Text size

Click here for more articles by Akiva Eldar

Once again the left will rummage through the budgets of the local authorities and talk about the sense of deprivation that is causing unrest in Acre. And once again the right will present statistics about the involvement of Israeli Arabs in terror attacks and warn against the nationalist feelings that cause them to rebel. The left will demand that money be poured on the flames in Acre, before the fire spreads to other mixed cities. The right will demand that the instigators from Acre receive harsher treatment, as an example to the residents of Jaffa. As always, both camps are making their lives too easy.

You don't have to be a professor of sociology to understand that the chronic discrimination against Israel's Arab citizens when it comes to services, infrastructure, education and employment does not contribute to reconciliation between them and the Jewish majority. But the first intifada, which erupted in the territories at the end of 1987, exposed the limitations of the carrot and stick method. Israel learned the hard way that neither the dramatic decline in infant mortality nor the considerable improvement in living standards, compared to the situation that prevailed there during the period of Jordanian rule, turned the Palestinians into lovers of Zion.

The substantial increase in support for Hamas in East Jerusalem is a testament to the limited, if not negligible, influence of freedom of movement and other advantages, such as National Insurance Institute allowances, that the residents of East Jerusalem enjoy. The systematic assassination of Hamas leaders in the West Bank and Jerusalem, the mass arrests of the movement's activists and the closing of its charitable institutions have increased its attraction, primarily among the younger generation. The case of Jerusalem shows, however, that land annexation and formal control over a population - including a tough policy incorporating the separation fence, administrative detention and immigration restrictions - are not a recipe for security, not to mention coexistence. After all, there have been 104 detainees held on suspicion of terror involvement up to the end of September, compared to 37 in all of 2007.

The battle cries of Effi Eitam and his friends on the extreme right, in which they are railing against Israeli Arabs in the wake of the riots in Acre, will not calm the atmosphere in the city; they will only turn those who foment strife into the heroes of the hour. Nor will the left's cries of woe regarding the shortchanging of the Arab minority prevent the next outburst, although a more just division of national resources would not hurt relations between the majority and the minority. A fairer attitude to master plans for construction in the Arab communities could somewhat alleviate the alienation between the Israeli establishment and the younger generation, which is the main victim of the shortage of land for building. But no money in the world will turn an Arab/Palestinian public, be it Muslim, Christian or secular, into an organic part of a country that defines itself, based on the nationality of the majority, as a Jewish state.

Excluding Israel's Arab citizens from the country's identity and national symbols - and turning them into a "demographic problem" - spurs them to search for their identity in other places. Their national affiliation, along with the blurring of the Green Line, creeping annexation and the close social and family ties to the Palestinians living on the other side of the border, have turned all the territory between the Acre coast and the banks of the Jordan River into a "mixed" country. As far as Israel's Arab citizens are concerned, the Greater Land of Israel/Palestine has already become a binational and semi-democratic entity. A survey conducted in 1976 found that 45 percent of Israeli Arabs included a Palestinian component in their self-definition. But between 1985 and 1999, that percentage reached almost two-thirds of those polled. Many reject the label "Israeli Arabs" and demand to be called Palestinians.

The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the disappointment with the Oslo Accords and the second intifada just exacerbated this tension. They intensified the identification of Israeli Arabs with the residents of the territories and strengthened chauvinistic trends, mainly among the younger generation. The members of the Or Commission investigating the events of October 2000 noted this does not mean that the entire Arab population supports all the Palestinian means of struggle, and said the vast majority consistently favors the peace process. But at the same time, the majority identifies completely with the desire to establish a Palestinian state and sees Israeli policy as the main obstacle to its realization.

The important and neglected Or Commission report cited the painful statement by MK Abdelaziz Zoubi (Labor-Mapam Alignment): "My country is in a state of war with my people." As long as their country is in a state of war with their people, one ember on Yom Kippur is enough to start a conflagration. No NII allowance or administrative detention will extinguish it.