"How is it that we learn and make progress, change the nature of our discourse and the fashions of our clothes and hair, speak foreign languages and use computers - but when it comes to the local elections, we revert to being tribesmen and members of family clans? How is it we travel the world with our bodies, our minds, our imaginations but at elections we go back to the family and ethnic caves? And how do we present ourselves as heroes of social reforms and then the masks drop from our faces because of a stupid election speech? How is it you are not ashamed? But it's not your shame, the shame of the leadership, that interests us. More important is that we are ashamed of you and we are ashamed or ourselves for living with you and are sorry because you are part of what has been decreed for us in this country." This was part of a piercing, public accusation issued by Lutfi Mashour, editor of the Nazareth-based weekly A-Sinara, four days before the local elections.
Mashour's complaint is well-documented in the data on the local elections of the past and the one that will take place today in 53 Arab cities, towns and villages. "In most cases, tribal affiliation is what built the local Arab leadership. But to our regret, it is not skills but connections that determine the level of the only effective Arab leadership in the country," says one candidate in a large city in the north. The term "effective leadership" is a reference to the local authority being the highest level at which Arab leaders can actually have any influence. It's the plane at which the poor budgets are broken down into details of development projects, education and health, it is a laboratory for the national Arab leadership, which in the Knesset does not manage to get past the hurdle of shouting in the plenum or advancing the matters of its own local constituency.
Among the young leadership, and particular Arab students, it's the national issue, Israel's occupation of the territories and the strengthening of their identity as Palestinian residents of Israel, that are the sexy subjects making up the political discourse. "Dealing with sewage and water? Cleaning the streets? That's no ambition for someone with a master's degree in business administration," one Arab graduate of Haifa University told me recently. "And in any case, I don't have a chance. My family's too small." Instead of running for the local authority, he prefers to set up another nonprofit organization for human rights. There's nothing wrong with that. But anyone who complains about the veteran Arab political machinery and the phenomenon of corrupt families in local politics, cannot shrug and charge discrimination when right in front of their eyes, the limited resources are being wasted.
It's enough to leaf through the State Comptroller's reports to see how cronies get benefits, relatives don't pay city taxes, and land rights, already minuscule with only 3.5 percent of private land in the country in the hands of 17 percent of the population, are not fulfilled, at least partly because of municipal negligence.
The complaint is mostly against the enormous gap that has developed between the professionalism and ambitions of the younger Arab generation and the laziness it displays when it comes to building leadership. This is a generation that in the last decade has developed a sophisticated, effective civil society in which dozens of NPOs have become the address for people in civil distress, but at the same time, allows "Grandfather's friends" to run the affairs of the village and city, meaning the immediate quality of life, the shape of the street and the planning of housing.
The new Arab generation, the "Stand Tall Generation," as anthropologist Danny Rabinowitz calls it, has so far only registered the zoning plans for its vision but it is very far from fulfilling it, and not only because of political and budgetary shackles by successive Israeli governments. What use is a slogan that calls for Israel to be a state for all its citizens or even talk of cultural autonomy, when the areas that are largely under the control of that generation, are plagued by laziness. The local elections offer this generation of Arab Israelis a chance to build a new, stable leadership - its own leadership. But what does it matter? In another five years they'll get another chance, and then five years later, another chance ...
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