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The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will 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; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions...

In many ways, what is needed today is a return to these foundational values. The reality is that a large non-Jewish minority — roughly 25 percent of the total population — lives in Israel. The majority are indigenous Arabs. Though most are Muslim, some are Christian or Druze. A small community of Circassians also has lived in Israel since the late 19th century. The rest of Israel’s non-Jewish minorities include significant numbers of immigrants from the traditionally Christian countries of Eastern Europe and the Philippines.

Israeli Arabs have a four-part identity:

  1. They are Arab by language and culture. They speak Arabic in their homes and communities and study Arabic language, literature and history in school. (Most Israeli Arabs attend Arab-speaking schools.)
  2. Most Israeli Arabs are Christian, Druze or Muslim. Very few are secular. Even when they are largely secular, they still identify with and are connected to Christian, Druze or Muslim Arab communities.
  3. Many, but not all, are Palestinian and have relatives in the West Bank, Gaza or Jordan. Though they live in Israel, they sometimes identify with the goals and aspirations of the Palestinian people. A minority of Israeli Arabs are Bedouin.
  4. They are Israeli citizens. They carry Israeli identity cards and passports. They enjoy all the privileges of participating in Israel’s democracy, e.g., the rights to vote, to protest peacefully, to petition the courts, etc. They enjoy social security benefits and guaranteed access to public education and universal health care. They speak and read Hebrew and actively participate in and follow Israeli cultural and sporting events.

Most Israeli Arabs participate in the country’s political process and vote in large numbers. They often influence national politics in major ways. For example, they helped elect Ehud Barak in 1999 and helped unseat him two years later. They vote in especially large numbers in municipal elections. Arab politicians from several major Arab political parties largely control local governments in predominantly Arab towns and villages.

Israeli Arab citizens are completely free to practice their religion as they see fit, so long as it does not incite violence. The Israeli Ministry of Interior’s Division for Religious Communities offers leadership and other assistance to Christian, Druze and Muslim communities throughout the country.

Unfortunately, despite the many rights they enjoy, Israeli Arabs experience considerable discrimination.

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Tags: Israel Cultural Identity Jews Arabs Zionism