Apart from the recurring, blatant denial of Israel’s military occupation, one of the most repeated assertions in the segment is that Palestinian citizens of Israel live better than Arabs in neighboring countries. Zionists love to talk about this (while purposely ignoring the rampant, often ethnically based inequalities that undermine those arguments). For example, there is the animated but inarticulate young man who says “I’m an Israeli Jew and I have Israeli Arab friends, in Israel, and they are perfectly comfortable… In Israel. I have them as Facebook friends.” Wait, you mean Israeli Palestinians are allowed to use Facebook?
If I were trying to design Zionist talking points (which mercifully I’m not!), I would certainly not go down this route. The relevant comparison group for any sub-population of citizens is not ethnically similar people in other countries. One does not decide that Jim Crow segregation in the US was an ethically appealing system of discrimination by comparing socio-economic outcomes of African-Americans to Nigerians or Liberians. If Jews lived in ghettos in two different countries, but one country’s ghettos were more sanitary and supported a higher standard of living than in another country, conditions in the latter do not justify conditions in the former. The appropriate comparison group must be the other citizens of that country. Palestinian Arabs should not be compared with Arabs in other countries; they should be compared to the dominant ethnic group in the country that demonstrates what privilege and resources can do for that specific population. This is not a difficult thing to grasp.
Are Palestinian citizens of Israel better off than Arabs in neighboring countries?
But putting this aside for a moment, is it even true that Palestinian Arabs are better off than other Arabs? In some ways, yes. In many ways, no. It is true, for example, that there is more protection for speech and media than in many highly repressive Arab countries. But Palestinians are massively underrepresented in political institutions relative to other Arab countries with parliaments or democratic local governments (Arab parties hold at present only 14 out of 120 seats in the Knesset despite comprising over 20% of the population). They hold fewer civil service jobs (only 6.1% of such jobs despite court rulings that this number must be increased). This discrimination extends to the private sector as well. Fewer Arab women in Israel work, due to discrimination, than even women in Saudi Arabia, that bastion of medievally strict gender segregation, and Oman. The labor force participate rate of Arab women in Israel is less than half what it is in Morocco or Mauritania.
Arab towns in Israel have worse public services than many other Arab counties. Only in 2010 did they get access to a public bus system for the first time, a change that Israel’s Transportation Ministry announced with great fanfare. And that is to say nothing of the so-called unrecognized Bedouin communities, where more than 80,000 Arab citizens of Israel receive absolutely no public services (no education, no health no water supply, no sanitation, no electricity, no trash service). One would have to search carefully for the most deprived groups in other Arab countries in order to find destitution and state-sanctioned public neglect on such an intense scale.
Comparing Palestinian Israelis to Jewish Israelis
Of course, all the outcomes just described coexist with extraordinary privilege and wealth in Israel, which is an OECD country. How do outcomes for the Palestinian subgroup compare to outcomes for Jews? I highlight just a few:
- Palestinian Israelis are live on just 7% of the land with high population densities due to de jure discrimination among land authorities in Israel.
- 55% of families below the poverty line in Israel are Palestinian Arab.
- Average Arab salaries are 30% lower than Jewish ones, according to the Central Bank of Israel.
- Average per-student allocation at Arab schools is 1/5 the Jewish average, according to Israel’s Follow-Up Committee for Arab Education.
- Despite poor health outcomes, Israel’s health ministry allocated Arab communities in 2002 less than 0.6% of its 277 million shekel) budget to develop healthcare facilities in Arab localities.
- Of the 55,000 people working in government companies, one percent are Arab.
- From 1952 to 1972, proportion of total government budget allocated to Arab sector ranged from 0.2 to 1.5%. Rose to 4% in 2008.
- Since 1948, approximately 600 new Jewish municipalities, but not one Arab one has ever been built.
These figures show that relative outcomes for Palestinian citizens of Israel, when compared both to other Arabs countries and to the appropriate comparison group, is one of systematic, institutionalized relative deprivation. As the US State Dept wrote in it’s recent report on human rights in Israel: “Principal human rights problems were institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against Arab citizens, [and] Palestinian residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”
No wonder Israel’s defenders try to distract attention away from their own state’s appalling conduct.