The Battle of Wadi Ara is over. The casualities (three lightly injured) have been treated. The material damage (some broken windows on a passenger bus) has been repaired and the enemy has been dealt with (two arrests). Trump says Jerusalem is our capital, so we’ve won a moral victory against the Israeli Arabs who had been throwing rocks in protest.
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But for our great strategists in the cabinet, Wada Ara is only a battle: We still have to decide how we’re going to win the war.
Avigdor Lieberman, the defense minister, has suggested that as a short-term tactic, Israelis boycott Wadi Ara businesses, and as a long-term strategy, we expel them, or more properly move the border so that the residents are in Palestine.
No, counters Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing party Habayit Hayehudi, how can you talk about giving up an inch of the Land of Israel? “Zionism never ceded land because of rioting. What would happen in the Galilee tomorrow, what about the Negev? We need to be strong, to enforce the rule of law with zero tolerance, but we won’t dismantle the country,” he told a radio interviewer.
In fact Lieberman’s remarks got slammed badly by both the left and the right, but the fact is, both he and Bennett are two sides of the same ugly coin that regards Israeli Arabs as at best an unwelcome presence or at worst, sworn enemies.
“Formally speaking they are citizens of Israel, but they aren’t a part of it. Anyone who saw the rioting and the violence understands that these people have nothing for them in Israel. They should be a part of the Palestinian Authority,” was Lieberman’s take on the Wadi Ara protest. But the fact is Bennett’s view isn’t very different. By suggesting that every riot would end with concessions in land, ending in Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, he presents Jewish Israel as at war with Arab Israel.
Yet, what happened in Wadi Ara isn’t very different from what happened in Jerusalem last week, when on successive days, ultra-Orthodox Jews threw rocks, eggs and the like at police, and blocked the entrance to the city to protest being drafted into the army and helping to defend the state. Nor it is much different from the settlers who violently resisted police efforts last week to evacuate an illegally built structure at Netiv Haavot.
Yet neither Lieberman nor Bennett would ever dare suggest boycotting Haredim or settlers, or propose that they be moved to the other side of the border, or that we’re in a titanic struggle for control of the land with them. They may be badly behaved, but they’re not the enemy.
Brother in shekel if not in spirit
It would be comforting to think that the attitude shared by Lieberman and Bennett is just an illness of the far right, but survey after survey shows that too many Israelis feel the same. One poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that about two thirds of Israeli Jews don’t think Israeli Arabs are a part of Israeli society, or that Israeli Arabs can both feel a part of the Palestinian people and be loyal citizens.
Israeli Arab lawmakers, who more than anyone else act as the public voice for the community, have somehow failed to argue that there is a big area between citizenship and national identification. But if you look at the facts on the ground, Israeli Arabs are becoming Israeli in the sense of joining mainstream economic life.
Among Israeli Arabs, enrollments in university are growing, more are undertaking civilian national service, poverty rates are declining and more women are working (and on the whole, they are doing better than their brothers in terms of pay and education). Their number in high-tech is tiny but is growing quickly. Some 16% of all medical students are Arabs today, which will create an interesting dilemma for the fifth of Israelis who say they would be unwilling to see an Arab doctor.
There are push and pull factors behind the Arabs' advance in Israeli society.The pull factor is that the economy needs them. There is a labor shortage that is only going to grow worse in the years ahead because Israel’s population is aging and because our (loyal) ultra-Orthodox minority not only doesn’t like serving in the army but doesn’t like working for a living.
The push factor is that Israeli Arabs accept the State of Israel and want to be a part of an economy that offers opportunities for a good life – in fact a better life than they would likely have under the Palestinian Authority. The same Israel Democracy Institute survey found that more than half of Israeli Arabs feel a part of Israeli society.
For the right, this dual existence of Palestinian identity and Israeli citizenship is unacceptable. It’s not enough to obey the law, serve in the army and pay your taxes: to them, only a died-in-the-wool Zionist is a real Israeli.For the same reason, they suspect leftists of fifth column tendencies.
We can only hope that the great majority of Israelis will get over their prejudices. It won’t be easy because it’s one thing to say Arabs are welcome as long as they live in their own towns and neighborhoods and go to their own schools; it’s another to work for an Arab boss or invite the new Arab family on the block over for dinner. But we have a moral and economic obligation to do so.