Israel’s Arabs want more industrial zones
This article originally appeared on The Media Line.
Moded Yunis, the mayor of the Arab Israeli town of Ar’ara in northern Israel, recently offered 20 jobs in nursery schools in the town. Although not particularly well-paying, more than 250 women in the town of 23,000 in northern Israel applied.
“Because of the lack of jobs, some women leave their homes at 5 am and travel hours to southern Israel to work,” Yunis told The Media Line, saying the town had opened special day care centers with longer hours to accommodate them. “It is very frustrating for anyone who graduated college and then can’t find a job.”
The lower employment levels, along with lower municipal budgets showcase a pattern of consistent discrimination against Israel’s Arab minority. The Mossawa Center, the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, says that about 60 percent of Israel’s Arabs are poor, and 65 percent live below the poverty line.
Mossawa invited Yunis and other mayors to a conference at Israel’s Knesset, also hosted by long-time Arab parliamentarian Ahmed Tibi focusing on the need for more industrial zones in the Arab sector. While Arabs are more than 20 percent of Israel’s populations, just 3.5 percent of all areas designated for light and heavy industry are in Arab towns. These industrial zones bring both money and jobs to the areas where they are located.
“We want to get concrete answers for the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Industry to budget for new industrial zones,” Jafar Farah, the director of Mossawa told The Media Line. “There is no possibility of economic independence without this.”
Participation in the labor force is significantly lower in the Arab sector than the Jewish one, especially among women. More than 60 percent of Jewish women work outside the home, while among Arab citizens of Israel it is half of that.
Part of the reason is that Arab women prefer to work closer to home, both because of traditional modesty concerns, and because there are fewer day care facilities in Arab towns. Building industrial zones would solve some of these problems.
“The socioeconomic situation of many Arabs is very difficult,” Knesset member Ahmed Tibi who chaired the session told The Media Line. “The government must fight poverty with a holistic plan to improve the existing infrastructure in Arab towns.”
Israeli government officials who spoke at the government session said the government has invested tens of millions of dollars in the Arab sector and has plans for more.
“In the last decade the government has invested $140 million in the non-Jewish sector over the past decade,” Yigal Tsarfati of the Ministry of Finance told the session. “There are 55 industrial zones in non-Jewish areas and we are planning more. There is no doubt that an industrial zone is an important way to move the economy forward.”
Some of the Arab parliamentarians said that appealing to the Israeli government had not worked for decades and there was little chance it would work now.
“We have to start a public campaign, going out into the streets and holding protests,” Arab MK Ayman Odeh told the session.
Israeli officials agree there is a problem. In a recent report, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira said that efforts to integrate Arab citizens into the workforce were “broken, ineffective and deficient.” He also said that goals set by the government itself were not being met.
Building industrial zones is a long-term project but has already proven that it works. In the town of Nazareth, Israeli Jewish industrialist Stef Wertheimer has built an industrial zone that has both Arab and Jewish companies and has created more than 1000 jobs over the past few years.