THE BLOG
08/19/2015 11:28 am ET Updated Aug 19, 2016

The Israeli Arabs: Trailblazers of a Better Middle East

The violence that has rocked the Middle East since 2011 has largely bypassed the Arabs in Israel. Had they risen up they could have cited many causes: job discrimination, racism, an alien national anthem, lack of benefits given to army veterans, minimal state funding for education and social services, low income, limited elite employment and 17 years of Israeli military rule (1948-1965). Security forces would have faced a serious problem in dealing with an uprising of 1,600,000 Arabs living close to, and even in, Israeli population centers.

And yet, an uprising never happened. According to polls, 77 percent of Israeli Arabs prefer to live in Israel while only 21 percent want to live in a Palestinian state. They remained quiet during Israel's ten wars with their brethren after 1948 and some have even volunteered to help out on the home front. Two-thirds say Israel is a good place to live.

Why are the Arabs happy or at least satisfied in Israel? The 156,000 Israeli Arabs of 1948 have been fruitful and multiplied more than ten fold. They look at the incredible slaughter and chaos in the Middle East with millions of Arab refugees living in dire poverty and the killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians. They see the rise of radical groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, Hezbollah and Shiite militias.

By contrast, save for recurrent short wars with low casualties, Israeli life, often lived on the beaches and in cafes, is peaceful, modern, high tech and vibrant. Thanks to universal healthcare, Arab life expectancy is 79 years, the same as in the United States.

The educational level of the largely peasant and illiterate Arabs of 1948 has skyrocketed from two years then to 11 years today. Their educational level is much higher than Syrians (seven years) or Yemenites (2.5 years). Israeli Arabs are one-fifth of the graduates of the Technion Engineering School and one in ten of all university students. Two-thirds of Israeli Arabs graduate from high school and one-third pass the college entrance examination. The educational level of Israeli Arabs is almost twice that of Chinese and almost three times that of Indians .

Israeli Arab income per capita ($15,000) towers over that of the West Bank and Gaza ($3,100). While Israel imprisoned a former President for rape and a former Prime Minister for corruption, corruption is rife in countries like Egypt, Syria and Iraq. In Israel there are Arab members (if far too few) in the Supreme Court, diplomatic corps, civil service and police. Almost half of all Arabs own cars and have access to a developing rail and subway system.

Arabs enjoy political privileges unknown elsewhere in the Middle East. Israel grants Arabs freedom of speech, right to vote in open elections, minimally censored newspapers, radio and television, rule of law and independent judiciary. There are 16 Arab members of the Knesset. Every Friday thousands of Israeli Arabs cross the border to see their West Bank relatives.

Homosexuality is legally supported with international gay rights parades in Tel Aviv and even Jerusalem. Muslims, who have their own religious courts, can pray on Fridays at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is controlled by the Islamic Council. Minority Druze, Bahais and Christians flourish and there are Druze generals in the army.

Women have equal rights rare in the chauvinist Middle East. They can vote and be elected to office while polygamy and child marriages are forbidden. Over one-half of Arab high school graduates are female.

The Arab schools teach primarily in Arabic with an autonomous curriculum, yet the majority of Arabs learn to speak Hebrew welI. Israelis are discussing making Arabic compulsory in Jewish schools and are promoting the hiring of Arab techies in their strong high tech zones.

As a consequence, the rate of emigration is low among Israeli Arabs. By contrast, 50 percent of Gazan adults (and 80 percent of all Gazan youths) and 25 percent of all West Bank adults want to emigrate.

The life of Israeli Arabs is far from idyllic and leaves much to be desired. But, as a First World democracy, Israel provides a modern lifestyle that most Israeli Arabs see as better than the life endured by their brethren and relatives in the territories and Arab countries.

Perhaps, as Israel moves to align with the Arab Sunni powers against Shiite Iran, the Israeli Arabs may yet prove to be trailblazers of the future of the Middle East.