The rights of Israel’s Arab citizens:
Facts which refute the ‘apartheid’ myth

Published: 18 October 2008
Briefing Number 222

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Summary:this Briefing concisely highlights the democratic rights and opportunities of Israel 's Arab citizens, not just on paper but as a living reality. And we highlight how Israeli Arabs describe their experience, in their own words…. These facts refute the claim that Israel is an ‘apartheid state'.

Israel 's Arab citizens enjoy democratic rights and opportunities

•  Israel 's Declaration of Independence in 1948 proclaimed its obligation to protect the rights of Arabs and other non-Jews living in the country

•  Today, Israel 's Arabs constitute around 20% of the citizens of the country

•  They have the vote, and are represented in Israel 's parliament

•  Their rights don't exist just in theory: there are many freely operating political and civil rights groups in Israel promoting Israeli Arabs' agenda

•  The Arabs enjoy the benefits of Israel 's healthcare and higher education systems. Arabic is an official language of Israel and Arabs are increasingly involved in Israeli culture, government, media and sport

•  Freedom of worship is protected in Israel : mosques in Israel do not require guards (of the sort needed in front of Jewish synagogues the world over)

•  Meanwhile, the Israeli Foreign Ministry is promoting Quranet, a website designed to highlight a balanced understanding of the ethical values of the Quran.

•  None of this marks the behaviour of an anti-Arab or ‘apartheid' state

•  Palestinian narratives are expressed through Israeli media, cinema and literature, in mainstream Israeli newspapers (eg Haaretz or The Jerusalem Post), and in schools and universities.

•  The pro-Palestinian views expressed in theatre in Tel-Aviv and Haifa are more radical and outspoken than the views to be found in most European capitals, or at the Edinburgh theatre festival

•  Many Israeli Arabs do experience poverty. Most Israelis don't deny this. But in conditions of peaceful coexistence, this situation would improve. And poverty afflicts Israeli Jews too

Israel 's Arabs repeatedly express a connection with Israel

•  Harvard's Kennedy School of Government survey in 2008 found that, despite the social challenges they face, 77% of Israel 's Arabs would rather live in Israel than in any other country in the world (for further detail see Beyond Images Briefing 219)

•  The leader of Shuafat, an Arab neighbourhood of Jerusalem , publicly stated in October 2007 that 50,000 Arab residents would move to Israel ‘within minutes' if they felt that they'd be excluded from Israel under a permanent border arrangement agreed between Israel and the Palestinians (for more see Beyond Images Briefing 209). Hardly a sign of Israel being an apartheid state.

•  The Arab mayor of Israel's largest Israeli Arab town, Umm el-Fahm, who is also the chairman of Israel's Islamic movement, stated publicly in 2004 that: ‘despite the discrimination and injustice faced by Israel's Arabs, the democracy and justice in Israel is better than the democracy and justice in Arab and Muslim countries' (for many more quotes along similar lines from the residents of Umm el-Fahm see Beyond Images Briefing 82)

Israeli and Palestinian Arabs assert their rights through the Israeli courts

•  Repeatedly, Israeli Arabs have defeated the Israeli authorities in court cases including on security issues – hardly a sign of an apartheid state (see for example Beyond Images Briefings 109, 131, 138 and 156)

There are many Arab-Jewish coexistence projects, breaking stereotypes

•  Despite setbacks (such as the Yom Kippur 2008 communal tension in Acre in Northern Israel ) many Jewish-Arab coexistence projects are underway in areas such as music, road safety, environmental protection, teenage counselling, medical research and sport

•  The website of the Israel Project - – describes these coexistence projects in detail. They shatter stereotypes about the unbridgeable divide between peoples. See the Israel Project /backgrounders / coexistence between Arabs and Jews in Israel

Israelis and Jews face pariah status and anti-semitic stereotyping in many parts of the Arab and Muslim world

•  Israelis and Jews face pariah status in many parts of the Arab and Muslim world, and anti-semitic stereotyping, most notoriously in cartoons and other media

•  Many of the critics of Israel who claim it is an ‘apartheid state' are silent in the face of this onslaught on the basic human rights and freedoms of the Jewish people

Related Beyond Images resources

See the various Briefings under All Beyond Images Briefings / Arab rights in Israel , including Briefings 53, 109 and 131