The housing crisis in Israel is a national challenge encompassing the whole population, especially the younger generation, in a rush for private property. Regarding the Arab society in Israel, the growing demand for housing is due not only to a quantitative rise in the Arab population and a quest for a better standard of living but is also the result of limited options for spatial growth in the Arab Communities. The trend driven by the expanding Arab middle-class is led by a growing number of Arabs who are professionally and economically integrated into Israeli society. They are shaping the future contour of the northern landscape, which, if not managed, could devolve into a driving source of potential social friction – amidst the Arab society and the Galilean mosaic.
The basic issue is the dearth of land in the Arab communities and the current limited supply of government-approved additional ground for future municipal expansion and private development (due to planning processes and protracted public-private negotiations regarding Israeli government policy and interlocal or regional council land parcellation) resulting in driving up the local land prices. The limited potential for land development and the continued rising prices have attracted criminal activity, who recognize the potential for profit have become involved in real estate ventures. A destructive influence that is taking its toll on the Arab Society dealing with rising community violence .
Additionally, the growing exposure of the Arab society in general to Israeli society and social media trends appears to have boosted the growing trend, especially among the younger generation, for independence from family proximity and scrutiny (Ha mulah in Arabic, clan in English). A developing trend that at times is at odds with current Arab municipality leadership who strive to maintain (or enlarge) their personal control – maintaining council incomes from municipal taxes and constituency sustainment. A local leadership agenda that is occasionally at the expense of the housing demand. Having said that, this trend is changing the lives of many young Arab families and, with it, the face of the Galilee.
The articulation of the transition of a growing number of young and established Arab families to the urban areas is twofold; the continued historical migration to mixed cities such as Haifa  and Acre (situated on the coast with proven economic potential and access to the regional economy) and an emerging internal migration from local Arab communities to adjacent modern urban areas. This includes movement to recognized mixed communities like upper Nazareth (Nof HaGalil) and Shfar’am and in the last decade also to the city of Carmiel. A city initially established in 1964 to assist in developing the area and promoting northern district Jewish appeal. Carmiel, presently with a residency of over 46,000 and no current official data on the number of Arab residents (reported in 2016 at over 1%, 1,000 Arab residents)  is destined to deal with the question of Arab municipal rights (e.g., education and religious facilities). Based on election results to the Knesset in 2021 (with well over 2% of the population voting for Arab political parties), the number of Arab residents is rising and expected to grow (some estimate current Arab residency at well over 10% of the current population).
The Israeli Government response has included advancing plans to assist in developing local Arab communities to answer internal housing demand and, additionally, approved in 2008 the building of a new Arab Galilean city . The new urban community is planned north of route 85 (Acre – Safad) and south of route 70 in proximity to the Arab town of Jedida – Makr. After lengthy negotiations with the residents of the adjacent community of Jadeidi – Makr, the historic Israeli decision determined that the new development would house 40,000 Arab residents and constitute a new addition to neighboring Jadeidi – Makr. The decade-long planning process showcased the demand of Arab families for a balance between personal (including education requirements and expectations), traditional and collective values, and in developing a community, enabling modernity, and raising a family. Not surprisingly, the current local elites object to building new towns, preferring to strengthen existing communities. The result in Jadeidi – Makr (building a new neighborhood and not a new town) appears to be a successful way of overcoming competing interests – a similar development project was recently approved in the city of Arraba (Sakhnin valley) for building 5,000 new homes.
Conversely, Israel is experiencing a global phenomenon, omnipresent in many countries and historically precedented, of idle, energized, and frustrated young people . This social force has manifested itself especially among the growing number of young Arab males who are officially unemployed, uneducated, or not in training (known as NEET – Not in Education, Employment, or Training) . A grouping currently assessed at around 50% of all young Arabs aged 18-24 (about 70,000 in 2017 in Israel). Half are males who are more prone to delinquency and violence and are ripe for incitement. This growing challenge (currently estimated at over 20,000 males in northern Israel) will continue to remain a major shaping factor in any Galilean future for the next twenty years (due to the Arab youth bulge) .
Ignoring the threat will not make it vanish, as Israel Police deputy commissioner, Jamal Hakroush, commented in June 2021. Responding to the sources of the violent wave in May 2021 that rocked Israel, impacting the very foundations of the Galilean mosaic, he highlighted the criticality of immediately dealing with the NEET threat, emphasizing that it is one of the elements that contributed to the recent wave of violence,
“…there is always a reason. El – Aqsa or any other thing, then the incident can easily get out of control… a sick person, left unattended, what will happen?”
Commenting on the growing violence in the Arab society he emphasized that while only 3% of the Arab society were criminally involved, many of them NEET “foot soldiers” attracted to join crime families which empower them economically and socially, their impact on Arab society and Israel as a whole was immense.
Remarking on this national challenge, Israel Police commander of the northern district, deputy commissioner Shimon Lavi, highlighted the current immense operational implications while showcasing the taxing requirements from Israel Police in the north during a conference on the future of the Galilee (Acre, 14 October 2021). Emphasizing that he felt he was fighting a war against crime and stressing that in the northern district, the Arab society (amounting to over half a million Israeli citizens) is responsible for 99% of all shooting incidents and murders, 65% of all arsons attempts and 80% of all robberies. He went on to mention the influence of internal rivalries between families (Ilut near Nazareth and Dir El-Assad near Carmiel as examples) where a massive police deployment (over 100 officers) was serving as a buffer force between two feuding families .
The minister of internal security, Omer Bar – Lev, while commenting on the serious crime wave explained that in recent years there is growing economic dominance of Arab crime families and their growing influence in all facets of life in the Arab society. Calling for a whole of government effort (not only policing) to deal with the multi-dimensional threat, social, criminal, and judicial. A theme Deputy Commissioner Hakrush, singled out, while including the importance of local Arab leadership buy-in and the necessity they come forward and take responsibility, especially due to the opportunity he felt the current Israeli political landscape holds (with the Arab Islamic Raam party supporting the coalition).
The growing Moslem mass, youth bulge, and NEET impact, multiplied by age-old local machinations of politicians (relegating local needs to their personal agendas), are not new to the Galilee. The British White Paper remarked on this in May 1939 when laying out a potential framework for Stability based on mutual respect and understanding that only through good neighborliness could the two communities thrive,
“….since they live side by side, (Jews and Arabs – EDM) must learn to practice mutual tolerance, goodwill, and co-operation. In looking to the future, His Majesty’s Government is not blind to the fact that some past events make the task of creating these relations difficult. Still, they are encouraged by the knowledge that at many times and in many places in Palestine during recent years the Arab and Jewish inhabitants have lived in friendship together. Each community has much to contribute to the welfare of their common land, and each must earnestly desire peace in which to assist in increasing the well-being of the whole people of the country” .
In this regard, the steady rise of the northern Moslems, the majority of the Arabs in Israel, and the current Israeli political landscape appear to create a window of opportunity for initiating a stabilizing process for all those who reside in Israel’s north. Potentially, a way of overcoming human foible and historic felt grievances harking back to the past. As mentioned by Duff when visiting lake Kinneret in 1937, where Jesus performed the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, only to find pettiness and jealousy,
“Out on the lake, about three hundred yards from the shore, lay a fishing boat…Suddenly there was a sound of oars, and another boat came gliding towards the one we had been watching. Shouts roared across the still water, the two boats came together with a grinding bump, blows, grunts, curses, screams, and roars, followed by heavy splashes… not to worry, it was only one of the usual squabbles between Jewish and Arab fishers. “They are a very ancient and very jealous guild, these Arab fishermen,” he said. “They are always fighting with the Jews who come fishing on what these Arabs think is their own preserve.” “Are the supplies of fish short?” I asked. He laughed. “The lake is teeming with them…”…Its just jealousy – the Arabs have fished here for centuries, and they resent interlopers.”(Duff, 1938) .
Resource shortages are not novel or unique to the Galilee, local leadership and the leverage of technology appear to be potential stabilizing factors with the ability to assist in accelerating northern prosperity. For the foreseeable future, the current Moslem Arab leadership, the Arab majority, appears committed to solving local issues and less fixated on identity politics or in multiplying conflict. This development, coupled with a rising Moslem and Christian Arab middle class who quest personal integration, fulfillment, and prosperity, could be the basis for driving a stable, diversified, and all-inclusive Galilean society—at the same time, dealing with burning social issues that shape the Arabs in Israel’s discourse – housing projects, employment, and purpose for idle young men. Positive elements requiring leadership that could potentially contribute to a higher standard of living for all – assisting in the mitigation of the growing threat of violence to personal security. Co-existence and reciprocity based on respect would appear to be a potential basis for a future Galilee common theme. As seen before in the northern arena, even between competitors and past antagonists, the need for basic rules was clear. Such is the example of the signing in Jerusalem in 1923 of the good neighborly relations agreement between the two imperial contestants, French mandated Lebanon and Syria and British mandated Palestine. Embracing the unique Galilean human contour, accepting the differences, and driving local authorities into organizing a united Galilean voice could prove to be the common way ahead.
*Brigadier General (IDF Reserves) Erez David Maisel has vast experience in strategic planning, international relations, and security diplomacy and is a hands-on practitioner in international conflict prevention and boundary management. A native of northern Israel he is co-founder of the Technion Institute in Haifa’s research center BRDG (Boundary Research and Deconfliction Group).
**Featured photo: Sunset over Zevulun Valley (credit: EDM)
https://www.gov.il/he/departments/general/150320_challenge; https://en.idi.org.il/media/9319/neet-among-young-arabs-in-israel.pdf. The majority of young Israeli are automatically conscripted at the age of 18. The IDF then serves as a framework during the transition period (after matriculation) from school to the education and employment phase, assisting in the maturation and national socialization processes.
Maariv, 11 June 2021. Pg, 24. Translated from Hebrew.
Duff. Pg. 133