File spoon-archives/postcolonial.archive/postcolonial_2000/postcolonial.0012, message 39

Date: Sat, 16 Dec 2000 04:47:57 -0800 (PST)
Subject: An article by Mohamed Sid Ahmed

Al-Ahram Weekly, 
14-20 December

The Israeli Arabs
By Mohamed Sid-Ahmed

 One of the most significant developments of the
Intifada has been the extension of the Palestinian
protest movement into Israel itself, where its Arab
citizens took to the streets to express their outrage
at the excessive force used by the Israeli security
forces to put down the mass demonstrations sparked off
by Sharon's provocative visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque on 28
September. However, notwithstanding their status as
Israeli citizens, they were subjected to the same
harsh treatment as that meted out to the Palestinians
of the West Bank. When the inhabitants of Umm Al-Fahm,
a Muslim town close to Israel's border with the West
Bank, demonstrated in solidarity with the Palestinian
victims of Israeli brutality, the Israeli police acted
once again in the most heavy-handed way: ten Israeli
Arabs were killed and over 150 wounded in the first
few days alone. This has sent shock waves throughout
Israel's Arab population, and highlighted the
ambivalent nature of their position within Israel. 

In the aim of avoiding such pro-Palestinian
demonstrations inside Israel proper, the subject of
territorial exchange between Israel and the
Palestinian state was raised during the Camp David
summit. According to the proposal, some of the Jewish
settlements in the occupied territories would remain
under Israeli sovereignty, in return for the transfer
of Israeli Arab communities, including the town of Umm
Al-Fahm, to Palestinian control. Objecting to the
proposal, Israeli experts claimed that Israeli Arabs
prefer Israel to the Palestinian Authority. Just
before the Intifada, the well-known Israeli
commentator Joseph Algazy published an article in
Ha'aretz alleging that a survey conducted among 1,000
residents of Umm Al-Fahm, both male and female, from
all of the town's clans and large families as well as
all segments of the local political spectrum, showed
that 83 per cent of respondents opposed the idea of
transferring their town to Palestinian jurisdiction.
Algazy concludes from this that "the residents of Umm
Al-Fahm have expressed not only their own views and
feelings but also the views and feelings of Israel's
Arab community in general." However, his conclusion is
refuted by the reaction of Israeli Arabs to the

In another article published in Le Monde Diplomatique
shortly after the Intifada began, Algazy had to admit
that two apparently contradictory but actually
complementary phenomena have asserted themselves among
the Arab citizens of Israel: on the one hand, a
tendency towards Palestinisation as evidenced by their
manifestation of solidarity with their fellow
Palestinians in the occupied territories; and, on the
other, a tendency towards Israelisation as evidenced
by their demand for greater integration into Israeli

For more than half a century, the Arabs of Israel have
been docile citizens of a state that was imposed on
them, that kept them under military rule for almost 20
years and that has deprived them of most of their land
through a series of expropriation measures aimed,
first and foremost, at preserving the Jewish character
of the state of Israel. They have also been heavily
discriminated against in the allocation of funds for
the development of their own towns and villages, which
lag behind in essential services such as health and
education. It is by providing such services to the
Arabs of Israel that the Islamic movement has been
able to become a significant force in places such as
Umm Al-Fahm and Nazareth. 

The recent upsurge of Palestinian nationalism among
Israeli Arabs raises the question of which of the two
allegiances has greater weight in the Arab Israeli
community. In the past, though persecuted and
ill-treated by the Jewish population of Israel, the
Arabs of Israel were suspected by the rest of the Arab
world of loyalty to the Zionist state and were
boycotted along with the rest of Israel's citizens.
But with the advent of the peace process, the status
of Israel's Arab minority was bound to change. Neither
side could afford to ignore them any longer or
consider them a marginal group doomed to remain
forever without a voice in the political discourse of
the region. With 13 out of 120 seats in the Knesset,
they have become a considerable force to be reckoned

It is interesting here to trace the development of
Palestinian self-affirmation as a political force. The
movement originated among the Palestinian Diaspora, as
represented by Fatah and the other resistance
organisations constituting the PLO, which were all
based in Arab countries outside Palestine. When the
Madrid peace process was launched, the epicentre
shifted to the occupied territories, to
representatives chosen from among the notables of Gaza
and the West Bank, while the PLO leadership was
deliberately sidelined. It is only thanks to the Oslo
accords that Arafat and Fatah were integrated into the
peace process. The Palestinian Authority was created
and Arafat was recognised by all concerned, including
Israel, as the person empowered to negotiate in the
name of the Palestinian people. 

There are good reasons to believe that the epicentre
is now moving into Israel itself, where the most
eloquent spokesman for the Palestinians is the
Nazareth-based member of the Knesset, Azmi Bishara,
who is using his parliamentary position to articulate
Palestinian national aspirations, as well as to
promote equal rights and cultural autonomy for the
Arab population of Israel. A major source of
inspiration for Bishara has been the civil rights
movement waged by America's blacks in the '60s under
the leadership of Martin Luther King. As he himself
admits, "membership in the Knesset as an Arab
Palestinian contains many contradictions that are not
exclusive to membership in the Knesset. Probably the
Knesset sharpens these contradictions. Just being an
Arab citizen of Israel is in itself a contradiction.
If you want to avoid contradictions, you must leave
the country; this is the only choice." 

Bishara adds: "In the Knesset, the contradictions
become more intense because they are political. Any
attempt to reconcile them is futile. Rather, you
should sharpen and clarify them, not try to blur or
hide them. Otherwise you foster a perverse political
personality that acts as if it is half Arab and half
Israeli; in other words, you become a marginal figure
in both societies. I don't think these contradictions
should be reconciled, but transformed into a momentum
for development rather than into a destructive and
perverting force." 

By articulating the identity problems of the
Palestinian Arab community in Israel, Bishara reveals
that the Palestinian body politic is not limited to
the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank under PA
rule, or, more generally, to the Diaspora
Palestinians, including the refugees in Lebanon,
Jordan, Syria and elsewhere, but extends also to the
Palestinians living inside Israel and holding almost
11 per cent of the Knesset's voting power. True, the
Arab members of parliament are not united and belong
to different parties, but potentially they represent a
formidable voting block. The mini-Intifada of Umm
Al-Fahm offers a taste of the possibilities inherent
in this new rationale. 

Those Israelis who favour the creation of a
Palestinian state, even if this entails a territorial
exchange between that state and Israel so that Jewish
settlements in the occupied territories would remain
under Israeli sovereignty in return for the transfer
of Israeli Arab communities to Palestinian control,
are driven by the realisation that the cohesiveness,
not to say the future survival, of the state of Israel
entails the physical separation of Palestinians and
Israelis. The alternative formula proposed by the PLO
at an earlier stage, which is the establishment of a
unified democratic secular state in Palestine, as a
substitute for its partition into separate Jewish and
Arab states, may prove, after all, to be less utopian
than was believed at the time. 

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