The life expectancy of Jewish citizens in Israel is four years higher than that of Arab citizens, according to the equality index published Wednesday by Sikkuy: The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel. The data also reveals that the mortality rate for Arab infants under the age of 12 months is double that of their Jewish counterparts.

The index, published Tuesday for the first time, suggests grave inequality in the level of medical services enjoyed by Jews in Israel, and that available to Arabs. The index comprises several criteria, such as the general life expectancy, mortality rates and the percentage of smokers in the population.

The data suggests that the Arab minority in Israel suffers worse conditions than those of the Afro-American minority in the U.S. or the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland. This, according to similar indexes published there.

Dr. Nyhaiya Daud, a public health expert and member of Sikkuy, told Haaretz Tuesday that one of the major factors for the differences was the lower socioeconomic status of the Arab-Israeli public compared to the Jewish population.

According to Dr. Daud, while the national health insurance law has dramatically improved the medical situation of many Arab citizens, not enough is being done to bring about full equality. To promote the issue, Dr. Daud proposes the creation of a special organization dedicated to improving health services for the Arab population.

"Why should an Arab lady from Umm al-Fahm spend NIS 100 to travel to Hadera and back for medical tests? It's up to the health system to make sure its facilities are accessible," she says.

Ali Khidr, co-director of Sikkuy, said that the need to evaluate the quality of medical services in the Arab community was derived from efforts to implement the conclusions of the Or Commission of Inquiry, appointed by Supreme Court in 2000 to investigate the killing of 13 Arabs and one Jew in clashes that occurred in October of that year. In its findings, the committee called for greater equality between the Jewish and Arab populations.

"The government is not delivering on all its commitments, but it is hard to measure to what degree. We intend to use the data of the index to propose real plans for action to the government in order to combat this discrimination."