Can Jews and Arabs coexist — inside Israel?

We do not wish, we do not need to expel the Arabs and take their place. All our aspirations are built upon the assumption — proven throughout all our activity in the Land — that there is enough room in the country for ourselves and the Arabs. — David Ben-Gurion, 1937

The statement above — which was misquoted in the English edition of Benny Morris’ book The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 to precisely reverse its meaning — has more or less characterized the approach of the state of Israel to its Arab minority since Israel’s founding.

Unfortunately, it seems, more and more, that that minority doesn’t agree that there is room for both peoples.

Eric Rozenman described Arab attitudes in 1999 thus:

The late Tawfiq Zayyad, mayor of Nazareth and parliament member, was also a poet whose work reflected an uncompromising streak of Palestinian Arab nationalism. More than a decade ago, his poem, “Here We Will Remain,” admonished Israeli Jews:

We will lie on your chest like a wall
Stick in your throat like a piece of glass … .
We will sing the songs
Fill the streets with demonstrations
Fill the jails with honor and make children
Each generation more revolutionary than the one before it.23

Zayyad was hardly alone in holding these sentiments. During Israel’s fiftieth anniversary observances, ‘Azmi Bishara, now a Knesset member [who fled the country in 2007 under suspicion of helping Hizballah in the 2006 war- ed.], explained that the Palestinian national movement is not primarily about self-determination for Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip but about the return of Palestinian refugees to the land that became Israel in 1948.Bishara asserted that “the Jewish state idea is not a legitimate one and … I am not prepared to confer historical legitimacy on Israel.” No comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace would be possible, he added, until Israel “de-Zionized,” dropped the Law of Return (which automatically permits Jews to move to Israel), and became a “state of all its citizens.” Echoing the PLO charter and Hamas, Bishara claimed that “Judaism is a religion, not a people, and the Jewish group in the world has no nationality status whatever. I don’t think this group is entitled to self-determination.”

Tawfiq al-Khatib of the Islamic Movement, a fundamentalist Muslim organization, represents another stream in Israeli Arab thought that negates Jewish nationalism. Also a member of parliament, Khatib stated (in Hebrew) during a religious dialogue with Israeli Jews, that “there is a precedent for Muslims accepting non-Muslim rule. But in Palestine, the Holy Land? Only Muslims can rule here.” Then how, he was asked by another dialogue participant, could he take an oath to uphold the state and sit in the Israeli parliament? Khatib replied that “there is a verse in the Qur‘an which states that God doesn’t place impossible burdens on the believer. If all the Jews moved to Uganda, my problem would be solved. But it’s not going to happen. So I have to take care of the million Arabs who’ve been given Israeli citizenship.” Asked about his long-term solution, Khatib called for a treaty of non-belligerency between Muslims and Jews, renewed every ten years, presumably an allusion to the Prophet Muhammad’s Treaty of Hudaybiya [a ten-year truce with the Quraysh tribe that Mohammad abrogated, and then massacred the Quraysh – ed.].

These two streams of thought — the nationalist and Islamist ideas — have only grown stronger since then.

Especially in the US, it’s sometimes suggested that the problem is that the Arab citizens are discriminated against and/or are denied their civil rights. To some extent there is discrimination, but the problem can’t be solved in the framework of civil rights — employment, education, infrastructure, political participation, etc. The fundamental issue is ‘whose land is it?’

Both Palestinian nationalism and Islamism provide a different answer to this question than Zionism does.

In 2007, Israeli Arab intellectuals and “political activists” published a manifesto called the Haifa declaration. In essence, it demanded that Israel be transformed into a binational state, and the Arab refugees be granted a right of return. It described Israel as a colonialist power, presented a historical narrative based on Arab victimhood, and celebrated incidents of violent conflict between Israel and its Arab citizens. Its implementation would mark the end of the Jewish state as well as a rejection of the Zionist idea.

The Carmel fire — which preliminary reports say may have been caused by ‘negligence’ by Arab teenagers — gave rise to numerous arson attempts which succeeded in starting several subsidiary fires. Officials say that arson by Israeli Arabs is common and has been a problem for years.

One of the lessons of the fire is that problems that are swept under the rug, like the lack of funding for the pitifully inadequate fire service, can result in large disasters.

The problem of the attitudes of the Arabs inside Israel has also been swept under the rug. It’s possible that there is no ‘liberal’ solution to it. It’s possible that Ben-Gurion was wrong.

This conclusion is extremely disquieting. But the fact that the consequences of a proposition are bad does not imply that it isn’t true.

Those who insist that the present trend can be reversed and that coexistence is possible need to present a scenario in which nationalist and Islamist attitudes are likely to become weaker rather than stronger over time. I don’t see one.

Update [5 Dec 1416 PST]: Corrected reference to the treaty of Hudaybiya.

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One Response to “Can Jews and Arabs coexist — inside Israel?”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    It is more and more clear that the ‘logical answer’ to the problem of growing anti- Israel sentiment within its Arab minority population is seen as politically impossible. The ‘two- state solution’ with population transfers which makes most ‘pragmatic sense’ for Israeli Jews is a non- starter diplomatically. Even Prime Minister Netanyahu has not adopted Leiberman’s ideas in this.
    It is also clear that improving the social conditions and economic opportunities of the Arab minority (Something which has been done considerably since the founding of the State) will not make this population more ready to see itself as a loyal minority within a Jewish state.
    Why should they after all? They are the great majority in the region. The world encourages them to believe that they are always being wronged, and have ‘rights’ they are not getting. There is a Left- Wing influential minority which shares their anti- Zionist ideology.
    Israel does not have a simple or great choice. It cannot rule the minds and hearts of this minority but it must take severe action against any anti- State action.
    The Arab minority will never be happy in a Jewish state. But the Jewish majority has only one historical homeland, one Jewish state . And it must continue to maintain and develop it despite the unhappiness of the minority population.