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Fact Sheet: Israel’s Periphery

The Galilee: a highly fertile and agricultural region of Israel with rain a distinctive feature
The Negev: comprising about half of Israel's land area, sparsely inhabited, its population supported by an agricultural and industrial economy

These underdeveloped and resource-starved regions comprise 75% of Israel’s landmass, yet only 30% of Israel’s population lives in those areas. Lack of job opportunities and poor public transportation has had the effect of turning these areas into a socio-economic periphery as well as a geographic one. Both regions lag far behind the center of the country in terms of education, standard of living and economic growth.

  • While 70% of Israelis think the Negev has a promising future, only 16% said they would consider moving there themselves. (Market Watch survey)
  • According to data presented at the Galilee Conference in 2007, while many polls show that the Israeli public believes the quality of life in northern Israel is one of the highest in the country, they also believe job opportunities are scarce.

Why aren’t more Israelis moving to these areas?

At a 2009 Israel’s National Planning and Building Council session, participants said the failure to attract new people to the North and South had to do with whether the areas were viewed as attractive, not with housing availability.

  • The top reasons cited for not moving to the Negev were lack of jobs, distance from the center, the heat and low quality of life. (Market Watch Survey)
  • Northern Israel is a heavily fragmented region that, aside from Haifa, is made up of scores of small municipalities with no real commercial center. Travel within the region is difficult, especially without a car.
  • Challenges to these areas grew in light of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, which affected mostly the country’s North and 2008’s Operation Cast Lead, which was preceded by heavy rocket fire in the South.

What are the social problems in the periphery?

The figures on poverty in Israel point to growing inequality between the country’s center and the periphery. Poverty levels continue to hit 29% of families in the North vs. 20% nationwide. Regional family income in the north is only 74% of the national average (Milken Institute) In 2003, the yearly average wage in the Negev district of Beersheba was 88% of the average wage in Israel, and in Ashkelon only 79.3%.

  • The Negev and Galilee account for only 8% of jobs in Israel. (Ayalim)
  • According to report by the Adva Center, jobs in the periphery are considered unstable, manual and low paid.
  • Unemployment rates run 20% higher in the North than in the rest of country. (Milken Institute)
  •  Unemployment rates are high in the Negev—26% among the Bedouin community and 14% for the overall population–versus the national average of 11%.
  • With a high population of new immigrants and minorities and few available social services, there are growing numbers of youth-at-risk. For example, the rates of youngsters in Sderot and Ofakim who pass the Bagrut exam required for entrance to  college are 44 and 39%, respectively; among Bedouin children, the rate is only 28%
  • Israel’s Bedouin community, concentrated in the periphery, is struggling to blend their traditional way of life with an increasingly industrial country. This has resulted in social problems in the community.

But things are getting better.

  • In May 2010, a national Negev Conference convened in Beersheba attended by ministers, MKs and mayors of Negev towns to discuss improving the quality of life and solving social problems in the area.
  • Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom has stated his goal is to bring 300,000 new residents to the Negev by 2020.
  • This year, the government launched a pilot program aimed at encouraging new immigrants to settle in 11 cities in the country’s northern and southern periphery.
  • According to the Beersheba 2020 Blueprint recently published by the city’s mayor, Beersheba is creating some 35 projects, facilities and civic improvements including a park with a river, a promenade, a museum and cultural center, and a “green” mall.
  • The tourism industry is doing well in the North. Hotels, guest houses and zimmers in Israel's North welcomed the end of the first decade of the third millennium with an average 100% occupancy.
  • In May 2009, JFNA convened a meeting of more than 60 Federation and Israeli leaders working to create a joint, regional approach for growing Israel’s Negev.

Here are some of the ways JFNA is helping.

  • The Israel Teacher Corps, created by JFNA’s OTZMA program, sends North American college graduates to teach English in Israel’s underserved schools, many of which are in the periphery.
  •  JFNA’s Negev Work Group, which was established in February 2006, aims to promote regional level collaborations among Federations, seeking to match and leverage funding sources from the Government of Israel, local/regional governments, and other philanthropic bodies.
  • Dozens of JAFI young communities, such as the Ayalim Youth Village, composed of idealistic Israelis, initiate and operate social ventures in the field of education, the community and welfare, affecting thousands of people living in the periphery.
  •  JAFI ATIDIM, funded in part by the philanthropist Eitan Wertheimer, helps Israel’s most disadvantaged youngsters from the periphery excel academically.
  • JDC-Israel established one of its Centers for Independent Living (CILs) in Beersheba, where it functions as an employment and community center for disabled people and caters specifically to the area’s Bedouin community. 
  •  JDC Mishol uses the improvement of living environments to promote community solidarity among immigrants and impoverished veteran Israelis alike. Local coordinators play a pivotal role in guiding residents of Israel's most run-down peripheral neighborhoods to use existing resources to improve their living conditions.
  • World ORT Science Journey transforms educational experiences in the schools on northern and southern periphery. The program invests in teachers, equipping them with the latest teaching methodologies and motivates students to learn better and excel in their studies through the implementation of the latest educational equipment and programs.
  • World ORT Smart Classrooms Initiative provides state-of-the-art equipment and interactive teaching resources in 87 schools in northern periphery, significantly improving matriculation rates of at-risk students. 

Compiled by The Jewish Federations of North America for the 2010 CCD Mission.