While the spread of the Initifada across the Green Line into the Arab Israeli areas was primarily a response to the violence in the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, the outburst of often uncontrolled anger that was witnessed also expressed a simmering feeling of discontent for the Arab Israelis’ own political and economic situation, said Dr. Kussai Hajyehia, a specialist in Middle East Studies at Beit Berl College in Israel.
A resident of Taibe, an Arab Israeli town in the center of Israel, Dr. Hajyehia has been conducting an in-depth study about the plight of Arab university graduates in the Israeli marketplace. He completed his graduate studies in Germany, did post-graduate work in Canada, and, in addition to his current teaching position, is doing further post graduate research at the University of Tel Aviv.
Dr. Hajyehia discussed the economic aspects of the recent violence with Albawaba-MEBG
ALBAWABA-MEBG: To what degree can the anger that has been demonstrated by Arab Israelis over the past few days be seen from an economic perspective?
DR. HAJYEHIA: Although we are citizens of the same country, it is possible to talk about a Jewish economy and an Arab economy, with the Arab economy definitely being the inferior of the two. And why is that? First of all, we are discriminated against in terms of the budget, with only 0.5 percent of government funding being allocated to serve the needs of almost 20 percent of the country’s population. Secondly, we are discriminated against when it comes to employment practices, and this is especially the case when it comes to university graduates.
ALBAWABA-MEBG: How do you explain what you refer to as discrimination in terms of employment practices?
DR. HAJYEHIA: There are a variety of reasons, but I’ll highlight three. First we are the victims of competition among the various Jewish sectors of the population. For example, when several years an extremely large number of immigrants moved here from the Soviet Union, there was a concerted effort to find them adequate places of work in the economy, and we were often the ones to be pushed out. Two, there is the unfortunate instance where our professionals are not hired—even though they are as well qualified—because they are Arab. And then there is the security aspect. Because the authorities consider us a potential security threat, companies which are aiming to get contracts from the army and similar bodies are afraid to hire us. As a result, through no fault of the individual involved, we are kept out of certain positions and professions.
ALBAWABA-MEBG: What are the implication of this situation in terms of the Arab Israelis’ basic economic situation?
DR. HAJYEHIA: Obviously the immediate implication is the higher levels of unemployment than you see elsewhere in the population. But we should also see things in their wider context. Because many young Arabs have difficulty in finding work in the general marketplace, they are forced to look for employment closer to home. Consider this, Arab graduates in the prestigious professions—such as medicine, computers and law—are almost all employed in the Arab sector, when jobs and opportunities are far more limited. And then for other members of our community, because we get so little in terms of budget, the type of economic development that is typical in Jewish areas—like industrial parks—is almost non-existent in our towns and villages. As a result, we are forced to travel far afield if we can find work, to places like Tel Aviv and Haifa, and the villages we grew up in serve merely as places to spend the night.
ALBAWABA-MEBG: You talk about the situation as being severe among Arab university graduates. Do they suffer from unemployment as badly as do sectors of the Arab Israeli population?
DR. HAJYEHIA: First consider the fact that so many of us are forced to study abroad, after we experienced such great difficulty in getting accepted to Israeli universities. Indeed, the universities here will not admit to discriminatory practices, but its worth noting that only 24 out of the country’s roughly 6,000 lecturers are Arab. Allow me to quote from my own research project. Currently, 12 percent of Arab Israeli university graduates are unemployed, and 64 percent are unemployed, but not in the fields in which they studied. That means that only 24 percent of Israeli Arab graduates are actually working in professions that they studied for.
ALBAWABA-MEBG: What do that the Israeli government do to remedy the situation?
DR. HAJYEHIA: The Intifada that took place of the past several days in the Arab Israeli areas represented a cry on the part of people seeking not only political attention, but also economic attention. Coexistence in Israel will be possibly only if there is full equality. The government would be wise if it followed the Canadian approach and adopted a multi-cultural model, thereby ensuring the political, cultural and economic needs of all its population group are properly met. One way of doing this will be investing the infrastructure of the Arab areas, and that must mean the economic infrastructure as well. Our communities have to develop economic opportunities close to home. We must not be completely dependent on the Jewish sector, where today we are discriminated against.
ALBAWABA-MEBG: Do you believe that the Barak government has it in its power to bring about the type of changes in attitude and policy that you are talking about?
DR. HAJYEHIA: Let me put it this way: In the previous election, the Arab population voted overwhelmingly for Barak because he promised it two things—swift and extensive progress in the peace process, and a real attempt to close the economic gap between Jews and Arabs. And what do we see? That he actually has not achieved much more than the government of Benjamin Netanyahu which preceded him. On the peace front he spoke a lot, but look where things stand today. And on the economic front, almost nothing has been done. Barak is going to have to do a lot more in order to convince anybody that he deserves our support.
ALBAWABA-MEBG: But given the current state of the Barak government, do you not believe that there has developed a situation, in which you can force him to make concessions, because the support of the Arab members of the Knesset may be one of the few things to keep him in power?
DR. HAJYEHIA: Given the bloodshed of the past several days, it seems far-fetched at present to imagine any Arab members of Knesset sitting in a Barak-led coalition. But in general I’d say this. At present we have about 10 Arab members of the Israeli parliament, but we have the potential to put 17 of our people in the Knesset, which would provide us with a representation that is similar to that of the Likud or Shas. I would like to see us take an example from [the ultra-orthodox Jewish] Shas, which essentially has managed to get votes from almost an entire section of the population, and as such further its own political, social and economic agenda. To do that, the various Arab parties should put their differences aside and run as one list. Then we’ll have the power to bring about those changes that are so important.
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