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Young Arab Israelis are in danger (so are other young people)

Cut the budget allocated for education, employment workshops, and leadership training, and say hello to a rise in crime
An Arab Israeli youth sits at a view point overlooking the town of Umm al-Fahm, on February 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)
An Arab Israeli youth sits at a view point overlooking the town of Umm al-Fahm, on February 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)

The state budget presented to the Knesset this past week cuts 15 percent from the five-year plan for economic development in the Arab sector, as well as all government decisions related to the Arab sector. So far, red tape has held up disbursement of even half the funds in the five-year plan, which was enacted in 2015 and extended until 2026.  Programs to address dire problems in the Arab community did not get the funding, and these new budget cuts will make it impossible to go forward anytime soon.

The funds were earmarked for fighting the drastic rise in crime and violence, creating employment for young people, and strengthening educational activity among youth. About 40% of young adults in the Arab sector are unemployed, with no employment or educational framework – and that statistic predates October 7th! Funding these programs is critical. These budget cuts will take a toll on the Arab sector and, in fact, all of Israel.

Without adequate educational frameworks or a reasonable expectation of employment, young people are at elevated risk of drifting into the world of crime and delinquency. Cutting the monies allocated to the Arab sector is not only unjust,  it jeopardizes the future of thousands of young Arabs. Ongoing investment in programs for Arab youth is critical if Israel is to prevent an increase in joblessness, the numbers for which have surely gone up since the outbreak of the war.

To be sure, the Israeli government has, in recent years, worked to rectify the discrimination and neglect faced by the Arab sector. Decisions like five-year plan were courageous and they boosted Arab trust in the government and state institutions. They paved the way to strengthen the long-neglected arenas.

Successful modeling was used to integrate young men and women into academia and employment, including transition year frameworks, leadership development centers, youth organizations and movements, as well as leadership reserves for youth and young people. The Arab community still needs to adopt those models at large, but to do so, it needs the resources to do so – and that means an increase in the budget allocated, not a reduction. 

It is true that over the course of the past year, Israel’s at-risk Arab youth have been allocated resources from various government ministries, but the current funding is not sufficient for the needs of the population. What is needed, truly, is a serious investment of one billion shekels per year to help bring the so-called “idle youth” out of the slump that has been their domain in recent decades.

In the Arab Bedouin society in the Negev, the unemployment rate is even higher – standing at a disturbing 55%. In order to help the young people return to what might be considered a healthy, productive life path, programs already exist that are designed to help them integrate into worthwhile and diverse employment — these programs must be built up, improved, and strengthened. Ideally, the services for this population would be expanded, as well.

Since the outbreak of the war, the entire Arab sector has been in a state of social and economic crisis, which is reflected in the growing poverty data for the Arab community: recently, about 39% of Arab families were defined as poor. But if the government were to support the Arab sector, Arab society would be at least somewhat protected against a growing crisis of trust that will be difficult to dissolve, should it come to that.

The government is at a crossroads, when it comes to the Arab sector. Now is the time to support the community and prevent diminishing the budgets of government allocations for it. The goal is first to prevent the deterioration of youth and young people into circles of violence and crime and to prevent youth dropout from educational systems. Add then, of course, to improve matters across the board.

To be clear, the risk to the youth is not endemic to the Arab sector alone. All of society should take notice at how the crime rate has risen not only among Arabs, but also in the Jewish settlements. This concern – protecting the country’s youth and directing them to take productive, meaningful paths – is relevant for all.

Still, the government must take responsibility before this phenomenon worsens even further. That is, it must dive in to preserve, strengthen, and even expand the programs designed to help young people in these matters. Civil society organizations and the local authorities – though they do provide frameworks and tools for young people to integrate into society – need the government’s support. The government must invest in strengthening the infrastructure and resources for Arab authorities. It should adopt initiatives and programs that help youth become part of non-formal educational activities and integrate young men and women into academia and employment, which will eventually see them achieve key positions in the public sector. The government must strengthen trust with Arab society; in doing so, it will prevent a crisis that could mean a regression in society of many years.

About the Author
Hanadi Sha’er is the manager of Government and Local Authorities Relations at AJEEC NISPED, an Arab-Jewish organization that is dedicated to social change in the Negev.
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