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SURVEY: Palestinian citizens demand social justice

A new survey of Arab citizens of Israel following waves of anti-Arab activity shows that most have not given up on Israeli society, but instead express strong support for social activism to advance Arab issues, general social problems, and an end to  the occupation.

With so much nastiness directed against them, it wouldn’t be surprising if Arab citizens have given up on Israel. But with insufficient polling and reporting on public opinion in the Arab community, it can be hard to know.

And this is an important time to know how one-fifth of the population thinks. The current Knesset has proposed a slew of bills directed against this community; unprecedented “Price Tag” attacks have targeted Arab sites in Israel including mosques, cemeteries and business establishments.

Further, it’s been a tough six decades in general for Arabs in Israel. Until 1966, Arab areas fell under martial law, not unlike occupation; discrimination in housing, education, labor markets and fund allocations is the norm, and then in October 2000, 13 Arab citizens were killed by police, creating a profound rift. Since then, voter turnout among Arabs has dropped significantly relative to Jews; and now the current Knesset seems hell-bent on booting them out of the Israeli family, in feeling and in fact.

When I conducted a survey in October among Arab respondents, commissioned by the Abraham Fund Initiatives (AFI), we were prepared to find isolationism, anger, inertia.

Instead, the results showed a high sense of belonging in Israel and a strong spirit of activism. Arabs support the summer’s social protest, bucking both initial suspicion from the protest leaders, and cynicism among the Arab press and leadership. Many Arabs report participating, and many more are open to joining in the future.

The survey also reveals a strong core of committed and experienced activists, who support social engagement and partnership with like-minded Jewish citizens. This group feels more alienated and more concerned with the Palestinian cause than others, but not at the expense of local social causes. It looks like an emerging portrait of the next generation of Israel’s Arab leaders.

The data here is drawn largely from my study for the Abraham Fund (noted as AFI); other sources are marked with initials, with survey information and links at the end. This represents my own “best-of” selection of the data. Readers are invited to ask about other public opinion topics that interest you, and I’ll do my best to point you to any available data.


Personal Identity and Identification with Palestinian cause. Nearly 60% of respondents identify themselves as either Arab or Arab Israeli as their primary identity; about one-quarter described themselves as either Palestinians or Palestinian Israeli. (Respondents were asked to choose the top description out of four options). [AFI]

-32% chose “Arab Israeli,” 27% chose “Arab.” Total = 59% [AFI]

-17% chose “Palestinian Israeli, 9% chose “Palestinian.” Total = 26% [AFI]

The Palestinian occupation is a high priority: When asked what they feel is the most urgent problem in Israel today for the government to solve, “ending the occupation,” ranks first out of seven items, with 32%. [AFI]

Yet social issues, combined, rank even higher: poverty/social gaps (15%), economy (13%), education (8%), democracy (4%) – total 40% together. [AFI]. Tension between Jews and Arabs is third priority, with 14%. [AFI]


Belonging, but alienation. Nearly 60% of Arabs say they belong in Israeli society, but of those, two thirds say they belong only “somewhat.” One-quarter (23%) say they do not belong (the rest marked “both at once”.) [AFI]. The 2011 Democracy Index confirms the finding: 62% feel “part of the State of Israel and its problems,” either to some extent, a large extent, or a very large extent. [DI]

Yet there are signs of alienation.  In 2010, 42% say they are not satisfied with being citizens of Israel. [AJRI].

-Fifteen percent of Arabs say the sense of belonging to Israeli society has declined recently (a wide majority of 63% say they do not feel their sense of belonging has changed. [AFI]

-Nearly half (49%) said they have not experienced a racist incident in their lives. But among those who had, when offered a list of agents who might have discriminated against them, the top figure responsible for such incidents was the Jewish public (18%) – ranked higher than the Israeli authorities, institutions or workplace. [AFI]


Desire Integration, not Isolation. Most of the data points to both a sense of alienation but a clear desire for greater integration and co-existence, with little evidence of isolationist trends. Based on 2008 data, Sikkuy’s report stated: “Among Arab citizens there is sweeping support for economic, political and social integration (88 percent, 81 percent and 78 percent, respectively).” [S]

-At present, fully 82% of Arabs want to live in Israel – either they definitely (64%) want to live in Israel in the long-term, or they want to, but they are not certain (18%). This is just seven points lower than the percentage of Jews who offered the same response. [DI]

-Only seven percent of Arab respondents said they might not want to live in a Jewish community because they do not want to live among Jews. One-fifth (20%) said they were afraid of Jewish racism. The plurality (42%) said that the main reason not to live among Jews is simply for the convenience of living among family, friends and their communities. [AFI]

More Arabs than Jews – 80% – said they believe that friendly relations between Jews and Arabs will prevail in the future; 70% of Jews felt this way. [AJRI]

Support social protests, seek involvement. Before the summer social protests, a healthy one-quarter (23%) of Arab respondents said they have been involved in some sort of social activism. [AFI]. Support for the social protests is high:

-Roughly 60% consistently supports the social protests in various questions asked in my recent survey. [AFI] This is lower than roughly 81% among Jews [PI] (some surveys over the summer showed nearly 90%  support among Jewish Israelis).

-59% say they share the same problems expressed by the leaders of the J14 protests. [AFI]

-63% personally support the protests even if they did not participate themselves. 71% think Arabs should participate, even when read the argument that Arabs should not participate because the protests are about Jewish issues and leave Arabs out. [AFI]

Arab citizens of Israel, public opinion survey (Source: Dahlia Scheindlin for Abraham Fund Initiatives, Oct 2011)


-Despite lower support than Jews, 19% of Arabs reported participating in the protests – including virtually – the same rate of Jews who reported participating in a different survey. [JIPP]

-When asked about the main reason why Arabs should participate, the top response (29%) was that the protests were an opportunity to put Arab issues on the agenda. [AFI]

-Participation encouraged cooperation: about half (49%) of people who participated in the social protests say they are now more interested in cooperating with Jews in Israel, compared to 24% of those who didn’t participate in J14.

– If the social protest leaders embrace Arab issues, this activism could rise further: Were the protest leaders to declare that ending the occupation, providing solution to Arab housing problems, and improving the Arab education system are integral to greater social justice in Israel, large portions said this would raise their desire to participate in the future – 47%, 51%, and 57%, respectively.


The Activists: Alienated, Palestinian. Those who expressed higher levels of alienation (in the questions of “belonging”) were significantly more active both in the past, and in the J14 protests. Of those who said they “don’t belong,” 35% participated in the social protests (in some form), compared to 13% among those who said they do belong. [AFI]

-Arab respondents who were involved in social activism in the past were much more likely to participate: 50% of them said they were involved in the protests, compared to 10% among non-activists. [AFI]

-Those who identify as Palestinian were more activist in the past, and in the summer protests: 76% of self-described “Palestinians” supported the protests (compared to 62% of “Arabs”) and 26% of “Palestinians” said they participated in the summer protests some form, compared to 15% among “Arabs.” [AFI]

Public Opinion Arab Citizens (Source: Dahlia Scheindlin for Abraham Fund Initiatives, Oct 2011)


-“Palestinian” identified respondents are more empowered – following the social protests, 57% said they feel citizens like them can influence decision-makers, compared to just 38% among “Arabs.” Also, 57% of those who participated in general felt this same sense of empowerment, compared to 42% among those were not involved in J14.


Women: Agents of Change? Arab women are still under-employed. My survey for AFI showed that they were active in social change at half the rate of men in the past, and fewer women than men participated in the current social protests. When an Arab activist was shown this data, he explained that many of the meetings were held late at night; clearly there are cultural barriers as well.

But this situation seems poised to change. Women make up more than half the Arab students in higher education, according to Abraham Fund research from a few years ago. The research from 2007-2008 by Sikkuy showed that women are more likely to take a self-critical look at their own society. When asked if the traditionalism of Arab society is partly responsible for current inequalities of Israeli life, just 28% of Arabs agreed. But over 70% of those who agreed were women [S-Heb]

In my recent survey, more women than men saw the protests as an opportunity to put Arab issues on the agenda (32% of women, 26% of men). More than twice as many placed education as the country’s top priority. [AFI]

The combination of education and opportunities for activism is bound to make a change.


The data indicates that Arabs remain committed to creating and living in a shared and equal society. The malicious legislative and social attacks seem to be galvanizing an increasingly committed and sophisticated cadre of activists whose number and strength, I predict, stand to grow. There’s something to look forward to in 2012.


Survey References

*AFI – Commissioned by Abraham Fund Initiatives, survey written and analyzed by Dahlia Scheindlin, data collection: TNS/Teleseker. 16-18 October, n=350, error +/- 5.2%.

*PI – August 2011 Peace Index – 23-24 August, 2011. N=613, error: +/- 4.5%

*DI – 2011 Democracy Index – Authored by Israel Democracy Institute, data collection: Dahaf Research. March 2011, n=1200 total (180 Arabs), error (total sample) +/- 2.8%

*S – Sikkuy survey [English – summary only] – Dec. 2007 – Jan 2008 Commissioned by Sikkuy, project conducted by Dr. Nohad Ali and Dr. Shai Inbar, data collection: face-to-face interviews. N=407

*S-Heb – Sikkuy survey in Hebrew [full data]

*JIPP – Joint Israel-Palestinian Poll, #37, September 2011. Truman Institute, Hebrew University, Jacob Shamir and Khalil Shikaki. 11-14 September, n=605 (Jews and Arabs)

*AJRI – Arab-Jewish Relations Index 2010 [Hebrew], Released May 2011. University of Haifa, Prof. Sammy Smooha, n=711, Face-to-face, error +/- 3.7%

For convenience, I have used the term “Arab,” rather than writing the cumbersome “Arab/Palestinian” throughout (since the majority of respondents in my survey choose the identity of “Arab” or “Arab Israeli” first – where Palestinian identity stands out in the data, I use that term). This is in no way a denial of the centrality of Palestinian identity for many citizens of Israel.

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    1. aristeides

      These are valuable data.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Sinjim

      I’m sorry, but the section titled “The Activists: Alienated, Palestinian” is entirely misleading with its “Arab-identified” and “Palestinian-identified” language.
      The question they were asked was about their primary identity, and most identified as Arab. That doesn’t mean that they don’t also identify as Palestinian.
      So it doesn’t make sense to say, “Those who identify as Palestinian” as if they don’t also identify as Arabs, nor does it make sense to say “Arab respondents who were involved in social activism” because Palestinians are Arabs, too.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Brent Sasley

      Dahlia, very interesting data. I suppose in some ways it’s not surprising that Palestinian citizens of Israel feel an urge to push harder for integration into the state. The changes in the Israeli-Palestinian arena and now the broader Middle East have raised questions about who belongs where, and if there’s no sense that Arabs in Israel want to leave Israel, then it makes sense for them to want a better life in the country.

      It would also be interesting to see how all this fits into the demands of the Future Vision document, and to if/how things have changed since then.

      Reply to Comment
    4. sh

      Just as one thinks the mess is too great to be cleared up, something comes up to show that again, we haven’t quite got it right.
      I particularly liked the finding that “Participation encouraged cooperation: about half (49%) of people who participated in the social protests say they are now more interested in cooperating with Jews in Israel, compared to 24% of those who didn’t participate in J14.”
      We must give up thinking in sectors. There is no “migzar Aravi”, they have the same economic and social needs as we do. There is no “peripheria” in a country this size, the concept is ludicrous. And Arabs/Palestinians are no more “mi’utim” than Russians, Ethiopians or Americans are.

      Reply to Comment
    5. In an underemployed population, organizing for social protest is a form of ecnomic survival for some. They establish new ties, strengthen old ones, thereby on both accounts perhaps more likely to recieve word of a job opportunity (even if brief), food donation, or time donation (such as caring for a child or transporting someone somewhere when needed). These activities produce return obligations for later.
      As I think I’ve already mentioned here, the Montgomery bus boycott worked because blacks donated their cars and time to get those refusing the buses to their necessary destinations. This foraged new ties and created reciprocal obligations for later payback. Jim Crow segregation enabled this network by placing an entire class under the same limitations; prior networks expanded naturally once the boycott began, and these networks provided opportunity for later economic protest elsewhere. Jim Crowing can be self induced. Christian right networks opposing abortion or health reform thrive by a form of isolation similar to self sacrifice (“I stay among people who love the Lord”) which can then label someone for access to some opportunity (many in Christian networks are lower middle class, with very limited income, afraid of any new bills or crises coming).
      I read this amazing survey as evidence of latent networks available for expansion. But regular protests are essential, recreating the internal social environemnt of network aid. Protest movements live on what happens between the necessry protests. A “Palestinian” self label suggests, to me, a greater propensity to break free of overt community networks; so the greater % of participation. J14 is limited by its protest form. Israeli (and American) democracy have evolved to limit the intrusion of new networks sans elections; the Tea Party worked because of the severe economic downturn, coupled with mandated short cycle elections (the House). This makes American democracy a bit crazy (the Tea Party is beginning to flounder before budget and service realities) by sustaining a rather high level of network activity relative to parliamentary systems. Trade Unions provided another means of network maintenance in the 30’s through 70’s.
      What seems missing in Isreal is the recurrence of low level, regular protests. Wickedly, the Knesset, by continuing its assault against all enemies real or not, may create something of a structural equivalent of low level protest. Yet people wanting to protest need to be able to eat. Network participation needs a personal payoff with some probability. The social challenge of J14 (to me) is to sustain some form of low level protest until the next election approaches. And I by far fail of understanding Israeli society to know if and how that can be done.
      This survey, which might have gone otherwise, not just keeps hope alive; it grows hope.

      Reply to Comment
    6. @Sinjim, your angry tone notwithstanding, I’m glad you pointed that out, because I originally started writing something similar, but ended up cutting for space and hoped it would be clear from what I did write – you’ve confirmed that it is. Indeed, the question was carefully worded so that we were not asking people to exclude other identities, just to point out which one they choose first. Certainly what I’ve written here is shorthand for “those who identified first, before other identities, as Arab” but that’s a bit wordy to write each time.

      Reply to Comment
    7. @Brent – you’re right. It’s also common to find stronger support for various democratic principles among Arabs, compared to Jews in israel, particularly (not surprisingly) when it comes to basic civil rights, equality, freedom of expression, etc. I don’t hear so much about the vision document these days, but I think the activist core I observed in the data is a hint: it seems to be led by people who want to be integrated and vital in Israel, AS palestinians, and without feeling like they have to sacrifice their palestinian identity to do so. although methinks this group too is not monolithic.
      @Greg, your knowledge and analytic insight always contribute so much. Combined with your optimism and realism, you’re a winner.

      Reply to Comment
    8. corey

      As someone who lives here what can i get involved in to work together for a better society for all?

      Reply to Comment
    9. Jonathan Cook

      Hi Dahlia. Thanks for sharing the survey info. There’s much of interest in there. But I share Sinjim’s concern about the issue of identity. You offered four identities and then split your respondents’ data into “Arab” and “Arab Israeli” identities on the one hand and “Palestinian” and “Palestinian Israeli” on the other. But as these are primary identities, that is a big assumption to be making. The secondary identity of many of your “Arab” respondents may well be “Palestinian” and they may be profoundly opposed to the notion of an “Israeli Arab” identity. If you want to schematise their identity in this way, problematic as the exercise inevitably is, you’d be better to have offered three categories: “Israeli”, “Arab” and “Palestinian”, and then sought to analyse the other responses in the light of these primary identities. I think such an analysis would have been more relevant.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Jonathan, I collapsed the four-point scale in that way because the original cross tabulations, with each response separate, showed very clearly that the frequencies were very similar between Arabs/Arab-Israelis on the one hand, and Pal/Pal-Isr on the other. If the frequencies had turned up with large similarities between those who chose “Pal” and “Arab” I would have collapsed them that way. This was true for a number of questions throughout the survey (in which there was a high standard deviation – other questions showed little variation based at all). In other words, I didn’t collapse them that way because I saw a similarity of distributions on just one question, but consistently, on many questions.
      In terms of your suggestion for 3 categories, that makes things easy for analysis, but i don’t believe it reflects the common discourse here. I try to ask questions that the respondents will feel natural answering and that reflect common thinking. Many people here think that “Arab-Israeli” or “Pal-Isr” for that matter – is the most accurate description (in addition to others) – note that both options received higher responses than the single-ID “Arab” or “Pal.” To deny this to impose your political vision on them, rather than acknowledging how they think. Maybe you’ll say i’m imposing my vision – but realize that I developed the survey with the close cooperation of the Abraham Fund leadership – both Jews and Arabs in Israel – and they contributed actively to the survey design.
      Having said all that, surely there is an inevitable unconscious researcher bias in most surveys. It would be disingenuous to deny that. I might have done some other things here too, if it was a longer study – but not regarding the question you suggest. At best, I might have asked as a follow-up their 2nd primary identity and then collapsed accordingly. but sadly, there’s never enough room for all the questions we need. Thanks for your comment.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Greg asks whether J14 can keep going until Knesset elections, but does not ask what will be its rolein those elections. Both questions can be answered in one: instead of leaving the field to the existing parties, it’s time for a renewal of the whole political scene, and J14, with the great fund of goodwill it gained in the summer and has kept going since with a whole range of social direct actions

      Reply to Comment
    12. (sorry, got cut off in the middle) … J14 has the momentum and support to enter the party political arena with the programme it has now launched. Electoral activity need not be counterposed to rank and file creativity and democracy, and J14 could surely form a united front with many of the social and human rights organisations and Palestinian political and civil society groupings, subject to whatever “non-political” constraints they may have. The goal of a direct electoral challenge will also help to hold the movement together and give it a focus, which answers Greg’s question, I think.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Dahlia, this is very impressive and useful information. You, together with Joseph Dana, expressed most bleakly the policy limitations at the start of the movement. Do you feel that this data, and J14’s recent declaration of a manifesto for a “New State of Israel” for all its inhabitants, makes it all much more hopeful? (If you’d like to make this an ongoing conversation, do respond by email)

      Reply to Comment