Palestinians in Israel’s “Mixed Cities”

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

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Wadi Salib, Haifa

Courtesy of Mohamed Bardane
Mohamed Bardane

This essay explores the conditions of the Palestinian population in what Israel refers to as “mixed cities” and discusses the changes that have taken place in Palestinian spaces after the Nakba. It also addresses Israeli policies toward these cities.

Defining "Mixed 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, Neve Shalom and Nof HaGalil (previously Nazareth Illit), 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 to maintain 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 2019, the number of Palestinians in all mixed cities was about 111,892, 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 more than 30 percent of the total in each; the smallest is in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, where they make up almost 5 percent of the total. In Ramla, they account for about 24 percent of the city's population; they constitute almost 12 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 erase them geographically, politically, and culturally.

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 who remained (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) to 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 2019
City Total Jews Arabs % of Arabs Arabs
Number % Number % Number %
Haifa 47,393 12,923 27.3 34,470 72.7 10.5 33,362 11,7
Acre 7,897 237 3.0 7,660 97.0 31.2 15,829 32
Ramla 10,347 5 0.0 10,342 100.0 12.0 18,300 24
Lydda 11,250 28 0.2 11,222 99.8 5.0 23,642 30.6
Jaffa 54,982 7,401 13.5 47,581 86.5 8.0* 20,759 4.5*

* 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 2019 are drawn from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics at cbs.gov.il

Table 2: Population in Mixed Towns, 2019

City Total Jews* Arabs
Number % Number %
Haifa 285,317 216,402 75.8 33,362 11.7
Acre 49,380 29,369 59.5 15,829 32
Ramla 79,247 54,133 68.3 18,300 24
Lydda 77,222 47,400 61.4 23,642 30.6
Jaffa* 460,613 414,231 89.9 20,759 4.5

* 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.

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

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 the original Arabic names of streets and neighborhoods 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, to an extent that varies according to time and space.

Educational and Economic Conditions of Palestinians in Mixed Cities

Although there is insufficient official data about the Palestinian population of mixed cities, relevant studies mostly conducted by Palestinian 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. The Arab neighborhoods in these cities for the most part fall into the three lowest clusters in the index used by the Central Bureau of Statistics to measure the socioeconomic level in localities and neighborhoods of the large cities.

With regards to education, facilities are few and the level of education is low. This is evident in the budgets of the Ministry of Education. In primary education, the discrepancy between the budget for the Arab student in the Arab classroom and that of the Jewish student in the Hebrew educational system can range from 10 to 33 percent in favor of the latter. This budgetary discrepancy continues in both middle school and secondary education, where the difference may reach up to 34 percent in favor of the Hebrew system, as is the case in the city of Ramla, and 31 percent in the city of Lydda. 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 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 gaps between the average wages for Palestinians and those for Israelis may reach anywhere from 7 to 26 percent in favor of Israelis for men and from 9 to 28 percent for women.

The situation in Haifa differs to a certain degree. In this city, there is a larger Palestinian middle class, 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 Haifa). For example, in 2021 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.

The Policy of Urban Renewal and Colonial Settlement

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. These municipalities combined the policy of privatization with that of the goal of attracting the Jewish middle class to live in their cities by offering a series of incentives that included education, social welfare, and other benefits in addition to those of the state.

This policy coincided with the focus of religious Zionist groups on the idea of Greater Israel/ Eretz Israel. These groups considered the dismantling of the Jewish settlements after the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip to be a kind of betrayal by Israeli society, especially by secular Israelis. Thus, it adopted the strategy of “settlement at the core” by seeking to reproduce the mechanisms and methods of settlement they had used in the territories occupied in 1967 within Israel itself, especially in the areas inhabited by a high percentage of Palestinians, such as the Galilee and the Negev, and in the Arab neighborhoods in the mixed cities. As the influence of religious Zionism grew within Israeli governments and in key positions in the state, it gathered significant moral and material support, which increased both its actual and symbolic presence and clout. Those belonging to this movement in settlement outposts in the West Bank are the ones who planned and carried out the attacks on Palestinian neighborhoods and homes in Lydda, Jaffa, Haifa, and Acre during the events of May 2021.


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: 

Avner, Ido et al. Arabs in Mixed Cities: An Insight. Jerusalem: The Knesset Research and Information Center, 2021. (in Hebrew)

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

Diab, Ahmad Baker, Ilan Shdema, and Izhak Shnell. “Arab Integration in New and Established Mixed Cities in Israel.” Urban Studies 59, no.9 (2022).

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.