Last month the government decided to allocate 15 billion shekels out of the annual government budgets during the next five years to Israel’s minority communities. It was a historic decision. After 68 years the State of Israel is making a determined attempt to equalize conditions for all its citizens, Arab and Jewish.
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We have come a long way in fostering the relations between Jews and Arabs in the State of Israel since the War of Independence, which was a life-and-death struggle between Jews and Arabs. But we still have a long way to go, and the recent government decision should pave the way to significant progress in this all-important area.
Some would say that this decision is long overdue, but all should appreciate that it finally came, and that it is part of a process, which by its nature is gradual and therefore takes time. It is important that this allocation of the nation’s resources to its minority population should be presented without strings attached. Some ministers would like to use this opportunity to attach certain conditions that would correct some of the anomalies that characterize Israel’s minority communities, such as the large number of illegally constructed dwellings. This problem will have to be addressed, and it no doubt will be addressed during the five-year period of the government’s plan. But it should not be made a condition.
The plan should be adopted without strings attached. It is all too easy to spoil the positive impression that this decision will have on Israel’s minorities by attaching conditions to it. The government’s decision is an expression of good will and it should be made unconditionally. It should be presented unencumbered, pure and simple.
Professionals in the Finance Ministry and other ministries, in cooperation with representatives of Israel’s minorities, will surely work out the details of the government’s plan, with the aim of integrating Israel’s minorities into the fabric of Israeli society and bringing all of them into the 21st century, as part of Israel’s advanced technology society. They will excuse me if I present a few suggestions of my own.
The most disadvantaged segment of Israeli society are the Negev Bedouin. They face the challenge of bridging the centuries-long gap between their ancient traditional nomadic lifestyle and modern-day Israel. They are in need of a great deal of assistance on this very difficult journey. A major effort in the field of education is required here. Advances that will equip their young people – boys and girls – with the skills needed in an advanced economy. Polygamy will have to be uprooted, and education will have to begin at pre-school age.
Thousands of kindergartens need to be established in the Bedouin towns of the Negev and among the Bedouin population still living in the desert. The level of high-school education needs to be raised substantially so as to qualify the graduates for further academic studies or vocational training. The task is enormous, and the Israel Defense Forces will have to make its contribution if it is to be accomplished.
Education should be a major element of the program for all minorities. An example of what can be achieved is the high school in the Druze village of Bet Jan, whose graduates hold the Israeli record in matriculation exam results. There is a big gap between that school and the majority of high schools in the Arab sector. A gap which will have to be closed.
Those Arab youngsters who volunteer for national service have the opportunity to become acquainted with Israeli society beyond their village, while contributing to that society. Although the number of volunteers seems to be growing from year to year, there is much room for improvement. Actually, national service is only a substitute for military service, participating with Jewish, Druze and Circassian youngsters in the defense of Israel. This is the highest level of obligation of citizenship in Israel. In the final analysis there will be no full integration into Israel’s society until equality of obligation complements equality of rights and equality of opportunities. The IDF has a big role to play in advancing toward this objective. It will take time. But it will come.