42% of Arabs in Israel define themselves first as Arabs, 24% as Muslims and 17% as Palestinians

March 23, 2022 by TPS
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About 42% of Arabs in Israel define themselves first and foremost as Arabs, 24% define themselves primarily as Muslims, and about 17% define themselves as Palestinians, according to a new survey conducted for the Haifa Conference on Arab Politics and Society in Israel at Haifa University.

Joint Arab List head Ayman Odeh speaks to the media at party headquarters on election night in the Arab city of Shfar’am, March 2, 2020. Photo by David Cohen/Flash90.

As the second identity, 25% define themselves as Palestinians and 17% as Israelis.

“The identity of the Arab public in Israel is hybrid, dynamic and depends on the specific political situation. The identity that emerges from the survey consists of various components and is not made up of one piece,” explained Dr Muhammad Khalaila of the University of Haifa, one of the survey’s researchers.

The first Haifa Conference on Politics and Arab Society in Israel is a joint conference of the University of Haifa, the Israel Democracy Institute and the New Israel Fund. The survey, which was presented in full at the conference, was conducted for the University of Haifa and examines various aspects related to the perception of identity, politics and social perceptions of the Arab public in Israel.

The complexity of the survey is also reflected in the respondents’ reporting of their feelings and not just self-definition. While only 17% defined themselves first and foremost as Palestinians, when asked to rate from 1-100 how Palestinian they feel, the average score was 66. When asked to rate from 1-100 to how Israeli they feel, the average score was 51.

“The survey’s findings show that Palestinianism exists, although it may not be stated or declared. The Arab public is not necessarily committed to a specific political perception, and has different components of collective identity,” said Dr Khalaila.

Khalaila further noted that with the entry of the Islamist Ra’am party into the coalition led by Naftali Bennett, a question arose regarding the open and direct involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, when one of the differences between Ra’am head MK Mansour Abbas’ politics and MK Ayman Odeh’s agenda and that of the Arab-majority Joint List touched on the importance of addressing the conflict. The survey findings show that almost two-thirds of the Arab public does not agree that refraining from dealing with the conflict and the Palestinian identity is a necessary condition for improving the situation of Arab citizens of Israel, compared with about one-third who agree that only secrecy on the issue will improve their situation.

Most respondents, 45%, think that the preferred solution in terms of the conflict is the two-state solution, compared to 18% who think the preferred solution is one state. About a third of the Arab public thinks that there is no solution in sight, and therefore the conflict should be managed in a way that will improve the lives of Arabs in the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria.

“Most of the Arab public is committed to a two-state solution, but like large sections of the Jewish public, the Arab public also has a significant part that does not see a possible solution on the horizon,” said Dr Khalaila.

According to Khalaila, the complex identity is also reflected in the level of trust and distrust that the Arab public gives to various institutions. The highest level of trust is in the courts (48%) and then in the State of Israel (39%). The lowest level of trust was given to the police with 74% who do not trust it, and right after it, in terms of distrust, is the Arab High Monitoring Committee with 72% who did not trust it. Only 33% expressed trust in the Arab parties, with 67% saying they did not trust them.

In general, the majority of the Arab public expressed low confidence in most of the institutions, those of Arab society and those of the state. Nevertheless, the relatively high level of trust in the state shows that there are still many in the Arab society who believe that Israel is a strong country.

“There is an expression of confidence at least in the executive capacity of the state. Trust is also a counter-reaction and a consequence of faith, that compared to other regimes in the region in which the post-colonial state order has collapsed, there is relative stability in Israel, in which some of the rights of the Arab public are preserved,” said Dr Khalaila.

A large majority of the Arab public felt that their security was significantly harmed by crime in Arab society: 46% claimed that they were harmed to a very large extent and another 23.5% claimed that they were harmed to a great extent, and in total, about 70%. The other 30% claimed to have been slightly harmed or not harmed at all. Support for the Shin Bet’s involvement in the treatment of crime is divided almost equally, with 52% believing that it is not worth involving the security service compared to 48% who think it is worthwhile.


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