JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Jews live longer and enjoy lower infant mortality and poverty rates in Israel than the country’s Arab citizens, said a report published Wednesday by a watchdog partly funded by the European Union.
The report by Sikkuy, a liberal group that promotes reconciliation efforts, said that these and other gaps in living standards were in part a result of discriminatory Israeli policies in allocating funds to Jewish and Arab towns.
“Although Israeli governments declare they are committed to promoting equality among all citizens, Jews and Arabs alike, the reality in Israel shows equality is only in theory,” said Nissim Dwek, a spokesman for Sikkuy, which is Hebrew for “opportunity.”
Most of Israel’s Arab citizens are descendants of Palestinians who remained inside Israel after the Jewish state was founded in 1948 in a war in which hundreds of thousands of others fled or were expelled. Those who remained in Israel now comprise about 20 percent of its population.
Unlike Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank, few Israeli Arabs have been involved in violence against the Jewish state, though many sympathize with Palestinian demands for an independent state.
In the 77-page report, Sikkuy said one of its more “worrisome” findings were gaps in life expectancy and infant mortality between Israeli Arabs and Jews in 2007, though both populations had steadily improved in both categories recently.
Jewish men lived an average of 78.4 years, while Arab men lived about four years less, or 74.9 years, the report said.
A similar gap was found between the women from both groups as well. Life expectancy for Jewish women was 82.4 years, while for Arab women it was 78.5.
Infant mortality was 4.8 per thousand for Arabs and 3.6 for Jews, the report said.
Poverty was also higher among Israeli Arabs than Jews, with 50 percent of Arab citizens living below the poverty line even after including welfare stipends, while the figure was just 15.7 percent for Jews, the report said.
Dwek, the Sikkuy spokesman, said these gaps were largely a result of Israel’s inequitable distribution of funds.
Towns mostly populated by Arabs tend to get less money than those where Jews live, he said. Both population groups live mostly in separate towns and cities in the Jewish state.
One of the only figures to show a reverse picture was that regarding home ownership, which was 93 percent among Arabs, but just 70 percent among Jews. The report said this was partly because homes in Arab towns were cheaper than elsewhere.
An Israeli official said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was planning to propose ways to improve the integration of Arab citizens in Israel’s society at a conference expected to be held later this month.
“It is clear the situation is not so good and can do with an improvement, and that both sides need to make an effort to do so,” the official said.
Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Sami Aboudi