Israeli Arabs First

President Katsav recently referred to the Israeli Arabs arrested on suspicion of assisting terrorists in Israel. To give some indication of the mood among Israeli Arabs, here are reports of some recent conversations with four of them.

This week, on the day school reopened, President Moshe Katsav called for renewed cooperation between Jews and Arabs, despite the "harsh events." By harsh events Katsav was referring to the Israeli Arabs recently arrested on suspicion of assisting terrorists in Israel.

It is impossible to justify any act of terror by claiming deprivation and discrimination, because anyone who aids terrorists crosses the red line and himself switches from being a citizen of the state into someone who wants to destroy it.

But it is fitting for the Jewish majority to make a personal accounting. Are its hands clean? Was it ever ready to accept the Arab minority as an equal among equals? To give some indication of the mood among Israeli Arabs, here are reports of some recent conversations with four of them.

M. is 25 years old. Three years ago he graduated from the College of Technology under the auspices of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and received a degree in electrical engineering. He is married, has two daughters and lives in Jaljulya. Like many other young men in his village, M. is unemployed. I asked him why. "I applied to dozens of companies," he replied, "filled out dozens of questionnaires, but every time they notice that I am an Arab, they say, `We'll phone you,' and that's all. They never call. I am willing to work as an entry level electrician with a low salary, but no one is willing to hire an Arab. Even the big companies like Bezeq and the Israel Electric Corp. don't hire Arabs. How do they want me to make a living?"

T. lives in Tamra. One day he phoned a cable television company and asked to be hooked up. The conversation with the company's representative was affable. All the questions were asked and everything was clear, until it came to the inevitable question of the address. A. said Tamra. A heavy silence hung in the air at the other end of the line until the customer service person finally said "we don't do installations in Tamra." "Why?" asked A. "I don't know," she replied. "But that's what it says on the computer." Please have one of the managers to call you back with an explanation," said A. To this day he is waiting for an explanation - and without a cable TV service.

V. spends many hours every day in the operating room at a hospital in the center of the country as a registered nurse. He has tenure and a good salary. One day he decided to build a house for his family in Baka al-Garbiyeh. He applied for a mortgage at one of the large banks, at which he has his accounts, but was told quite bluntly by the clerk that there was no chance his application would be approved.

"We don't grant mortgages in Arab communities," he said. "Why?" asked V. "My salary comes into the bank every month like clockwork." "That is our policy," said the clerk. An inquiry at the bank revealed an official explanation that the bank has difficulty registering attachments on land in Arab communities.

S. is a driver for a cooperative cab company. One day I asked him if he was an member of the company or just a salaried employee. He turned to me with an amused look and answered "I have been a driver with the company for 15 years already, but every time I applied to become a member, they laughed in my face and said, `There's no chance.' Jews who started working three or four years ago are already being accepted as members, and I, who am recognized as a dedicated and professional driver, cannot become a member."

He went on to tell me that there are a few drivers who want to exploit the hostile atmosphere toward Arabs and have him fired. "They hate Arabs and embitter my life, but I keep quiet and work, because who else will bring home food?"

With the approach of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and the days of personal accounting between the New Year and the Day of Atonement, it would be appropriate for us to examine our relations with those living among us.

Why is unemployment highest in the Arab community? Why is the level of investment per pupil the lowest for Arab children? Why do government companies not employ Arabs? Why do none of us learn Arabic? And why does practically no one have an Arab friend?

This is not a tale that began two years ago with the events of October 2000. This is their reality and ours since the founding of the state.