Religion

THE ISSUE

Religion

 

Religion: Arab citizens of Israel are diverse in terms of their religion with around 82% Muslims (including Bedouins), 8% Druze and 10% Christians. In addition there is a small group of Circassian, non-Arab, Christians.

Muslim Arab: The vast majority of Muslims in Israeli are Sunni. The 1948 War created a structural vacuum in the life of the Muslim community in Israel. Organized Islam virtually disappeared and almost every member of the Muslim religious establishment of Mandatory Palestine fled. The Sharia Courts Law and the Qadis Law passed in the 50s and 60s recreated the system or Muslim courts, which were granted almost exclusive jurisdiction in matters of personal status. Today 8 such religious Sharia Courts exist (in addition to the Supreme Sharia Court of Appeal in Jerusalem). 

Since the late 1970s, Islamic revivalism has had growing influence on the Muslim community in Israel. The Islamic Movement in Israel has won popular support through religious education and community work, having been especially successful in mobilizing volunteers for Islamist-oriented community service. In 1996, the Islamic Movement split over the question of participation in Knesset elections. The more dogmatic Northern Faction headed by Sheikh Raed Salah opposed participation, while the Southern Faction supported participation and has been taking part in national elections ever sincerely. 

Today, Muslim Arabs make up 82% of Israel’s Arab citizens, with around 50% living in the Haifa and northern districts and 15% in the southern district.

Christians: Christian Arabs make up 10% of the total Arab population in Israel. This percentage has decreased from 21% in the 1950s through 13% in the 1990s. One reason for this decrease is the lower natural growth rate of Christian Arabs, which in 2011 was  1.3% compared to 2.5% among Muslim Arabs. Approximately 85% of the Christian Arabs reside in the Northern and Haifa Districts, and 9.5% in the Jerusalem District. The demographic profile of Christian Arabs in Israel more closely resembles that of the Jewish population than the Muslim one. Not only in terms of growth rate, Christian Arabs also have high rates of socio-economic success and educational achievement. Arab Christian high school students have the highest rate of success in matriculation exams in Israel: 64%, higher than the matriculation rates of Jews (59%), Muslim (48%), or Druze (55%). 

In terms of politics, Israeli Christian Arabs have traditionally played a significant role in Arab political life in Israel and are politically overrepresented. In recent years there is a growing trend of Christian-Arabs volunteering for IDF service (despite being exempt as are all Arab citizens.) Consequently there are some efforts by right-wing MKs to distinguish Muslim and Christian Arab citizens by law.

Druze: The Druze community in Israel consists of an Arabic-speaking off-shoot of an 11th Century Ismaili Shiite theology. Druze citizens number around 133,000 inhabitants and constituted 8% of the Arab population in Israel in 2011. Nearly all (98%) Druze in Israel reside in the Northern and Haifa Districts.

The Druze in Israel were officially recognized in 1957 by the government as a distinct ethnic group and an autonomous religious community, independent of Muslim religious courts. They have their own religious courts, with jurisdiction in matters of personal status, and spiritual leadership. Unlike Muslim and Christians, who are exempt from military service, since 1956 Druze men have compulsory military service from the age of 18, like their Jewish counterparts, while Druze women are exempt for religious reasons. Their enlistment figures are extremely high and they participate in special units and have reached high ranking positions in the IDF.  At present (2014) only one Druze Mk serves in the Knesset, MK Hamad Amar (Yisrael Beitenu). 

In recent years, members of the Druze community have increasingly protested against official discrimination and government neglect of their interests. They point to their relatively low socio-economic and education levels as well as to the limited availability of housing and land, particularly for young couples and discharged soldiers.


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