Arab migrations in and out of the country fluctuated in response to prevailing economic conditions. Late in the 19th century, when Jewish immigration stimulated economic growth, many Arabs were attracted to the area by its employment opportunities, higher wages, and better living conditions.
The majority of Israel's Arab population lives in self-contained towns and villages in Galilee, including the city of Nazareth, the central area between Hadera and Petah Tikva, the Negev, and in mixed urban centers such as Jerusalem, Akko (Acre), Haifa, Lod, Ramle, and Yafo (Jaffa).
Israel's Arab community constitutes mainly a working-class sector in a middle-class society, a politically peripheral group in a highly centralized state and an Arabicspeaking minority in a Hebrew-speaking majority. Essentially non-assimilating, the community's distinct identity is facilitated through the use of Arabic, Israel's second official language; a separate Arab/Druze school system; Arabic mass media, literature, and theater; and maintenance of independent Muslim, Druze, and Christian denominational courts which adjudicate matters of personal status.
While customs of the past are still part of daily life, a gradual weakening of tribal and patriarchal authority, the effects of compulsory education and participation in Israel's democratic process are rapidly affecting traditional outlooks and lifestyles. Concurrently the status of Israeli Arab women has been significantly liberalized by legislation stipulating equal rights for women and prohibition of polygamy and child marriage.
The political involvement of the Arab sector is manifested in national and municipal elections. Arab citizens run the political and administrative affairs of their own municipalities and represent Arab interests through their elected representatives in the Knesset (Israel's parliament), who can operate in the political arena to promote the status of minority groups and their share of national benefits.
Since Israel's establishment (1948), Arab citizens have been exempted from compulsory service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) out of consideration for their family, religious, and cultural affiliations with the Arab world (which has subjected Israel to frequent attacks), as well as concern over possible dual loyalties. At the same time, volunteer military service is encouraged, with some choosing this option every year. Since 1957, at the request of their community leaders, IDF service has been mandatory for Druze and Circassian men, while the number of Bedouin joining the career army voluntarily increases steadily.
Arab community center
(Courtesy of the Jerusalem Foundation / M. Lauber)