Cities with mixed populations are breaking down barriers
By Jalal Bana, December 25, 2019, Israel Hayom
Something interesting happened in Israel’s mixed Jewish-Arab cities in the last municipal elections. Arabs running on national party lists or as independent candidates were elected to city councils, and they all, without exception, joined the municipal coalition governments and announced their support for the elected mayors or local council heads. Five of these local council heads are from the Right, representing the Likud or Yisrael Beytenu.
Despite the ideological gaps and political polarization, city residents can still have identical interests, and there are many fields in which elected officials from Hadash (the Arab-Israeli communist party), Balad, or the Islamic Movement can work effectively with representatives of the Likud or Habayit Hayehudi. In every mixed-population city, one finds close cooperation between Jews and Arabs at every level of municipal administration and activity, even though it’s rare that the city’s schools are bilingual or serve both sectors.
Although the government devoted billions of shekels to a special economic plan for the Arab sector, there is no special attention being paid to the advancement of Arab residents of mixed cities. This week, the Abraham Fund hosted a conference in Acre about its “Shared Cities” initiative, during which representatives of mixed cities laid out their positions as well as presenting some very interesting statistics about the Jewish and Arab residents of those cities.
“Shared Cities” is a project that seeks to foster an approach to city management for existing mixed cities, as well as ones that are developing, and steer them toward becoming fully integrated cities in the fullest sense of the term.
According to a study that Dr. Hisham Jubran conducted in Haifa, Acre, Lod, Ramle, Jaffa, Nof Hagalil, and Ma’lot-Tarshiha, the Jewish and Arab residents of mixed cities value one another and are satisfied with relations between the two groups. The study showed that 81% of Jewish residents described relations with Arab residents of their cities as good, and 89% of the Arab residents described relations with Jewish residents as good.
Some 79% of Arab residents of mixed cities and 61% of Jewish residents said they were in contact with members of the other sector. This indicates that a clear majority of residents of mixed cities meet and interact with members of the other population sector at work, in the neighborhood, and during leisure activities.
Also, 61% of Jewish residents of mixed cities said they agreed with the statement: “I allow my children to play with Arab children,” while 86% of Arab residents said they allowed their children to play with Jews.
These figures show a heartening picture of coexistence, but when it comes to joint school systems, there is still a long way to go.
Coalitions and cooperation at the local government level offer a mirror image of what is taking place in the Knesset and in national politics as a whole, where polarization, alienation, and incitement run rampant. Mixed cities are important points of intersection that can prevent a bigger schism and help forge social bonds, especially given the fact that Arabs – especially young couples and members of the middle class – are moving from Arab communities into mixed cities in an attempt to improve their quality of life and enjoy better municipal services. They are open to the multicultural lifestyle these cities offer.