Many in Israel are worried about the “radicalization” of the country’s 1.3 million Arab citizens, concerned that they will be a “fifth column.” They do notwant to be, and they do not need to be.
Because of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, there is almost no dialogue today in Israel between Jews and Arabs.
The Palestinian Authority and Hamas are responsible for the fact that many Jews today see the Arab citizens of Israel as a “fifth column,” a “cancer,” and an “enemy from within.”
The Palestinian Authority and Hamas are also responsible for the fact that many Jews are today afraid to visit Arab villages and towns in the Galilee, the Triangle and the Negev.
Some of the representatives of the Arab community in the Knesset have also contributed to the deterioration in relations between Jews and Arabs. Through their fiery, anti-Israel rhetoric, these Knesset members have alienated many Jews who are now convinced that the Arab citizens share Hamas’s goal of destroying the Jewish state.
But this should not be used as an excuse by the Israeli establishment to continue with its policy of neglect toward the Arab community. It is this policy that is also pushing many young Arabs into the open arms of the radicals.
More and more young Arab citizens are joining the Islamic Movement in Israel – a group whose leader, Sheikh Raed Salah has been accused by Israeli authorities of funding terrorism and inciting against the Jewish state.
Another radical group that seems to be attracting a significant number of young Arab men and women is Abnaa al-Balad [Sons of the Homeland], a nationalist movement that calls for abolishing Israel’s identity as a Jewish state and that has always boycotted Israeli parliamentary elections.
These two groups, along with other extremist elements, often find fertile soil among disgruntled Arab citizens who complain about the high rate of unemployment and lack of infrastructure in the Arab sector. This is the new generation of Arab citizens who are more demanding than their fathers and grandfathers, and who are less tolerant when it comes to discrimination.
The best way to undermine these radical elements is by embracing the Arab citizens and not alienating them. Improving the living conditions of the Arabs, as well as absorbing a larger number of university graduates in the private and public sectors, are one way to weaken the extremists.
Unlike the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, who are not Israeli citizens, the Arabs living inside Israel, who are Israeli citizens and who did not flee during the War of 1947-48, are fighting for integration into the Jewish state. These citizens, Israeli Arabs, are struggling for equality and recognition inside Israel; they want to become part of Israeli society. They want to feel that their state, Israel, treats them with respect.
The Palestinians, on the other hand, who left Israel during the War of 1947-48, are seeking to live separately from Israel. They want to live in their own independent state; they are not fighting to become Israeli citizens or be incorporated into the Jewish state.
Ever since 1948, the overwhelming majority of Arabs in Israel has been – and remains - loyal to the Jewish state. These are the Arabs who did not challenge Israel’s right to exist and who expressed willingness to live together with the Jews in the newly-founded state.
Unfortunately and sadly, the Israeli establishment has not been equally loyal toward the Arab minority.
The good news is that successive governments in Israel have openly acknowledged that a serious problem does exist in the Arab sector. The bad news is that these governments have not done enough to narrow the gap between Jewish and Arab citizens.
In December 2008, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decried the “deliberate and insufferable” discrimination against Arabs at the hands of the Israeli establishment. He expressed “concern and unrest” over the gap between the proportion of Arab citizens in Israel and their inclusion in the country’s civil service positions.
“I feel uncomfortable with the fact that the state for many years acted improperly and should have made fundamental changes,” Olmert, a former mayor of Jerusalem who is familiar with the grievances of Arabs said. “We have not yet overcome the barrier of discrimination, which is a deliberate discrimination.”
In October 2009, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu also touched on the subject when he stated during the weekly Cabinet meeting that “We in the Government want to, and will, act so that Israeli Arabs have fully equal opportunities in all areas – education, employment and infrastructures.”
His Minister of Minorities, Avishay Braverman, recently went as far as seeking “forgiveness” from Israel’s Arab citizens. “Equality and partnership are not only written in our Declaration of Independence, it is not only moral, but it is also essential for the State of Israel, for its sustainable growth. If we do not do what is right and wise, we will be pushing the young Israeli Arabs into adversaries. Therefore, partnership and equality for Israeli Arabs is not only good for the Arabs, it is also good for the Jews.”
Ironically, the gap between Jews and Arabs in Israel has widened since the beginning of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993. The Palestinian Authority and Hamas did not only destroy relations between Jews and Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but they also damaged relations between Jews and Arabs inside Israel.
What the Jewish citizens need to understand is that the Arabs are fighting for integration, and not separation. It is the Palestinians who are fighting for separation. In many ways, it is much easier to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because at the end of the day these two communities are going to be separated, as each side wants. The focus should now be on searching for ways to tackle the issue of the Israeli Arabs, who make up nearly 20% of the population and are still loyal to the State. However, unless the Israeli establishment starts addressing the grievances of this community immediately and seriously, the third “intifada” could erupt in the streets of Haifa, Jaffa, Nazareth and Rahat.