Some 1.8 million people, comprising some 24 percent of Israel’s population, are non-Jews. Although defined collectively as Arab citizens of Israel, they include a number of different, primarily Arabic-speaking, groups, each with distinct characteristics.
In March 2012, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said:
“Israel’s minorities, including over one million citizens who are Arabs, always have full civil rights. Israel’s government will never tolerate discrimination against women. Israel’s Christian population will always be free to practice their faith. This is the only place in the Middle East where Christians are fully free to practice their faith. They don’t have to fear; they don’t have to flee. In a time where Christians are under siege in so many places, in so many lands in the Middle East, I’m proud that in Israel Christians are free to practice their faith and that there’s a thriving Christian community in Israel.”
Muslim Arabs: Over 1.2 million people, most of whom are Sunni, reside mainly in small towns and villages, over half of them in the north of the country.
Bedouin Arabs: Also Muslim (estimated at approximately 250,000), belong to some 30 tribes, a majority scattered over a wide area in the South. Formerly nomadic shepherds, the Bedouin are currently in transition from a tribal social framework to a permanently settled society and are gradually entering Israel’s labor force.
Christian Arabs: Some 123,000, live mainly in urban areas, including Nazareth, Shfar’am, and Haifa. Although many denominations are nominally represented, the majority are affiliated with the Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.
The Druze: Some 122,000 Arabic-speakers living in 22 villages in northern Israel, constitute a separate cultural, social, and religious community. While the Druze religion is not accessible to outsiders, one known aspect of its philosophy is the concept of taqiyya, which calls for complete loyalty by its adherents to the government of the country in which they reside.
The Circassians: Comprising some 4,000 people concentrated in two northern villages, are Sunni Muslims, although they share neither the Arab origin nor the cultural background of the larger Islamic community. While maintaining a distinct ethnic identity, they participate in Israel’s economic and national affairs without assimilating either into Jewish society or into the Muslim community.