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From the Left: The Promised Land was not Vacant

Unfortunately, that was the case when Jews began their mass climb—i.e. Aliyah—back to the land of their fathers at the end of the nineteenth century. It was ruled first by the Turks, then by the British, and was known widely as Palestine. And guess what—it was occupied mainly by Arab people, living in and working the land for many a centuries. There were pockets of Jewish existence, living relatively in peace as a religious minority, mainly in Jerusalem and Zefat.

            I suggest therefore, that every attempt to question the legitimacy of the Arab minority in Israel, or remove them to a future Palestinian state, will take that into account. Even more so, the State of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, state clearly an appeal to the “Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.”

            Come to think of it, to a large extent they did. And I’m not so sure they were repaid in kind. And while it might be true, as my colleague from the right argues, that the loyalty of Israeli Arabs lie elsewhere, and that they may pose a threat to a future peaceful agreement, it is also true that to an extent they were always regarded, and treated, as second class citizens. It was always somewhat dangerous to travel from the valley of my youth, the Jezreel Valley, through Wadi Ara, including Umm al-Fahm, on the way to Tel Aviv. Walking and hiking in close proximity to Arab villages was a permanent threat, as many a times we were bombarded by a barrage of stones.

But there was always another side to the story. When I returned to my kibbutz after serving in the army, I worked for a while in our grapefruit orchards. Working with me was an Arab young man from a nearby village, by the name of—yes, I didn’t invent this—Arafat. He spoke Hebrew; he drove our tractors and cars; he ate with us and not once, invited us to visit him in his village for traditional Arabic meals. His extended family helped harvesting our grapefruits.

            Just this September the NY Times ran an article, where under a picture of a Jewish-Arab dancing performance, it said was taken at a “Religious Détente, while a Bible-Koran quiz held last month in the Gilboa region of Israel.” It went on to describe a ground-root drive going on in the Gilboa regional council, which includes the kibbutz I was born in, where Israelis and Arabs—including from Jenin—are getting together to create activities and atmosphere of cooperation and living together as friends.

            In other words, it is entirely possible to co-exist in peace and prosperity for both sides. The Israeli Arabs can be, as my colleague suggests, a fifth column. But they can also turn out to be brige builders for peace, which is the other side of the coin. If we’ll stop the occupation and expansion in the West Bank, if we’ll agree to a division of Jerusalem, if a viable Palestinian state will come to be, a day will come soon when a soccer game will take place between the teams from Israel and Palestine. It really is a question of what’s more important: sharing the land, living and working in it together—even in separate states—or fighting over it constantly.

            Lastly, the idea my friend proposes at the end is totally unrealistic. In order to achieve it, we’ll have to extract pieces of the Jezreel Valley, the Galilee, Haifa and Jaffa—there won’t be a viable Jewish state then. The same goes for Palestine; if we’ll leave Jewish settlements sprawling all over their land, they won’t have their own viable state. Maybe if some large Jewish settlements will stay put, such as Gush Etzion and Kiryat Arba, but under the sovereignty of the Palestinian authority, no longer running on the Judean hills with Uzi machine guns shooting at will and destroying their Arab neighbors’ olive trees. At the same time, those Arab Israelis who prefer to stay in Israel, will live as equal citizens among the Israeli Jews, as one people—as indeed Israel’s Declaration of Independent is calling for.



5 Responses

  1. I do object to the weak separation-of-power that exists between the 3 branches… ‎

  2. And I thought Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East. Oh well, I was wrong again.
    BTY: Do you object to the rule of law in Israel?

  3. The central election committee, with a clear majority, has decided today (1/12/09) to not allow 2 main stream Arab parties to run in the upcoming election, because of their actions in consistently siding with the enemies. There you have it my friend. The super active policy maker Israeli high court would probably reverse that decision, sadly….

    But I take comfort in the act of sending a clear and loud message.

  4. Thanks for your comments, Susu, you’re raising a number of interesting points. As for Arafat, the Israeli Arab lad, it wasn’t meant to be condescending at all, even though factually you’re right: by the very fact that the Arabs in Israel are a minority, more of them will be employed by Israelis Jews, than vice versa. However, I deepened into the recesses of my mind to bring this experience as a good example. He was a hired labor, and yet he was also one of us in more ways than one.

    The story from the NY Times about what’s going on now in the Gilboa region is actually taking place these days, as appose to back then some forty years earlier, and represents how people from both sides, Arabs and Israelis alike, can get together to create cultural and agricultural ventures and activities together.

    Yet you’re right in your conclusion, though I don’t think it’s unique to the Arabs in Israel. Every sizable minority hopes one day to be a majority. The leaders on both sides may not lead us to the “promised land;” but maybe the people on the ground would.


  5. Hillel:

    Couple of points that come to mind while reading your piece.

    You wrote:

    “Working with me was an Arab young man from a nearby village, by the name of—yes, I didn’t invent this—Arafat. He spoke Hebrew; he drove our tractors and cars; he ate with us and not once, invited us to visit him in his village for traditional Arabic meals. His extended family helped harvesting our grapefruits.”
    I find it a bit condescending, it is a known fact that it’s more likely by far to find an Arab working (often as a day worker) for a Israeli Jewish employer than vice versa. Is that what you have in mind when you describe a vision of Arabs and Jews in Israel? “…getting together to create activities and atmosphere of cooperation and living together as friends”. I would think that the Arabs would want more for themselves.

    However, Israeli Arabs (especially their leaders) are constantly calling for totally opposing views, on one hand they claim discrimination, on the other hand they discourage any Arab to cooperate with the “Zionist State”. That leads me to one conclusion: The Arabs enjoy being a minority as long as they are convinced that one day they will become the majority and call the shots.

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