Arab villagers in A-Taibeh struggle to be accepted as Israelis
Residents of MK Hanin Zuabi's hometown have disassociated themselves from her politics.
A-Taibeh (not to be confused with the city of Taibeh) is a secluded a village at the foot of Mount Gilboa - well-maintained, with wide streets, neatly laid out sidewalks and an impressive, blue-and-white mosque on the central square. Were it not for the mosque and the typically Arab architecture, you might be misled by the infrastructure to think the community was Jewish. It's an Arab village, home to 1,750 residents, who are proud that it has been on this spot for 250 years. They also take pride in belonging to one extended family, the Zuabi clan.
Its most prominent member is MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad), who is known for her extreme anti-government politics and her presence on a ship in the flotilla that sought to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza in May. Zuabi's Balad party received broad electoral support in the last Knesset elections. It's not every day that a member of the clan runs for parliament. Now, however, two years after the elections, the name Hanin Zuabi is loathed in the village. Throughout the meeting TheMarker had with village opinion leaders, both young and old residents said their electoral support for the MK was a mistake - one that won't be repeated. They dissociated themselves from her politics and begged that the clan's good name not be sullied because of her.
"The media is defaming the Zuabi family because of Hanin," I was told. "They're generalizing, as if all of us think and act like her, and it's not true. From our standpoint, Hanin is a passing phenomenon. You can't blame us for Hanin, just as we can't generalize and don't blame all the Jews for the views of [Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beiteinu leader] Avigdor Lieberman. From our standpoint, the Zuabi family is not being dragged behind Hanin. We have to live together, Arabs and Jews, so we have to work to find a common denominator between us."
In addition to its high physical standards, A-Taibeh takes pride in its fine educational facilities. Almost no one drops out of high school there, and 30% of A-Taibeh's high school graduates go on to higher education. Ten village residents are studying medicine, and a similar number are studying software engineering.
A prime complaint of village elders focuses on the absence of nearby places of employment and the fact that some of the major employers in the area, the Beit She'an Valley, refrain from hiring Arabs. They also express concern about rising crime in the Arab community, although A-Taibeh itself remains safe. The elders complain that the police don't' enforce the law vigorously enough in Arab areas.
But the biggest complaint of the village elders is that Israel doesn't like them enough.
In response to Lieberman's proposal that Israeli Arab areas be transferred to the Palestinians, one response in A-Taibeh was: "But we want to be Israelis in the full sense of the word."
Why did they vote for Hanin Zuabi's Balad party? The response was as follows:
"The vote for the Arab MKs is an expression of government policy toward us. What do we as Arabs expect from [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu? Not a lot. As Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, we are loyal to our country, want to be Israeli, and want the Jews to accept us, plus we feel the pain of the Palestinian people. We've had enough of the suspicion all the time that we are traitors. When it comes down to it, we are looking for a suitable representative in the Knesset who will speak in the name of Israeli Arabs and will look after infrastructure, education and health - all the things that are important on a daily basis."
In retrospect, the days of the premiership of Yitzhak Rabin were the glory days of Israeli Jewish-Arab relations. In addition to the hope at the time for peace, this is attributable to two aspects of Rabin's policy toward Israeli Arabs. He treated them with respect and he saw to it that money was invested in Arab villages for infrastructure, education, health and employment. When these policies were not pursued after Rabin's assassination, it caused a serious break in relations between Israeli Arabs and their state, as well as frustration that led to the riots of October 2000.
Residents of A-Taibeh say such frustration does not exist in the village.
They even express willingness to swear loyalty to the state. Their moderation can apparently be attributed to the improved state of the village and the fact that A-Taibeh is part of the Gilboa Regional Council, which is a model of equality for the rest of the country.