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Migration of young Muslim Israeli women to Jerusalem

July 5, 2011

I just read a very interesting piece of research by Asmahan Masry-Herzallah titled Jerusalem as an Internal Migration Destination for Palestinian-Israeli Single Women, published in Hebrew in 2008. Apparently it’s an MA thesis, in any case part of a larger research project which is still underway. It can be found online at the Jerusalem Institute of Israel Studies, here.

Ms. Masry-Herzallah tells the story of Muslim Israelis, i.e. not West Bankers, and not East Jerusalem-born Palestinians, who are beginning to move to Jerusalem. The first part of her study is the usual boilerplate academic context, where the author must demonstrate she has read all the relevant literature about immigration. I was also once an academic and can empathize with her pain, but the non-academic reader can skip that part. When she reaches her real topic, however, she begins to tell a very interesting story.

There is a growing phenomenon of young – and also not quite so young – Arab women from the Galilee and from the Triangle who are moving to Jerusalem. Sadly, she never offers statistics, so we don’t know how large a phenomenon it is, and my guess, simply from the reading, is that it’s hundreds at the most.. so far: the trends she describes could easily reinforce themselves.

The story begins with education and employment. Arab women in Israel tend to have a lower level of education than men, a significantly lower rate of employment, and when they’re employed it tends to be close to home, at low-paid jobs. Since most of Israel’s Arabs live in towns outside the main metropolis, needing to work near home limits the options even further. Indeed, the author seems not to have dealt with Arabs from Jaffa and Haifa hardly at all; they must have a different story, or none of them are moving to Jerusalem.

The author did not find any Bedouin women from the Negev in her study. I don’t know if that means there are none, but it strengthens the assumption that the socio-economic-cultural identity of the Negev Bedouin is different.

In recent years young Arab women are acquiring ever higher levels of education. A noticeable number of them do this in Jerusalem, either at the Hebrew University or at the David Yellin College for teachers (or at other colleges, but in smaller numbers). Many of them study education, but some study other professions; indeed, the trend is towards social studies and medical professions, even if education still leads. Masry-Herzallah doesn’t tell if any such young women come to Jerusalem to study at the Al-Quds University.

Once in Jerusalem the young women enjoy freedom from the limitations of the conservative towns and rather closed society they grew up in; once they finish their studies they’re loth to return.  The job opportunities in Jerusalem are better, the freedom is hard to give up. So they stay. A fascinating thing is that  the preferred job for those who studied education is to teach in East Jerusalem, where they teach… Hebrew! Too many of the educated residents of East Jerusalem have studied on the West Bank, she tells, and their qualifications make it harder to find jobs in Israel; their lack of good Hebrew makes things worse. The young Israeli women, on the other hand, did their degrees in Hebrew-speaking institutions, so they have two advantages, and their ability to bridge the cultural gaps are greater.

She then wonders about the religious affiliation of her subjects. The largest group define themselves as secular; the smallest as religious. She then finds a correlation between religious identification and choice of residence in Jerusalem. The more secular, the more likely they are to live in Jewish neighborhoods, and vice versa; in any case, however, the neighborhoods chosen tend to be in the north of town, near the university: so the secular women gravitate to French Hill, while the religious ones prefer Issawiya, just over the hill. Few of the group live in Beit Safafa, in the southern part of town, which is too far from the university, and not particularly near to most of the Arab neighborhoods with the schools. Some live deeper in West Jerusalem, and the author speculates that this may also become more common.

Near the end of her research she says clearly what a well-informed reader has already been wondering about: that this trend is the exact opposite of the fashion among Jews. The cultural counterparts  of these young women on the Jewish side of society – well-educated, upwardly mobile and secular – are exactly the largest group which is leaving Jerusalem. From their perspective it’s too conservative, and the labor market is not good enough, so as soon as they finish their education they pack up and leave.

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