Ground floor / The unseen country
There is a second country in Israel, one that all too many people prefer not to acknowledge. It's the country that contains 129 Arab towns, which make up 11% of all the municipalities in Israel. It is a country that includes 92 urban areas with 2,000 or more residents, and 37 rural villages.
Almost half the Arab population - 44% - is concentrated in the north. Nazareth is the largest Arab city with 67,000 residents.
The next biggest cities are Umm al-Fahm, the union of Baka al-Garbiyeh and Jatt, Taibeh, Rahat, Shagor and Shfaram - each with more than 30,000 people. But for many of us, these are just names on highway signs.
Here's another item of trivia: In the Central Bureau of Statistic's socioeconomic rankings, which rank local authorities on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest, the large Arab towns come in between 1 and 4. Nazareth is a 4 and Umm al-Fahm a 2. Confused by the numbers? Let us spell it out: this second country has a lot of poor towns and plenty of economic and social distress.
Over the years many people talked about the issue but few did anything to solve the problems of most Arab towns, the main ones being a lack of planning and unplanned construction. And the presence of illegal villages and government decisions to limit the development of Arab towns add to the problem. All this and the inability of Arab mayors to develop proper infrastructure have swelled the gaps between Jewish and Arab towns.
For years it was easier for everyone just to ignore the problems. For Jews, this was because dealing with these issues was never an important national priority. For Arabs, part of the solution would have required a complete change in the way local government works in the Arab community, and it's not at all clear if senior Arab politicians are interested in change.
But in light of the difficulty in finding somewhere to live in Arab cities, the people there, in particular younger people, have been gradually looking for other places to live and moving to Jewish towns.
The first city to feel the change was Upper Nazareth, one of the towns leading the attempt to "Judaize the Galilee." As part of the economic and employment crisis hitting local authorities in the north for years, Upper Nazareth started losing population over the last decade; since 2000 its population has dropped about 4% to 42,400 people. Apartment prices have fallen and Arabs from nearby areas have started buying apartments in the city.
In the 2008 local elections in Carmiel, a number of parties were founded whose platforms banned the sale of apartments to Arabs. There are also reports in Be'er Sheva and Arad of Bedouin from the outlying areas buying apartments in those cities.
The lesson to be learned from these developments is that ignoring the problem does not solve it. This comes on top of the question whether the two populations are ready to integrate and live together in mixed neighborhoods.