The Ambivalence of Israel's Arabs

Jonathan D. Safren yon_saf at
Tue Jun 4 15:27:33 EDT 2002

Ha'aretz - ArticleHa'aretz Daily Newspaper
Tuesday, June 04, 2002

The ambivalence of Israel's Arab citizens

By Amnon Rubinstein

Let us imagine that one fine day the government of India decides that for
the sake of peace with Pakistan it is willing to concede any claims to the
Kashmir region, and agrees to its annexation by Pakistan. An implausible
assumption, since India is not prepared to agree to the principle that
religious (in this case, Islamic) affiliation could be grounds for
undermining its sovereignty and unity. An even less plausible assumption
would suppose that if such a proposal were ever raised, the Muslim residents
of Kashmir would oppose it. On the contrary, without a doubt they would
accept such a resolution quite happily.

Conversely, a similar idea of exchange of territory between Israel and the
future Palestinian state, which would include the annexation of Umm al-Fahm
to Palestine, has sparked a wave of fury among the Arabs of Israel, and
their leaders. The idea of an exchange of territory was raised by Minister
Ephraim Sneh. He did not offer any specifics as to which particular
territories might be included in such an exchange - but the mere idea was
enough to bring Arab public opinion in Israel to a boil.

The proposal has been described as transfer, and Professor Ilan Pappe of
Haifa University published a venomous article against the idea in the
Egyptian daily Al-Ahram. Interestingly, no similar outcry was raised when an
Arab Member of Knesset signed a telegram with the address: Nazareth,

How are we to explain these objections? Many Arabs in Israel, and nearly all
of their leaders, describe themselves as "Palestinian citizens of Israel."
Why, then, do they object to being joined together with their national
homeland? They answer that they cannot be shifted around like chattels
without being consulted, and that if they do move, then all the land that
once belonged to them should also be added. This would include not only the
land that was expropriated through (the truly wicked) laws of the 1950s, but
also the land they owned before the arrival of the Zionists. MK Hashem
Mahameed explained not long ago that these lands stretched from the Jezreel
Valley to the Mediterranean Sea.

The first argument is reasonable: Citizenship may not be stripped from an
Israeli by simply transferring him against his will, without asking him what
he thinks. The second argument is immaterial: The property rights of Arabs
in Israel will not be harmed as a result of exchange of territory. They
would be resolved as part of an overall peace agreement that would also take
into account assets confiscated from Israelis in Arab countries.

Law and justice demand that any transfer of population be prefaced by a
referendum held among that population - the results of which, in this
instance, are a foregone conclusion - or, alternatively, that an option of
Israeli citizenship and residency be given to those who so desire. This is
what Britain is now doing in the matter of the residents of Gibraltar in its
contacts with the Spanish government. According to the British proposal -
which has been rejected by the Gibraltarians - they will be given an
opportunity to choose between British and Spanish citizenship at such a time
as Spain receives partial sovereignty over the Rock.

So what is really behind the vehement opposition to the annexation of Umm
al-Fahm to Palestine? How is one to understand this unnatural phenomenon? On
the one hand, Israel is denounced as a fascist, apartheid state; on the
other, there is a great longing to remain in it, and family reunification
has always involved migration to Israel, not from it.

It is doubtful if economics is the sole explanation. No economic dam, no
National Insurance payments, could hold back the flow of nationhood, most
certainly not in our region. Two more profound explanations present
themselves. One is that deep down, the Arabs in Israel want to be a majority
someday - not two states for two peoples, but two states for a single
(Palestinian) people. This suspicion - which lies deep in the heart of the
country's Jews - makes coexistence between the two peoples even harder.

But the other reason takes the opposite tack. It may not be easy being a
minority, especially an Arab minority in a Jewish state. But it is still
possible that Israel - despite all its liabilities - has proven to the Arabs
who live here that is preferable to be a minority in a democracy - even an
imperfect one - than to be a majority in a dictatorship.

It just may be - and this could be the most accurate description of the
situation - that both explanations are correct: not only that the Israeli
Arabs themselves do not share a uniform attitude toward Israel, but that the
individual is himself swinging between two disparate sets of emotions. One
day - when Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated - he is a full partner to the Jews'
grief, while another day - when his neighbors and relatives are killed by
Israeli police - he dreams of revenge.

Things aren't simple, and the question of which of these two sentiments will
triumph depends on Jewish Israelis, as well. For example, to choose a
current issue, we can prevent an unequal allocation of the children's

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