Dark times bring people together, and in light of the suspected arson attacks across Israel, bringing Jews and Arabs together is more crucial than ever. It is sad that places like Haifa and Neve Shalom, which are symbols of coexistence between Jews and Arabs, have been so badly damaged, and it stands as a sad metaphor about the state of Jewish-Arab relations. But to the extent that arson was involved, it is all the more reason to integrate Israel’s Arab citizens into Israeli society. Israel’s Arab citizens cannot be the targets on Israeli media for these attacks, especially when many of them were hurt and even helped Jewish communities rehabilitate after the fires.In fact, if you consider their technical, linguistic, and cultural skills, it is apparent that peace in the Middle East begins with Israel’s Arab citizens.
Economic cooperation can be a powerful precursor to political peace between peoples and countries as it paves the way for greater interaction in other spheres and creates incentives for deeper relationships. However, some of the obstacles to economic cooperation are linguistic and cultural barriers that lead to miscommunication and impede business success. Israel and its Arab neighbors certainly have these barriers, but that is why Israel’s Arab citizens are the key to peace in the Middle East.
If peace is going to be made through economic cooperation, then Israel’s Arab citizens – with their linguistic, cultural, and even technical skills – are perfectly placed to be the leaders of this endeavor. The Arab community in Nazareth is a good example of this. As Palestinian businessman Abdul Malik Al-Jaber says, “Entrepreneurs in Nazareth can be the bridge between Israel and 400 million Arabs.” Nevertheless, Israel’s Arab citizens are not as integrated as their Jewish counterparts in Israel’s “Silicon Wadi” high-tech industries.
Alice Wood noted in an excellent piece in the Fathom Journal the ways in which Israel’s Arab citizens’ talents are being wasted. Even though thousands of Arabs graduate with technology degrees, “only 1.3 per cent of Arab science and technology graduates…are employed in the high-tech field.” This is disappointing considering they make up over 16% of the student body at universities such as the Technion, and could use their linguistic and cultural skills to help Israeli start-ups open markets in Israel’s neighboring Arab countries.
The Arab community’s absence from Israel’s technology sector is not due to lack of hard work or qualification. I studied abroad at the University of Haifa, where over 30% of students are Arabs, and I was an eyewitness to this vibrant community. I saw a young and bright Arab generation that is hard working and ready to contribute to Israel’s Silicon Wadi.
The reasons why Israel’s Arab citizens are excluded from the private sector vary. One is a lack of networking. In their book Start-Up Nation, Dan Senor and Saul Singer argue that “because they [Arabs] are not drafted into the army, they…are less likely to develop the entrepreneurial and improvisational skills that the IDF inculcates…they also do not develop the business networks that young Israeli Jews build while serving in the military.”
Alternatively, Israel’s Arab citizens could receive the skill development and networking they need via Israel’s voluntary civic service. However, as a study conducted by prominent Israeli sociologist Sammy Smooha suggests, there is a lack of participation of Israel’s Arab citizens in civic service, despite the fact that most of the Arab volunteers and veterans of Israel’s civic service program are happy with the benefits and skills they received. The findings reveal that only 41.6% of Arabs feel they receive sufficient information about civic service and the potential benefits they could. Additionally, 75% of Arabs who do participate in civic service volunteer in Arab localities and do not come in contact with their Israeli Jewish counterparts.
It is also true that many Israeli Arab leaders discourage participation in civic service. However, more focus should be put on the Israeli government’s ability to assist its Arab citizens. As Givat Haviva Institute head Mohammad Darawshe has argued, more emphasis should be put on the Israeli government because they have the ability to integrate Arab citizens through connecting roads and adding advertisements in their newspapers.
The benefits of further integrating Israel’s Arab community into its high-tech industry go beyond the obligations of the state to help all its citizens. Integration can contribute to Israel’s economy and social cohesion. Integrating Israel’s Arab citizens may even lead to regional integration and a more lasting peace between Israelis, Palestinians, and the neighboring Arab states.