Attitudes to Social Inequalities

Cultural factors often shape, modify and sometimes determine patterns of socioeconomic differentiation. For our purposes it is important to identify and tentatively explore the impact of norms, values and perceptions that are characteristic of Palestinian society. Important among such typical factors, it would appear, are community solidarity, deferential behaviour towards family elders, gender segregation and lineage (i.e. descendance from prominent families). For example, the cohesiveness of a traditional community, buttressed by kin solidarity at the level of extended families may serve to discourage public exhibition of wealth, especially in a village context.22 Obviously family loyalty and tradition both have contributed to the perpetuation of household crafts and skills across the generations, an effect which is generally assumed to slow down the process (until recently) of children's individual mobility.

As mentioned initially, the social status of the HH cannot be measured directly or unequivocally. It can, however, be useful to relate the actual socioeconomic differences among HHs to their own perceptions of social differences in society. In the following a few attitudinal elements with a bearing on social stratification will be examined, and then related to the actual differences that have been extrapolated earlier.

HH perceived local influence
An important component of family status is the influence the HH exercises within the local community. To measure this "cultural" aspect, the HHs were posed two questions about their own perception of their influence inside the neighbourhood and village/town respectively (Table 8.3):23
The feeling of influence within the neighbourhood is more prominent than within the village, a result which probably reflects the egalitarianism that permeates village life, rather than actual influence. Local community decisions are seemingly made at village - not neighbourhood - level. Neighbourhood influence increases only marginally with HH socioeconomic status. (Excluding female HHs from the analysis increases the amount to 32% in the low status category, but makes no difference in the other categories). As for village influence, the difference between the status categories is more visible, as seen when comparing the opposite high and low status categories.
In figure 8.2 we observe that socioeconomic status decreases with increasing age for HHs 50 years or older. Can low scores on the socioeconomic status indicator among "elderly" HHs be compensated by elevated positions as family and/or village elders? Further investigation (table not presented) proves that village influence does not increase systematically with age of HH. Rather, it is among the age categories 40-59 that instances of high influence are most frequently invoked.25 Such a finding is significant in that it challenges persistent assumptions of status being attributed to old age (seniority), and suggests that 'prestige' may be enhanced by age only if accompanied by other status variables.

Table 8.3 HHs perception of his/her influence in the neighborhood and village/town by socioeconomic status. Percentage reporting decisive/considerable.24
Socioeconomic status
LowLower middleUpper middleHighAll
"Neighborhood influence"2527393832
"Village influence"915232818

The Role of the Family
Based on the initial discussion, it is fair to expect family kinship to be vital determinants of socioeconomic distribution. In Palestinian society, as in most Middle Eastern societies, the family network has always had an overriding "welfarist function". This role is reinforced by a number of considerations: The absence of a public sector that runs regular social security arrangements (in an economically and politically unstable environment) buttresses the role of children and other relatives as pillars of support for weaker and less advantaged family members.26 This tendency is fortified by a normative system resting on a religious as well as a traditional socio-political frame of reference, which asserts the obligation of the younger generation to take care of the old and the disabled. Social ostracism and shaming are used to isolate those who do not fulfil their filial duties.27 Table 8.4 examines the impact of kinship status and family solidarity, and relate the answers to the HH stratification index.

Table 8.4 Attitudes on the role of family background by HH socioeconomic status. Percent saying "Yes". (Don't know in parenthesis)
Socioeconomic status
LowLower middleUpper middleHighAll
"Achievement in life is
dependent on social
"Achievement in life
depends on
family solidarity"

First, only three out of every ten Palestinians agree that the social status of the family determines one's achievements in life. Conversely, a vast majority (about nine in ten) believe that one's achievements in life depend on family solidarity. What is the explanation of the marked difference in responses to these two statements? As to the first statement, a family's social background may in fact be more important than the responses suggest. Such a reality may be ignored as it seems run counter to conventional beliefs that the constraints inherent in the old social order largely have been overcome. The relevance of family background may be rejected on the grounds that in the contemporary world it is one's issamiyya (personal ambition or effort) that governs, and should govern, one's position in society. On the other hand, there is widespread recognition that achievements usually are not the sole result of individual efforts, but are dependent on the collective contributions of one's kin, this being the only assured system of support in an otherwise hostile and unstable world. Hence the higher score on the family solidarity variable.

Secondly, differences between the status categories are small. Comparing the opposite categories of high and low, the most marked difference is found for the "family social background" statement. The amount of positive responses increases with increasing HH status, and is higher among the best off as compared to the worst off. The finding suggests that family social background may be felt to be particularly important for social mobility among the higher social strata. But even in this category half of the HHs disagree. With respect to family solidarity, agreement is more or less unanimous regardless of social background, although it is somewhat weaker for the high status category, and seems to cut across socioeconomic cleavages. Before attempting any further explanations, the question of perceptions of social differences will be dealt with, as expressed by attitudes to the existence of conflicts among various social strata.

Socioeconomic Status and Perceptions of Conflict
Socioeconomic differences are generally supposed to manifest themselves in social conflicts. Literature on slum neighbourhoods in the industrial countries indicates a high incidence of actual and perceived social conflicts in these communities. This is not, however, necessarily the case in poorer countries where high population densities do not exclude but rather go hand in hand with a high degree of communal solidarity.28 By confronting the respondents with a number of statements as to the existence of social conflicts in society, the conflict potential among Palestinian HHs is revealed (Table 8.5).

Table 8.5 Attitudes to social conflicts by socioeconomic status. Percentage saying very strong/strong conflict. (Don't know in parenthesis)29
Socioeconomic status
Between management and workers44
Between poor and rich47
Between employed and unemployed 32
Between rural and urban population9

As can be seen from the distributions, perceptions as to the existence of ("vertical") conflicts between management and workers and between poor and rich basically divide the population in two equally sized groups. The interpretation may seem unambiguous but does, however, call for at least a twofold interpretation. Conflicts may be real or not, and the respondent may be aware of them or not. The higher degree of "don't know" in the low-status category may indicate a general lack of awareness in this category. On the other hand, attitudinal differences between the socioeconomic status categories are small, the exception being, perhaps, the issue of relations between management and workers. Here the difference amounts to 19% between the two extreme categories on the socioeconomic distribution index.

When it comes to ("horizontal") conflicts between employed and unemployed, and between the urban and rural populations the conflict potential is considerably weaker. Only three and two in ten respectively consider these conflicts as strong. Further, small differences in conflict attitudes between the high and low social strata are observed. Again we should note the high degree of "don't knows" in the low status category. Generally speaking a homogeneous picture emerges across the status categories, in which attitudinal similarities are more striking than the differences.

Socioeconomic Status and Attitudes to Inequalities

In social science it is generally considered that different attitudes or values interconnect in "belief-systems" or ideological groupings. Many people may take opposite stands on "objectively" speaking similar issues but may feel totally consistent. Indeed, different attitudes may co-exist as mutually dependent within the individual or society, thereby reflecting "hidden" value dimensions.30 Do Palestinian HHs take the same stand on each question or do they have differing attitudes to the different items? And, can possible attitudinal variations be explained by differing socioeconomic backgrounds among the HHs.

A statistical analysis (factor analysis) shows fairly strong covariations between all the conflict issues, indicating a single underlying conflict pattern. Furthermore, the issues of family background/solidarity and village/neighbourhood influence are, empirically speaking, neither associated with the conflict issues nor with each other.

To shed some light on the conflict dimension, an additive index has been constructed based on the four issues, ranging from "consensus oriented" to "conflict oriented".31 The conflict distribution shows a bell-shaped curve, skewed towards "moderate" stands. When divided into three categories, four out of ten HHs can be classified as consensus oriented, five out of ten as moderate, and one out of ten as conflict oriented. The distribution thus reflects the division of the population observed in table 8.5, where only the "vertical" or class related issues exert a pull in the direction of radicalism.
Generally speaking, deprived socioeconomic conditions may be expected to intensify perceptions of social conflicts. A comparison of the prevailing conflict dimension for the various status categories however, brings to light only small differences.32 Inclusion of age, sex and locality in the analysis proves that the locality of the HH is the only factor that significantly contributes to explaining differences (Figure 8.5).

Figure 8.5 The conflict index by locality of HH: three main areas. Percentages

The conflict potential is highest in Arab Jerusalem and lowest in Gaza, with West Bankers taking up a middle range position. This finding contradicts the hypothesis of a connection between density and occurrence of conflicts sketched above. While Gaza has the highest degree of congestion and the highest mean size of households as compared to the West Bank and Jerusalem, Gazans consistently have a weaker perception - or at least not a higher one - of conflict than the HHs in the West Bank and Arab Jerusalem have. This is an interesting finding also when compared to the parallel pattern for distress found in the chapter on Health (Chapter 4).

How does one explain the relatively small ideological disparities according to social background? Three tentative explanations will be put forward: First, in Western societies a process of loosening of ideological stands from social background can be observed. With the emergence of new social and class patterns, traditions and established social groupings seem to be crumbling. Individual choices of life styles and identities become more important. What seems to count is not "where you come from", but rather "where you want to go". Applied to Palestinian society, this hypothesis suggests that locality, and the conditions of daily life, may be the critical factor that permeates perceptions of conflict, overriding other considerations of an occupational or hierarchical nature.
Secondly, potential internal conflicts between social groups may be externalized. Attitudes associated with conflict may be transferred and turned towards an external foe who is much more visible and tangible. Internal dissension can in fact be repressed, and hostility - as has happened since 1988 - can be focused on individual collaborators, or also on social outcasts (prostitutes, drug-dealers, etc). This externalization may also enforce a consensual ideology, which underplays the magnitude of conflict (real and imagined) within the society, and focuses on differences with the outsider.

As for Gaza, seemingly taking the most moderate stand, the degree of congestion and squalor, not parallelled in the other Palestinian communities, may produce a heightened feeling of being encircled or of shared destiny. This feeling, compounded by prolonged days of curfews and collective punishment of whole neighbourhoods33, may have evoked attitudes of communal solidarity to an extent not found in West Bank or Jerusalem communities. In the City of Jerusalem a number of factors may weaken this solidarity and create an atmosphere where inherent social conflicts surface and are articulated more visibly than elsewhere: (1) Absence of Israeli military rule and the less grave confrontation with the armed forces, (2) the availability of certain social services such as health and family insurance, normally unavailable to the rest of the occupied territories, and (3) higher degree of ethnic, religious and social diversity34. The result is a concentration on ideology which downplays the magnitude of conflict (real and imagined) within society, and focuses on differences with the outsider.

Third, an explanation may be traced in the continued acceptance of hierarchical social structures, as is evident in many developing countries. Such acceptance, in addition to reinforcing the thesis suggested above about externalization of conflict, is rooted in a society where class and status antagonisms are modified by a system of patronage and kinship networks which modify the intensity and direction of status differences. In the context of Palestinian society under occupation these networks are likely to make themselves felt in modes of political behaviour and political mobilization. Such hypotheses cannot, however, be fully tested at the present stage.


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