Nor do Jewish schools enjoy better operational conditions than their Arab counterparts. Both study in similarly congested classes (26.3 students in primary education in the Jewish sector vs. 26.4 in the Arab sector in 2018-19) and have a similar student/teacher ratio (11.8. students per teacher in Arab primary schools vs. 11.9 in the Jewish sector).18 Likewise, the level of Arab and Jewish entitlement to matriculation certificate grew almost identically over the past two decades (from 45.3% to 63.4% and from 63.9% to 80.1% respectively), with both groups performing at a similar level at the top rung of the matriculation exams (the so-called “five study units”). Thus, for example, while a higher percentage of Jewish students obtained top-level certificates in English, mathematics, and computer science (62.3% vs. 34.4%, 24.2% vs. 15.6%, and 12.2% vs. 6.7% respectively), a higher ratio of Arab students got top-level certificates in biology, chemistry, and physics (35.7% vs. 17.4%, 26.2% vs., 8.5%, and 15.6% vs. 15.4% respectively). Writes Efraim Karsh
Just as socioeconomic considerations had no moderating impact on the Palestinian Arab leadership’s desire to destroy the Jewish national cause, so too have they failed to reconcile Israel’s Arab citizens to their minority status in the Jewish State. Quite the reverse, in fact. Following in the footsteps of their Mandatory Palestine predecessors, the Israeli Arabs’ radicalization intensified in tandem with their vast material progress. If in the 1950s and the early 1960s, when their socioeconomic condition was at its lowest, there were hardly any manifestations of political, nationalist, or religious dissidence among the Israeli Arabs, the latter part of the 1970s saw the onset of annual waves of violent protest (the so-called “Land Days”) by the much better off Arab community. These escalated into an open uprising in October 2000—after a decade that saw government allocations to Arab municipalities grow by 550% and the number of Arab civil servants nearly treble. It then spiraled into a far more violent insurrection in May 2021—after yet another decade of massive government investment in the Arab sector, including a NIS15 billion ($3.84 billion) socioeconomic aid program.
The scope and quality of the socioeconomic progress made by Israel’s Arab citizens over the past 73 years cannot be overstated. The end of the 1948 war found the Palestinian-Arab community profoundly shattered, with only 158,000 of the 750,000 Arab residents of the territory that came to be Israel staying put through the hostilities.11 But these numbers did not stay low for long. Thanks to remarkable fertility rates, greatly reduced mortality, and the return of tens of thousands of refugees under the terms of Israel’s family reunification program, the proportion of Arabs grew steadily over the decades. By the end of 2019, Israel’s Arab minority had leapt twelve-fold in number to over 1.9 million, or 21% of the state’s total population (compared to 17.8% at Israel’s establishment).
Far from lagging behind, the rate of development of Israel’s Arab citizens has often surpassed that of their Jewish compatriots, with the result that the gap between the two communities has steadily narrowed. Thus, for example, mortality rates among Israeli Arabs have fallen by over two-thirds since Israel’s establishment while life expectancy has increased 30 years, reaching 80 in 2019 (women 81.9, men 78.1). This improvement is all the more remarkable when compared to that of the Jewish majority: if at the end of the 1940s the life expectancy of Israeli Arabs was 15 years lower than that of their Jewish counterparts, by the 1970s the gap had narrowed to two to four years and has remained virtually unchanged since then (3.45 years in 2019).
Not only does this compare favorably with the Arab and Muslim worlds, but Israeli Arabs can expect to live as long Americans (80.4) and longer than the average EU citizen (77.6).14 Thanks to Israel’s medical and health education programs, infant mortality rates have similarly been slashed: from 56 per 1,000 live births in 1950 to 5.6 in 2019—slightly above the US mortality rate (5.2 deaths/1,000 live births) and much lower than that of Arab and Muslim states (in Algeria, for example, it is 24.9 deaths/1,000 live births; in Iraq 20.1; in Egypt 18.2; in Iran 15.1; in Indonesia 20.2, etc.).
No less remarkable have been the advances in education, with the number of Arab schoolchildren growing more than forty-fold since Israel’s establishment, over three times the rate of the Arab population’s growth. In 1961, fewer than half of Israeli Arab children attended school, with the average child having just one year of schooling. By 2019, virtually all Arab children attended school (a slightly higher rate than their Jewish compatriots—96.4% vs. 94.9%) with the average child having 12 years of schooling.16 The rise was particularly dramatic among Arab women, who received virtually no school education in 1961 and are today equally, indeed better, educated than their male counterparts. In 1970–2000, for example, the proportion of women with more than eight years of schooling rose nearly seven-fold (from 9% to 59%), and by 2002 there were more Arab girls than boys enrolled in high school education (89% vs. 83%). By the end of the decade, younger Israeli Arab women had become more educated than their male counterparts (31% vs. 28% with 13 years of study or more).
Nor do Jewish schools enjoy better operational conditions than their Arab counterparts. Both study in similarly congested classes (26.3 students in primary education in the Jewish sector vs. 26.4 in the Arab sector in 2018-19) and have a similar student/teacher ratio (11.8. students per teacher in Arab primary schools vs. 11.9 in the Jewish sector).18 Likewise, the level of Arab and Jewish entitlement to matriculation certificate grew almost identically over the past two decades (from 45.3% to 63.4% and from 63.9% to 80.1% respectively), with both groups performing at a similar level at the top rung of the matriculation exams (the so-called “five study units”). Thus, for example, while a higher percentage of Jewish students obtained top-level certificates in English, mathematics, and computer science (62.3% vs. 34.4%, 24.2% vs. 15.6%, and 12.2% vs. 6.7% respectively), a higher ratio of Arab students got top-level certificates in biology, chemistry, and physics (35.7% vs. 17.4%, 26.2% vs., 8.5%, and 15.6% vs. 15.4% respectively).
These achievements were further underscored by the seemingly higher level of teaching in the Arab sector. In 2019-20, for example, the level of Arab primary school teachers’ compatibility to a number of key subjects was much higher than their Jewish counterparts: 56.1% vs. 20.5% in mathematics; 69.8% vs. 40.1% in English; and 48.2% vs. 13.1% in Hebrew. And while this gap was substantially reduced in higher secondary education, Arab teachers’ compatibility to taught subjects remained higher: 78% vs. 66.8% in mathematics; 81.1% vs. 54.85% in English, and 63.9% vs. 60.3% in Hebrew.
No less dramatic has been the story in higher education where the numbers of Arab graduates multiplied 15 times between 1961 and 2001. And while the pace slowed in the first decades of the 2000s, it was nevertheless highly impressive: a threefold increase from 1999-2000 through 2017-18, nearly doubling the relative share of Arab students in the total student population, from 8.3% to 16%. In certain fields, the relative ratio of Arab students is higher than that of their Jewish counterparts. Particularly notable are paramedic studies and education and teacher training, where Arab students comprise about a third of the first-degree studentship—way above their relative share of the country’s population. Other hitherto neglected fields of study saw breathtaking growth in Arab students over the past two decades—from an eight-fold leap in business and management science (from 2% in 1999-00 to 17% in 2017-18), to nearly a three-fold leap in social sciences (from 6% to 15%) and a two-fold increase in engineering as well as in natural sciences and mathematics. In 2015, some 31.7% of the total Arab population had post-secondary and higher education.
End of Part Three
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