While the international community is, for understandable reasons, fixated on the population balance between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem, a demographic war is being fought in a lower-profile part of Israel — the north.
Zionist groups have long been encouraging residents of central Israel and new immigrants to move to the north in a bid to strengthen the Jewish presence. And there is a similar interest in laying roots by some Arabs. Influxes of Arabs in to certain northern towns, such as Carmiel are taken by many locals as evidence of this.
New figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics, an agency of the Israeli government, show that if you take Haifa out of the equation, there is already an Arab majority in Northern Israel. Some 53% of residents, the bureau reported, are Arabs.
Two years ago, a Knesset panel discussed the possibility that Israel’s Arabs — who are currently exempt from any national service — could perform civic service in schools, hospitals and other non-political institutions that need volunteers. The polling at the time was fascinating in revealing a gulf between leaders and their constituents. Three quarters of Israel’s young Arab citizens favored the idea, while 90% of their political leaders opposed it.
Now, the percentage of young Arab citizens who favor the idea has fallen to 54%, a new Haifa University Survey indicates. So what has happened over the last couple of years to change the figure? It would seem that the opposition of the leaders has rubbed off on the general Arab population. When the idea was mooted back in February 2008, Arab leaders made their objections very clear. “Anyone who volunteers for national service will be treated like a leper and will be vomited out of Arab society,” Jamal Zahalka, a lawmaker with the Balad party declared at a rally.