The Obstacles Facing Young Arab High School Graduates Entering the Job Market

In this article from the December 2016 issue of Bayan, Nasreen Hadad Haj Yahya analyzes the challenges that young Arab citizens of Israel face when seeking employment.
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Students at an Arab high school in Haifa. Illustrative. (Credit: Haaretz / Yaron Kaminsky)

Students at an Arab high school in Haifa. Illustrative. (Credit: Haaretz / Yaron Kaminsky)

The years between ages 18 and 22 constitute a major crossroads for young people, during which the decisions they make have far-reaching implications for all aspects of their future lives. Over the course of these years, young people acquire education or vocational training, and gradually become financially independent. For many young people, this is a turbulent period, with major changes in interpersonal relations, workplace relations, and personal worldview (Krause, Shavit, & Yaish, 1998).

In Israel, most young Jewish people of this age group are recruited by the IDF after they graduate from high school, postponing any decisions related to their future for several years. Meisels (2002) reviewed numerous studies on the military stage in Israelis’ lives and found that military service offers young people the opportunity to practice various roles and develop interpersonal relations in a setting that is far removed from the milieu in which they grew up. As a result, although military service is compulsory, in Jewish Israeli society, it is considered an important stage of personal growth and development, and a catalyst of maturation.  Furthermore, the IDF offers young Jewish people unable to afford education with the opportunity to learn technical skills or even acquire a high-tech, white collar profession. Such opportunities reduce these young people’s risk of unemployment. Even Jews who do not acquire a profession during their military service have opportunities to develop contacts and ties that may help them attain employment.

The situation of young Arabs in Israel is different. As a result of their non-participation in military service, they enter the job market when they are younger and less mature than their Jewish counterparts, and do not receive the guidance that the military provides to young Jewish Israelis. When they graduate from high school, young Arabs are expected to become independent and cope with complex life tasks. Their transition from adolescence to adulthood is swift and imposes difficult demands on them. No research effort to date has studied the effect of 18 to 22-year-old Arabs’ widespread exclusion from opportunities to integrate into the Israeli job market and education system. My aim is to illuminate the association between ethnic and gender obstacles to employment, the differential distribution of human capital in ethnic groups, and these obstacles' impact on the NEET (a sociological acronym referring to young people who are "Not in Education, Employment, or Training") of young people in marginalized groups, focusing on young Arabs in Israel of this age group. It is important to study the association between these obstacles and NEET, especially in this age group, because it is during this period of their lives that young people face the challenge of integrating into society.

Obstacles facing young Arabs
The job opportunities available to Arabs in Israel are more limited than those available to Jews. Exclusion of Arabs from the job market can be traced to the Israel’s independence, when rural Arabs were dispossessed of their lands in the efforts to “Judaize” the country. Dispossession transformed Arabs into members of the working class, dependent on the economy of the Zionist state with its obviously Jewish orientation (Jamal, 2011; Schnell & Soffer, 2006). Multiple structural obstacles hinder the integration of Arabs in the Israeli job market, and many are based on ethno-national factors and peripherality (Semyonov, Lewin-Epstein, & Al-Haj, 1994). As a result of discriminatory policies, the standard of education in the Arab sector is lower than that in the Jewish sector (Abu Asba, 2007), which makes it difficult for young Arabs to   attain elite occupations (Feniger, Livneh, & Yogev, 2012; Semyonov and Lewin-Epstein, 2011). The range of jobs open to Arabs is severely limited by racism, discrimination, and exclusion in hiring processes and exclusion from work within the defense industry and security sector. Of all the obstacles facing young Arabs in Israel, I focus on those that operate in the social and the geographic spheres, and their impact on human capital accumulation potential.

Approximately 90% of the Arab minority in Israel resides in Arab towns, with the remainder residing in mixed cities whose neighborhoods are largely segregated (Benenson & Omer, 2003; Hamdan, 2006). Israel is divided into center and peripheral regions, with Arabs largely residing in the latter. Peripheral regions suffer from limited opportunities due to their remoteness from central economic and decision making regions. The state of development in peripheral regions is dictated by the center, based on the center’s economic interests (Shils, 1975), reinforcing social gaps and inequity (Friedman, 1972, 1973; Gilbert & Gugler, 1982). In recent years, it has been suggested that in the globalization era, the growing mobility of people, goods, and information, reduces the disadvantages of inaccessible peripheral regions (Brunn & Leinbach, 1991). Several studies have shown that in some cases, the disadvantages of peripherality can be overcome through effective government policy (Ben Aryeh, 2004). However, other studies show that while globalization increases the intermingling of diverse, remote populations, it also increases neo-liberal governments’ tendency to reduce their role in guaranteeing the personal security of their citizens (Becker, 2009). As a result, population groups are becoming more sharply segregated and insular (Shalev, 1991).

The public sphere in Israel continues to exclude the Arab minority from access to resources and opportunities. The social realm may limit the opportunities for young Arabs to integrate into the job market and higher education for three reasons: First, a considerable proportion of Arab villages and towns are geographically and socio-economically remote from the country's regional centers of employment, and therefore have fewer social, economic, and employment opportunities (Schnell, 1994; Rekhess & Rudnitzky, 2009). Second, internal structural obstacles stemming from the social or cultural features of Arab society operate at the individual, family, community, and local government levels to deepen Arabs’ social segregation in Israel. As members of an ethno-national minority, young Arabs find it difficult to break through the boundaries of the Arab sphere and integrate into Jewish spheres. Third, traditional-social norms restrict young Arab women to the private sphere, making it all the more difficult for them to integrate into Jewish spheres in the center.

In light of the overlapping effects of peripherality and segregation on the opportunities available to young Arabs, these factors are considered together as restrictive spatial factors.

Over the years, government policy in Israel has created spatial patterns segregated by nationality (Hamdan, 2006). While this policy indirectly reduced friction between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority, it also led to a decline in the various capital resources that young Arabs are able to accumulate from sources in Jewish society (Schnell & Haj-Yahya, 2014). These capital resources include human capital (knowledge, skills, and aptitudes that individuals acquire through education and training in order to increase their future earning potential (Becker, 2009), economic capital (monetary income and financial resources and assets), and social capital (knowledge, educational training, experience, values, beliefs, and behavioral norms jointly accumulated by a community or society (Bourdieu, 1986).

Putnam (2000) distinguishes between three types of social capital: cohesive social capital, which is formed through primary ties among family members, neighbors, and co-workers who share similar demographic, social, and economic features; bridging social capital, based on looser ties among people who come from different backgrounds, yet belong to the same economic status and have identical access to politics; and bonding social capital, which is formed through ties connecting typically marginalized population groups to centers of decision making and individuals in positions of power. Bonding social capital enhances marginalized groups’ access to a variety of resources, and its absence increases the risk of economic instability and limited employment opportunities. Within Arab society in Israel, Arabs benefit from cohesive social capital, a situation that might also limit entrepreneurs from breaking into networks outside Arab society (Soffer, 2006). However, Arabs lack bonding social capital due to their remoteness from elite Israeli groups, and they find it difficult to develop bridging social capital in a Jewish Israeli society that is mistrustful of them (Schnell & Haj-Yahya, 2014). As a result, young Arabs must invest greater efforts in order to create effective social capital for themselves, enhancing the limited resources that bonding social capital can provide.

Discussion and conclusions
I believe that young Arabs in Israel are prisoners of their geographic spheres, which limit the range of opportunities available to them. Their physical and social marginalization restricts access to resources and opportunities. Women face heightened restrictions due to social controls that limit their choices. Women suffer from cultural obstacles as well, which explains why NEET among young Arab women is especially high. Self-segregating Arab men, who avoid forming ties with members of Jewish society, suffer from moderate levels of NEET, while integrated males suffer from relatively low levels of NEET, or levels of NEET similar to Jewish, residents of peripheral areas.

Based on these findings, the government should develop a policy that facilitates the transition of young Arabs from high school to the job market, in an effort to reduce NEET, especially among young Arab women from traditional Arab towns and villages. The government should work jointly with civil society organizations to develop the education system, vocational programs, and relevant guidelines. Models for attaining economic independence are needed not only when young Arabs graduate from high school, but also earlier, during their teens.  An absence of efforts to address these issues could undermine social cohesion and reduce the participation of inactive youth in social, political, and civil activities. On the other hand, increasing the participation and integration of young Arabs in Israeli society might increase their sense of belonging to the country. This enhances the social and economic resilience of Israeli society, particularly for the Arab population. In addition to enhancing social resilience, integration of young male and female Arabs in Israel might function as a lever of economic growth for the entire country.

Ms. Nasreen Hadad Haj Yahya holds an MA in education and social geography and is a doctoral candidate in the History Department at Tel Aviv University. The topic of her doctoral dissertation is, “The contemporary impact of social space barriers on the inaction and future orientation of young Arabs aged 18–22.” 


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