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October 10, 2002

More equality than in Europe

The gap between the rich and relatively advanced State of Israel and the lagging Arab world has much increased (the Arab states are at the bottom of the United Nations' Human Development Index, behind South American, Caribbean, and Southeast Asian countries) and is liable to be another obstacle in the future of relationships between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East. In Israel itself, however, despite the events of the last two years, equality between Jews and Muslims has grown in many aspects. Data from the health authorities, at least, attest to a better situation than in Western countries.

The data from the health authorities are most important because they measure not only the welfare of society but also its relations to the minorities living within it and because the right to health, which is one of the human rights, is actually the right to life and is of utmost importance. The UN, therefore, also views the data on infant mortality - perhaps the most important indicator for measuring public health - as the most important component of the Human Development Index. Infant mortality indexes are also considered the most reliable and can be compared internationally.

In Israel, there are gaps between the infant mortality rates among Jews and among Muslim Arabs. In 2001, the infant mortality rate among Arabs was 7.6 per thousand live births (Muslim Arabs, 8.2; Christian Arabs 2.6; Druze, 4.7), while among Jews it was 4.1. This is a substantial gap, which the Health Ministry explains is caused mainly by marriages between close relatives. It is worth noting, however, that the gaps in this area are shrinking at a truly impressive rate. During the years 1955-59, the infant mortality rate among Muslims was 60.6 per thousand - while among Jews it was 38.8 per thousand (take note, you who miss "the good old Israel"). The relationship between the two sets of figures may not have changed much, but the massive drop in infant mortality in the Muslim sector also brought this sector closer to Western rates.

An even more important fact is that the infant mortality gaps in Israel are lower than between Muslim minorities living in some Western countries and those of the local population. Researchers from the International Organization for Migration, based in Geneva, published data on these rates for the first time in 2000. In France, for example, the rate of stillbirths per thousand live births was 8 among the French and 13 among Arabs from North Africa. The mortality rates for babies up to one week old were 6 and 15 respectively. This means that the fetal and early infancy deaths among Arabs are more than twice that among the French majority.

In rich and developed France, the infant mortality rates among Arabs (most of whom speak the language of the country, and some of whom are already second, third and fourth generation natives of France) are not only much higher than in Israel - the gap between the minority and the majority there is considerably larger than in "racist Israel." These numbers speak for Israel more than dozens of anti-Semitic articles and anti-Israel resolutions.

In general the gaps in infant mortality rates between majorities and minorities - even when there is no national conflict between them - are higher even in the richest of countries. In Switzerland, the infant mortality rates per thousand for Swiss and Turks are 8.2 and 12.3, respectively. In Britain, 7.8 and 5.6 (English and Pakistanis). The situation is worst in the United States, where the rate for whites is 8.5 and for blacks, an astounding 21.3.

Against this background, it seems Israel's accomplishments are great, considering this is a country less wealthy than those mentioned above and one under conditions of severe national conflict between the majority and the minority. We must not suffice with this achievement. On the contrary, it proves that even under such conditions, Israel can reach full equality in every aspect of life between members of the Jewish majority and the national Arab minority.

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