Palestinians in Israel’s “Mixed Cities”

Palestinians in Israel’s “Mixed Cities”
Manufacturing Ghettoes, Erasing History

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This essay explores the conditions of the Palestinian population in so-called “mixed cities” and discusses the changes that have taken place in Palestinian spaces after the Nakba. It also addresses Israeli policies toward these cities.

Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) defines “mixed cities” as Jewish majority cities with a substantial Palestinian minority. Although the term does not reflect socioeconomic reality in these cities, it was adopted so as to represent an exceptional situation in the State of Israel, where Palestinians and Israelis generally live in separate residential communities. The CBS categorizes Haifa, Jaffa, Lydda, Ramla, and Acre as mixed cities, and they are the focus of this essay. (Other mixed cities include Jerusalem, Ma'alot-Tarshiha, Nazareth Illit, and Neve Shalom, but they are omitted from this discussion because their history and the reality of residents’ lives fundamentally differs from historic Palestinian cities; Jerusalem is excluded because East Jerusalem is part of the West Bank.) 

Official population statistics do not reflect the actual number of Palestinians in these cities. Many Palestinians moved to live there and kept their original villages as their official registered place of residence for a variety of reasons, including the desire to keep their right to vote in elections for local authorities, or their sons and daughters’ right to education in their original village, particularly if the mixed city they live in does not offer schools for Arabs.

This aside, statistics indicate that at the end of 2015, the number of Palestinians in all mixed cities was about 100,000, or about 8.5 percent of all Palestinian citizens of the State of Israel (see Tables 1 and 2). The largest concentration of Palestinians in mixed cities is in Lydda and Acre, where they make up 30 percent of the total in each; the smallest is in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, where they make up slightly more than 4 percent of the total. In Ramla, they account for about 23 percent of the city’s population; they constitute almost 11 percent of Haifa’s population. In these cities, most Palestinians live in neighborhoods that are largely separate from Jewish ones.

Historical Background

Historically Palestinian cities were directly and deliberately targeted between mid-April and the end of May 1948, and the Palestinian presence there was nearly completely eliminated. After the establishment of Israel, the authorities continued to subject Palestinians who remained in the state to policies designed to ensure their geographic, political, social, and cultural erasure.

Military rule was imposed on Palestinian cities and communities immediately following the Nakba, and it remained in place in many areas until the end of 1966. In mixed cities, military rule continued until around mid-1951. However, it was terminated in Lydda in July 1949 and in Ramla in June 1949. Although military rule was not official in the city of Haifa, it was imposed on the Palestinian population and Arab quarters there. According to some sources, military rule ended in mid-1949 in Jaffa, and Acre remained under military rule until mid-1951.

During this period, state authorities assembled the Palestinians who had remained in these cities into specific neighborhoods, unofficially called ghettos. In Jaffa, out of the 71,000 Palestinians who originally lived there, 4,000 remained after the 1948 war; they were regrouped in the Ajami neighborhood. In Lydda, the 600–800 Palestinians (out of an original population of 18,250) were assigned to al-Sakana and al-Mahatta neighborhoods. In Ramla, authorities relocated 150 Palestinians (out of an original population of 16,380) in al-Jamal neighborhood, which to this day bears the name “the Arab ghetto.” In Haifa, they assembled 3,200 remaining Palestinians (out of an original population of 75,000) in the Wadi Nisnas neighborhood.


Table 1: Palestinian Population in Mixed Towns, Selected Years

  1932 1951 2015
City Total Jews Arabs % of Arabs Arabs
Number % Number % Number %
Haifa 47,393 12,923 27.3 34,470 72.7 10.5 30,647 10.9
Akka 7,897 237 3.0 7,660 97.0 31.2 14,977 31.4
Ramla 10,347 5 0.0 10,342 100.0 12.0 16,887 22.9
Lydda 11,250 28 0.2 11,222 99.8 5.0 21,567 29.6
Jaffa 54,982 7,401 13.5 47,581 86.5 8.0* 18,242 4.2*

* Percentage of Palestinians in what became known as Tel-Aviv – Jaffa.

Source: Data for 1932 and 1951 are from Salim Brake, The Arabs in the Mixed Towns in Israel: Comparative Political Analysis (Haifa: University of Haifa, The Jewish-Arab Center, 2016), p. 74. Data for 2015 are drawn from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics at cbs.gov.il


Table 2: Population in Mixed Towns, 2015

City Total Jews* Arabs
Number % Number %
Haifa 278,903 219,358 78.6 30,647 10.9
Akka 47,675 29,472 61.8 14,977 31.4
Ramla 73,686 53,455 72.5 16,887 22.9
Lydda 72,819 45,563 62.5 21,567 29.6
Jaffa 432,892 393,212 90.8 18,242 4.2

* This does not include “others” who, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, include non-Arab Christians, members of other religions, and those not classified by religion.

Source: Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics at cbs.gov.il


Israeli Policies toward Palestinians in Mixed Cities

Although mixed cities are not all located in the same geographic region, they share several features: the destruction of large sections of historic Arab neighborhoods in these cities, confiscation of lands and property of the indigenous population (especially those who were displaced during the Nakba), residential hardship, and pronounced neglect of neighborhoods where Palestinians are concentrated.

Israeli authorities demolished large sections of Haifa immediately after occupying it. They demolished parts of al-Manshiyya neighborhood in Jaffa immediately after the occupation began, and proceeded to demolish parts of Arab Jaffa (“Old Jaffa”) throughout the fifties. In the city of Ramla, demolition operations were conducted in Arab neighborhoods in the late 1960s. Authorities also embarked on demolishing al-Mahatta neighborhood in Lydda in the late 1980s.

Immediately after the Nakba, Israeli authorities seized and confiscated Palestinian properties, and the majority of Palestinians living in historic Palestinian neighborhoods in these cities became protected tenants living in houses run by two companies, Amidar and Halamish. These companies were appointed by the State and the Israel Land Administration as agents to manage the property of Palestinian “absentees.” In conjunction with this, authorities adopted a policy of Judaizing these cities, by increasing the number of Jews who lived there and converting original street and neighborhood Arabic names into Hebrew ones.

After military rule in mixed cities was ended, Palestinians rushed in; some were refugees and families from surrounding villages, others were villagers whose villages had been demolished by the authorities after the Nakba. Later on, the authorities also housed Palestinian and Arab collaborators from the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and Lebanon in these cities. These factors affected the residential composition of these cities, and they contributed to the sense of alienation and distance between residents.

Israeli policies toward Arab neighborhoods are characterized by two approaches: official neglect and privatization of property. While they both share the same settler colonialist dimension, they differ in their tools of implementation, because of changes in the state’s economic policies. State institutions still intentionally and systematically neglect Arab neighborhoods. The state continues to implement policies that restrict Palestinians to ghettos, where the poorest members of the population still suffer from residential, social, and economic hardship. But in the 1980s, a neoliberal strategy was introduced, which encouraged privatization of property in these neighborhoods. Municipalities like Jaffa, Haifa, and Acre have undertaken urban renewal and development projects in numerous Arab neighborhoods, with the goal of putting them up for sale on the free market. This increased property value in these neighborhoods and pushed out the indigenous population, who are generally poor, in favor of rich Jewish buyers.

Educational and Economic Conditions of Palestinians in Mixed Cities

Although there is no official data about the Palestinian population of mixed cities, relevant studies conducted by local associations shed light on aspects of daily life for the population of some of these cities. They also note that effects of policies of systematic discrimination against the Palestinian population can be seen in declining conditions across all areas of life.

With regards to education, facilities are few and the level of education is low. While private ecclesiastical schools provide an alternative to formal education in these cities, the percentage of students who obtain high school diplomas (the Bagrut certificate) and receive postgraduate degrees is still low compared to the general level of education in Israel’s Palestinian society.

The situation is no different in terms of work and standard of living. Although these cities offer places of work, evidence of which can be seen in the relatively high percentage of Palestinians in the workforce, particularly among women, these rates are not reflected in their standard of living and monthly income. A high percentage of Palestinians in the workforce is employed in nonprofessional fields and receive low wages.

The situation in Haifa differs to a certain degree. Although comprehensive statistics about Arab Palestinians in this city are almost unavailable, there is a larger Palestinian middle class in Haifa, in addition to more independent Palestinian cultural spaces. Several facts account for this: 1) the large size of Haifa, in contrast to Lydda, Ramla, and Acre, and the city’s ability to provide workplaces to Palestinians; 2) its proximity to the Galilee region, home to the largest group of Palestinians in the north of the country, in contrast to Jaffa, Lydda, and Ramla, where during the Nakba Israeli authorities worked to wipe out surrounding Arab spaces; 3) the existence of a university, which attracts male and female Palestinian students, many of whom are politically, socially, and culturally active in the city during their years at the university and may choose to remain in the city after graduating from university; and 4) a relative concentration of Palestinian civil society organizations in the city. These factors help shape a diverse community of Palestinians in Haifa and expand the middle class there, which helps create independent Palestinian cultural enclaves in the city.

Local Political Participation

Patterns of Palestinian representation in municipal elections are different in mixed cities from that prevailing in Palestinian cities and villages. In mixed cities, Arab lists are mostly representative of country-based parties; fewer candidates run on family or sectarian-based candidate lists. Candidates generally are more professional and transparent in mixed cities, and lists include greater representation of women.

Although representatives on these candidate lists have little influence in municipalities (because they do not enter into municipal coalitions with Israeli Jews and because they and their constituents experience discrimination), Palestinian voter turnout in municipal elections is about the same as general voter turnout in municipal elections in Israel. However, Palestinian turnout in mixed cities is low compared to Palestinian voter participation in Palestinian cities and villages. The rate of Palestinian representation at the municipal level in mixed cities is more or less proportionate to their percentage of the population in these cities (with the exception of Ramla). For example, in 2013 two Palestinian representatives were elected in the municipality of Ramla, representing about 12 percent of the municipality’s representatives. Four Palestinian representatives were elected in the municipality of Lydda (21 percent); five Palestinian representatives were elected in the municipality of Acre (29 percent), and three Palestinian representatives were elected in the municipality of Haifa (10 percent). No Palestinian candidates were elected in the municipal elections in Tel Aviv – Jaffa. There is greater representation of Islamic movement coalitions in municipalities in mixed cities, with the exception of Haifa.


It is no coincidence that the Palestinian population is not referred to distinctly in the official statistics of “mixed cities.” This omission is a natural extension of the Jewish state’s attempts to erase the history of these cities, by demolishing and Judaizing their Arab spaces, marginalizing their society, keeping them in poverty, and denying them the same quality of educational facilities as the majority citizens as a way of tearing apart their social fabric.



Selected Bibliography

Brake, Salim. The Arabs in the Mixed Towns in Israel: Comparative Political Analysis. Haifa: University of Haifa, The Jewish-Arab Center, 2016. (in Hebrew)

Falah, Ghazi. “Living Together Apart: Residential Segregation in Mixed Arab-Jewish Cities in Israel.” Urban Studies 33, no.6 (1996): 823–57.

Humphries, Isabelle. “'Coexistence' and 'Mixed Cities': Microcosm of Israeli Apartheid.” The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs 28, no.1 (January-February 2009): 15–37.

Monterescu, Daniel. Spatial Relationality: Urban Space and Ethnic Relations in Jewish-Arab Towns, 1948-2004. Unpublished Dissertation. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2005.

Monterescu, Daniel and Dan Rabinowitz, ed. Mixed Towns, Trapped Communities Historical Narratives, Spatial Dynamics, Gender Relations and Cultural Encounters in Palestinian-Israeli Towns. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2007.

Rekhess, Elie, ed. Together but Apart: Mixed Cities in Israel. Tel Aviv: The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, 2007.