Bahai News - Arab Israelis not loyal to Israel
Published Friday, June 15, 2001


Arab Israelis not loyal to Israel

JERUSALEM -- Some weeks ago, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported an interesting story on a long and winding street that crosses Arab, Bahai and Jewish neighborhoods in Haifa. Until 1948, the road was called El Jabel. But after the War of Independence, the street's name was changed to U.N. Boulevard, in appreciation to the international body that voted the establishment of the state of Israel.

When in 1975 the United Nations passed a resolution comparing Zionism with racism, the Haifa municipality decided to rename the street Zionism Boulevard. But a longing for the name El Jabel seems to have been there all over those years. Last month, an Arab council member resurrected a 7-year-old demand to return the street to its previous Arab name.

In any other country, this would be considered a minor municipal issue, but not in Israel. In fact, this incident reflects on the delicate fabric of inter-ethnic relations in the Jewish state. The Jewish character of the state has triggered, unavoidably, a set of inequalities and also has led to instances of discrimination.

Nonetheless, the Arabs of Israel have been granted civil rights and individual liberties, unprecedented perhaps for an ethnic minority so closely connected to, and identified with, enemy countries.


In the 1999 elections, an Arab ran for prime minister (Azmi Bishara, of "I do not object to all of Israel becoming Palestine" fame). Besides, Arabs are exempted from national duties such as army service; they fall on the Jewish majority.

Between 1948 and 1967, the Arabs of Israel went through a process of Israelization by which they basically became loyal citizens of the state. Ever since, however, they rapidly have gone through a process of Palestinization, evidenced by an ever greater and stronger sense of national and emotional identification with their Palestinian brothers.

The commemoration of their Naqba (catastrophe) -- held since 1997 annually on May 15, the anniversary of Israel's founding -- and the boycott of the past elections are signs of increasing national alienation. But the Al-Aqsa intifada probably altered for a long time Jewish-Arab relations in Israel. Then, Israeli Jews were shocked to see rioting Arab mobs chanting "Itbah el yehud!" (slaughter the Jews) as they attacked Jewish drivers and burned Israeli flags. That they behaved this way at a time when the Palestinians had launched a violent revolt did not contribute much to substantiate their later claims that theirs had been a peaceful protest against alleged state abuse and discrimination.

This minority's anti-Jewish animosity has been reflected especially through the representatives it voted into Parliament, who have been giving alarming expression to their national stand. These MPs may refuse to celebrate their own country's Independence Day but have no qualms whatsoever about celebrating anniversaries of Israel's enemies, as it became clear when some of them -- Ahmed Tibi, a former advisor to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, and Hahem Mahmeed -- participated in a Syrian Independence Day ceremony marked by Druse from the Golan Heights.

Sallah Tarif, a minister in the Sharon government, said: "I am in love with Assad," during a 1997 visit to Damascus. In a January 2001 interview granted to Palestinian TV, Tarif wished the best of health to Hamas spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin. He also criticized the Israeli police for shooting at "people who were just throwing stones."

Another MP, Abdel Malik Dahamashe, last April sent a letter of condolence to President Bashar Assad over the deaths of Syrian soldiers after an Israeli raid into South Lebanon -- showing the address as being "Nazareth, Palestine." In March, he interrupted a Parliament session about the Temple Mount, heckling the speakers and claiming the site was completely Islamic.

For his part, MP Taleb a-Saana sent a message of support to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in his struggle "against criminal Israeli aggression." Not to be left out, MP Mohammed Barakei compared Ariel Sharon to Slobodan Milosevic, called for the Israeli elected leader to stand trial for war crimes and sent a letter to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee requesting they strip Foreign Minister Shimon Peres of his award. Why? For cooperating with Sharon.

"Is a Galilee Liberation Organization yet to be heard from?" Haifa University Professor Steven Plaut has asked. The pace at which the Arab community is radicalizing itself leaves no doubt as to the answer.

Julián Schvindlerman is a political analyst and journalist in Jerusalem.

©Copyright 2001, Miami Herald

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