Not a Light Unto the Nation

The bottom line of the recommendation of the Or commission: The Arabs in Israel, because of the policy of discrimination toward them during all the years of the existence of the state, do not feel that they belong to it.

All the fuss that has arisen surrounding the disengagement plan has pushed out of the headlines the recommendations of the Lapid committee: to implement the recommendations of the Or commission that investigated the events of October 2000. It is hoped that this sidelining is temporary, and that an opportunity will arise for the re-examination of the Lapid committee's recommendations, which are supposed to be brought before the government for approval next week.

The Or commission invested serious and profound effort both in investigating the events of that October and in examining the problems of the Arab citizens of Israel. It realized that the events of 2000 were not just vandalism. It analyzed the reasons for the outburst, and came to very important conclusions about the future, including the formulation of a right way to deal with the problems so that such events will not recur.

The bottom line of its recommendation: The Arabs in Israel, because of the policy of discrimination toward them during all the years of the existence of the state, do not feel that they belong to it.

In order to eradicate this sense of alienation, a policy should be followed that aims toward full equality, according to a clear plan and a clear timetable to be led by the prime minister himself. The commission also recommended that symbols that will increase the Arabs' sense of belonging be added to the official symbols of the state.

Prominent among the recommendations were the commission's call to the Arabs to internalize the fact that Israel is the only state of the Jewish people, and its call to the Jewish citizens to internalize the fact that Israel is a democratic state, with an Arab national minority that has the full right to equality.

Initially the representatives of the Arab population did not understand the report, and many of them reacted hastily and attacked both the report and the commission. However, after a number of balanced articles written by two or three Arab intellectuals who had taken the trouble to read the report before they reacted to it, the leaders of the Arab public reduced their criticism and even began to demand the implementation of the report in full.

The reaction of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government to the report, however, sent a message of fear and distress: A committee was established to look into its implementation, filled with ministers who are known for their prejudices against Arabs. Yet nevertheless, when the liberal Justice Minister Yosef Lapid was appointed head of the committee, there was a ray of hope that he would not miss the opportunity presented him to seek justice for the Arab citizens of the state.

However, the final recommendations of the Lapid committee proved that the members did not read the Or commission's recommendations, or else did read them and did not understand their significance, or did understand but decided to drop some of the most important items. The Lapid committee ostensibly accepted the spirit of the Or commission report, and recommended the establishment of an authority for the advancement of the equality of the Arabs in Israel. But in the same breath, it dwarfed, or eradicated, the recommendations in two major areas: belonging and lands.

With regard to the call to add Arab symbols to the official state symbols, the committee made do with the declaration of a Jewish-Arab "Civil Solidarity Day." Concerning one of the most important recommendations of the Or commission - to apply "distributive justice" in the allocation of lands to Arabs - the Lapid committee decided, as a result of pressure from its member's erstwhile housing and construction minister Effie Eitam and erstwhile tourism minister Binyamin Elon, to eliminate the original decision ordering the Israel Lands Administration to allocate additional lands for construction in Arab locales.

It is still not too late to rectify the mistake. What damage can be done by adding additional official state symbols? And a just distribution of lands can be carried out without harming the Jewish locales and without exposing the state of Israel to existential danger. If this is done, Israel's image will change, in the eyes of its own citizens and in the eyes of the world. If this is not done, Israel will be pushed one step further in the direction of the exit gate from the club of democratic states.

The writer is a commentator on Israeli affairs for Arab television channels and for the newspaper Al Sharq al Awsat