Israel discriminates between its citizens based on their ethnicity, and thus discriminates between Arab and Jewish women. The Israeli government's relationship to its Arab citizens is that of an occupying power to the occupied, especially given that it considers their feelings and emotions to be different from those of its Jewish citizens.

Large sectors within Israel call on the government not to support Arab development. This view was notably propagated by Moshe Arens – a leader of the Likud party and a former Minister of War – who stressed that Arab integration into Israeli society, would mean them having to show a sense of affinity with the Jewish identity of the state as well as a sense of the importance of the Jewish experience under Nazi persecution.

SOURCE: Sawt Alhaq, 15/2/2010

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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