I feel very fortunate as a Christian to have been able to visit two of the actual sites I have heard about in Sunday sermons and read about my whole life. First I visited The Basilica of the Beatitudes, which is on a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee on the traditional site of Jesus’ delivery of the Sermon on the Mount.
We were also brought to the location of the Biblical account of Jesus instructing His disciples to throw their nets over the right side of the boat and then their nets were overflowing with fish. The spot where Jesus was cooking the fish is preserved: Sacellum Primatus Sancti Petri, the Table of Christ. I also saw a boat that was recently discovered by two fishermen on the shores of the Sea of Galilee that carbon dates back to the time of Christ.
The American Jewish Council made sure we received the Israeli Arab perspective. We heard from Dr. Khalil Shikaki, Director of thePalestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. I learned the Israeli Arab community composes approximately 20 percent of the population of Israel. Israeli Arabs are Arab citizens of Israel, most are Muslim, but a significant number are Arab Christians representing a variety of denominations.
According to Dr. Shikaki, Israeli Arabs compose a fifth of the nation’s population, but do not receive their share of government resources. 56% of Israeli Arab citizens live below the poverty line, which they say is a direct result of the disproportionate allocation of resources. He sites the policing budget as an example. Arab towns have 1.5 police officers per 100 citizens versus Israeli towns which have 3.5 officers per 100. Arab civil servants remain underrepresented in government, comprising only 7.5% of the employees.
Dr. Shikaki says the lack of zoning is a huge issue. Unlike in New Jersey, where we have local control, Israel’s central government drafts its zoning plans. 50% of Arab Israeli settlements still have no zoning plans, meaning they still don’t know where future roads and schools will go. Because of this, Shikaki says it’s very difficult to encourage development when everything is “build at your own risk.”
Things did get better for Israeli Arabs in 1992 when Yitzhak Rabin was elected Prime Minister. Since his party was in the minority in Parliament, Rabin traded votes with the Arab Caucus, leading to substantial improvements for Arab towns in the form of Government aid. This reminds me of what we in New Jersey used to call “Christmas Tree” items in the budget process.
We stopped for coffee on the West Bank today, along with soldiers on their break. It is interesting to take your coffee break and the soldier next to you has a semi automatic weapon on his back. That’s just the way of life here.