Social Justice Has to Reach the Arab Community Too

Don't ignore us, Mohammed Darawshe tells the protesters.

The almost absolute absence of the Arab community from the housing protest is also evident in the composition of the committee formed to address the protesters' demands. Headed by Manuel Trajtenberg, the committee has no experts on Arab affairs. In a letter to Prof. Trajtenberg, Mohammed Darawshe says this omission contradicts the government resolution that the Arab, Circassian and Druze minorities must have appropriate representation.

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"You can't institute social justice and exclude 20% of the population," Darawshe, co-executive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, told TheMarker. Darawshe is also part of TheMarker 2021 endeavor, heading a discussion on the Israeli labor market at the Israel 2021 conference.

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The tent protest doesn't seem to have caught on in the Arab community. So TheMarker asked Darawshe if it's surprising that Israeli Arabs haven't joined the protest, given that community's socioeconomic problems.

"The Arab community is involved in the protest, but minimally. Tents did go up in Taibeh, Nazareth, Baka al-Gharbiyeh and at the entrance to Harish. There are a few smaller tent settlements in various places in the evening, after the Ramadan fast breaks for the day. But the young Arabs did not join the protest," Darawshe says.

"Arab society is looking at the protest from the sidelines and hasn't decided whether it's relevant or has anything to do with it. That's mainly because Arab society feels detached politically and socially. It's a process that began after the October 2000 events. At the time, Arab and Jewish society began to boycott each other in a way. There were some calls among Jews not to eat hummus at Arab restaurants because 'they don't deserve our money.' Arabs also stopped going to Jewish shopping malls."

'We'll be left out'

Arab workers for Jewish employers have suffered, and things only got worse when foreign workers began to arrive, Darawshe says. Foreign workers took the place of Arabs in a host of industries including agriculture, construction and services. "Then, when we sought help, the feeling was created that the social protest among the Arabs wasn't meeting that of the Jews. A lot of people in Jewish society just stood on the sidelines. So we aren't connecting now either. We also feel that when solutions will arise, we'll be left out."

Were there expectations that the leaders of the protest would relate to the problems of the Israeli Arabs?

"I still expect it," Darawshe says. "I haven't heard any message from Daphni Leef or Itzik Shmuli. They haven't said the word 'Arab.' I'd be glad to be corrected but the organizers of the protest haven't held out their hands to invite in the Arab community. There was no mention, for better or worse. There have been statements such as we're all Jews, or calls to preserve the nature of the protest as civilian, political and Jewish. That created a firewall keeping the Arabs out of the protest, which is a pity, because they're missing 20% of the population, which could be a shot in the arm for the protest."

Do you feel a sense that something was missed?

"In my opinion something big was missed, because the population identifies with the protest. The protesters' source of the pain is that they can't make ends meet. The costs are the same costs. A can of Coca-Cola costs the same in Iksal, the town where I live, as in Tel Aviv. But the income isn't the same income. We make up 8% of the Israeli economy but the Arab economy behaves like a sub-economy."

Salaries in the Arab community are about 70% lower than what Jews get for comparable work, says Darawshe. Arab women suffer from unemployment.

"Fifty percent of the Arab community lives under the poverty line," he says. "Unemployment is 2.5 times higher than in the Jewish community. With us, housing problems aren't temporary, they're chronic. It starts with a lack of master plans, and a deliberate intention not to create master plans for Arabs to reduce their living space."

Israel's Jews may have failed to notice the Arab community that shares many of the same woes, and the Arab community may not have climbed on board. But Darawshe bears them no ill will; he admires their civic spirit and spontaneity, he says.

Now the protest is maturing and nearing its next phase, involving organized demands shaped with the help of economists. So if a new order is rising, if the main concept is social justice, it must be for all, Darawshe says. "Social justice can't be done with 20% of the population left outside. Because then it would be Jewish justice for the Tel Aviv bourgeoisie."

So how can the protest be harnessed to find long-term solutions for the problems in the Arab community?

Darawshe: "The problem of Arab society won't be solved if it doesn't become part of the general civic agenda. Arabs first have to accept that they have unique problems; only then can solutions be shaped. There is a government authority to develop the minorities, which is supposed to raise money. The government thinks that budgeting it NIS 800 million will solve the problem. But that isn't enough."

All it achieves is to give government the feeling that the "Arab problems" have been addressed, Darawshe says. "I want equality, and I want the considerations to be economic in nature. If Umm al-Fahm deserves help in building industry, housing and investments, it should get the help based on pure economic considerations, nothing more."