PEOPLE: Minority Communities


Old City of Jerusalem: Via Dolorosa (Way of the Cross) and the souq (market) in the Muslim Quarter (Photo: Ministry of Tourism)



The Druze, some 122,000 Arabic-speakers living in 22 villages in northern Israel, constitute a separate cultural, social, and religious community. While the Druze religion is not accessible to outsiders, one known aspect of its philosophy is the concept of taqiyya, which calls for complete loyalty by its adherents to the government of the country in which they reside.


 PEOPLE: Minority Communities


Dרuze elders in the Galilee village of Beit Jann 
(Photo: Ministry of Tourism)

The Circassians, comprising some 4,000 people concentrated in two northern villages, are Sunni Muslims, although they share neither the Arab origin nor the cultural background of the larger Islamic community. While maintaining a distinct ethnic identity, they participate in Israel’s economic and national affairs without assimilating either into Jewish society or into the Muslim community.


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.

 PEOPLE: Minority Communities


Arab community center
(Courtesy of the Jerusalem Foundation / M. Lauber)


Arab citizens, who constitute more than one-sixth of Israel’s population, exist on the margins of the conflicting worlds of Jews and Palestinians. However, while remaining a segment of the Arab people in culture and identity and disputing Israel’s identification as a Jewish state, they see their future tied to Israel. In the process, they have adopted Hebrew as a second language and Israeli culture as an extra layer in their lives. At the same time, they strive to attain a higher degree of participation in national life, greater integration into the economy and more benefits for their own towns and villages.

Development of inter-group relations between Israel’s Arabs and Jews has been hindered by deeply-rooted differences in religion, values, and political beliefs. However, though coexisting as two self-segregated communities, over the years they have come to accept each other, acknowledging the uniqueness and aspirations of each community.

Pluralism and Segregation: As a multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-religious, and multi-lingual society, Israel has a high level of informal segregation patterns. While groups are not separated by official policy, a number of different sectors within the society are somewhat segregated and maintain their strong cultural, religious, ideological, and/or ethnic identity.

However, despite a fairly high degree of social cleavage, some economic disparities and an often overheated political life, the society is relatively balanced and stable. The low level of social conflict between the different groups, notwithstanding an inherent potential for social unrest, can be attributed to the country’s judicial and political systems, which represent strict legal and civic equality.

Thus, Israel is not a meltingpot society, but rather more of a mosaic made up of different population groups coexisting in the framework of a democratic state.

 PEOPLE: Minority Communities
At the Arab-Jewish kindergarten, The Jerusalem YMCA
(Courtesy of the Jerusalem Foundation / S. Sabella)