Arab-Israeli Identity Through The Scope of Social Justice

Today’s participant blog post comes from a current participant in the Yahel Social Change Program who wishes to remain anonymous. Their group is living, learning and volunteering in Lod, Israel for 9 months this year. 

Before coming to Lod, I was sure I had a good grasp of the history of Israel’s Arab population, namely its Palestinian inhabitants. My knowledge was lacking however when it came to the nuances of Arab-Israeli identity. Because Yahel places its volunteers with social justice NGO’s and exposes us to local activists, my knowledge of Arab-Israeli identity is largely filtered through my experiences with local Arab activists who use their work to address social justice issues within their communities. This includes Arab-Jewish relations, racism, education, cultural awareness, and women’s rights. Therefore, my experiences in Lod have characterized Arab-Israeli identity as heavily influenced by social justice work, love of their individual cultures, and defiance against social, political, and cultural injustices.

Before addressing Arab-Israeli social justice initiatives, it is important to ask ourselves who Arab-Israelis are. Arab-Israelis are citizens of the state of Israel who are Arab by ethnicity, typically speak Arabic, Hebrew, and English, carry Israeli I.D.’s, and are issued Israeli passports, They comprise twenty percent of Israel’s population, making them a minority within the state. After the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948, Palestinian families that were internally displaced within the current borders of Israel were stripped of their human rights and placed under martial law. Eventually however, they were granted Israeli citizenship under Israel’s 1952 citizenship law.

“Arab-Israeli” largely functions as an umbrella term that comprises several different ethnic and national Arab identities, namely Druze, Palestinians, and Bedouins, all of whom can be Christian, Muslim, or Jewish. Each distinct group has their own collective relationship to Israel, which often overlaps with their personal experiences as racial minorities. While these experiences can be complex and often painful, each community has a thriving activist component dedicated to achieving social justice for national and local causes.

Currently, I live and volunteer in Lod (also known to Israel’s Arabic speaking populations as Lyd, Lydda, or Al-Lyd). Lod is a mixed Arab-Jewish city sitting approximately thirty minutes outside of Tel Aviv. It encompasses Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, and Sephardic Jewish communities of all observant backgrounds, as well as Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Bedouin and Palestinian Israelis. All of my volunteer placements are situated in Ramat Eshkol, an Arab community in Lod with a Jewish minority. Here, I work with a variety of Arab organizations and activists who are working to combat socio-political and socio-economic struggles within their own communities. This includes economic development, achieving women’s rights, combatting racism, and creating educational opportunities for disadvantaged youths.

For example, one of my placements is with Jindas, an urban redevelopment NGO focused on providing a solution to Israel’s affordable housing crisis. Israel’s price of real estate often impacts peripheral communities more seriously than its Ashkenazi Jewish population. In the case of Lod, Ramat Eshkol’s Palestinian and Bedouin Israeli citizens endure this impact more so than other Lod communities. Jindas’ affordable housing initiative directly combats this by developing mixed income apartment complexes providing social services to their inhabitants, directly involving Ramat Eshkol’s Arab population in the redevelopment of their city. Jindas also works in conjunction with the Mosaic: Multicultural Chicago Community Center, an Arab-Jewish organization tackling social justice issues in Ramat Eshkol, to promote economic development and women’s empowerment among Lod’s Arab population. This is done through a program that teaches local unemployed or underemployed Arab and Jewish women to give tours of Ramat Eshkol to visitors. Thus, they earn money independently, gain marketable skillsets, cultivate women’s empowerment in the workforce, and help stimulate the local economy.

The Mosaic: Lod Multicultural Community Center also hosts a bi-weekly Jewish and Arab women’s group on Wednesday evenings. During these meetings, the women discuss a variety of topics, from personal struggles at home, to difficulties at work, their hobbies, their children, or their visions for gender equality in Lod. Other Arab activists in Lod tackle youth at risk issues. For example, the Ort School is an Arab High School specializing in the hard sciences. The curriculum exposes Arab-Israeli teenagers to a variety of subjects including mathematics, chemistry, biology, history, and the arts. The school was built in the Train Neighborhood, a peripheral community of Bedouins who have migrated from the Negev into Lod. With a high crime rate, and a generally low level of socio-economic development, the Train Neighborhood is not known for its social activists. The Ort School however, uses education to inspire local youth to develop their community, turn their interests into careers, engage with their culture, and better their own lives.

The combination of these experiences over the past five months in Lod have taught me that Israel is a complex country with a vibrant activism scene, even within its peripheral communities. I would encourage anyone who might read this to engage with Arab communities in Lod, Ramle, or other peripheral communities through volunteering or other means. If there is any change occurring within Israeli society, it should be attributed to these hard working organizers pursuing justice within their societies.

 

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