Arab Israelis Are Crossing a Line

The clash between Israeli Jews and Arabs' views on the war rekindles the question on whether the two communities can continue to live together on the basis of their single common denominator - a shared civil society.

Organizations that further Jewish-Arab relations in Israel have become increasingly exposed, since July 12, to an intensifying emotional confrontation that is taking place between the two peoples. From the Jewish Israeli point of view, the second Lebanon War constituted an unassailably justified response to a crass violation of Israel's sovereignty. To Israeli Arabs, the Israel Defense Forces operation was unnecessary, disproportionate and caused abominable injustices to their Lebanese brethren. The clash between these two viewpoints rekindles the question on whether Israel's Jews and Arabs can continue to live together on the basis of their single common denominator - a shared civil society.

During the riots of September-October 2000, Jewish Israelis who clearly identify themselves as belonging to the camp that aspires to coexistence and equal rights felt threatened by the rampage in Wadi Ara. Similarly, during the past two months, Jewish activists in joint organizations were filled with concern over the support expressed by Arab Israelis for Hezbollah and Syria. On the other hand, just as the Arabs viewed the behavior of the Jews and their elected representatives six years ago as blatant proof of discrimination, of a willingness to humiliate them and even kill them, now they see Israel's military response in Lebanon as an example of Jewish arrogance. The Jewish majority's anger at the Arab population over its support for those that the majority considers its enemy is seen by the Arabs as an expression of Jewish indifference to their feelings and disregard for their needs. This cycle of hostility continues to revolve, while continuing to accumulate bad feelings that are threatening to break its axis.

This month will mark the sixth anniversary of the violent conflagration in the Arab sector, and the third anniversary of publication of the Or Commission's report, which was supposedly meant to correct the problems that led to the outbreak of the riots. Since then, however, the situation has only become worse: The Israeli government has not done anything significant to improve the feelings of the Arab public, and has certainly failed to implement any of the important recommendations that were part of the state commission of inquiry's report. On the other hand, the feeling of alienation from the state has only intensified in the Arab sector. Hezbollah's Katyusha and missile attacks, which also killed Arabs, were perceived by the Arab sector as legitimate. Knesset members from Balad visited Syria and Lebanon to demonstrate solidarity with their nation, rather than with their country of citizenship. And in Umm al-Fahm, Sheikh Ra'ad Salah promises that the day will soon come when Jerusalem will be the capital of a resurgent Caliphate.

Israel's Jewish and Palestinian citizens are collecting reasons to be wary of one another, in preparation for the day on which they will be called to arms. The situation is becoming increasingly volatile, and attorney Ali Haider, co-executive director of Sikkuy (the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel), warns that unless the government's attitude toward the Arab population changes, another violent outburst is coming. On the other hand, MKs Effi Eitam and Avigdor Lieberman are putting forth racist solutions for "transfer," which are becoming popular among the Jewish public. Each side is converging into its own, hermetic, sense of righteousness: The Israeli Arabs focus on the discrimination they suffer, on their exclusion from running the affairs of the state, and on the historic injustice they suffered in 1948; the Jews concentrate on the inherent threat posed by the fact that Israeli Arabs identify with their enemies.

During the recent war, a line was crossed: Arab Israelis did not hesitate to openly express their support for the enemy and preferred their bonds with the enemy over their obligations to the state of which they are citizens. Furthermore, this was done under circumstances in which Hezbollah had no excuse to attack Israel. Shalom Dichter, also co-executive director of Sikkuy, chose a more moderate way to describe this shift: He considers the Arab Israeli stance as part of a "role that they took upon themselves in order to increase the Arab world's awareness of the destruction in Lebanon." But soft words will not alter the reality: The clash between Arab citizens' loyalty to the state and their affinity with the Arab nation (and not just the Palestinian people) is steadily worsening. At its root lies their refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Zionist idea - a refusal that is nourished by the foolish and evil policy of discrimination adopted by all Israeli governments.