Do I, as an Arab, Have a Future in Israel?

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An Arab Israeli woman casts her ballot in the election at a polling station in Tamra, last March.
An Arab Israeli woman casts her ballot in the election at a polling station in Tamra, last March.Credit: AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS
Sheren Falah Saab
Sheren Falah Saab

The quiet revolution to exclude Arabs in Israel has succeeded in undermining their existence as equal citizens. The dismissal of the petition against the nation-state law presents us with questions about the future of the two peoples in this land, and the partnership that has been woven between Jews and Arabs over the years.

And a moment before someone stands up and says, “This is the state of the Jews and we deserve it, and if you don’t like it, you’re invited to leave to the 22 Arab states,” it’s important to note that the Arabs here are an indigenous minority. They are not migrants and certainly not settlers. It’s a minority that sees Israel as its homeland, and seeks to live its life in it as an equal among equals.

I, too, belong to that generation, and I indeed see Israel as the place where I want to live. I was born here and I don’t have any other country. Israel is also the state of its minorities. How’s that, you may ask? These minorities were harnessed to Israel’s Declaration of Independence: “We appeal … to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve the peace and participate in the building of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.” Members of the Druze minority even fought shoulder to shoulder alongside the Jews in battle, physically defending the state and the security of its residents.

It’s hard to describe in words the harsh offense the Arabs feel in the wake of the nation-state law, which deprives them of the basic right to feel that Israel is also the state of all its citizens. You will never understand, because you are the majority. Now there’s no need for Bezalel Smotrich to remind us that, “The Arabs are Israeli citizens, for now, at least.” We’ve internalized that we are inferior, “second class,” and that this is a democracy for Jews only.

Supreme Court Justice George Karra, center, at a swearing-in ceremony for new judges in 2017.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

But you know what? It’s not discrimination, it’s not even racism, but a feeling of the Jewish people’s superiority over minorities as such. And when I’m asked what I’m so worried about, it’s “only” a declarative law, I believe that this declaration contains the most significant damage. I think about future generations who will have to apologize for being members of a minority and prove that they are worthy of living in Israel as citizens, “for now, at least.”

Supreme Court Justice George Karra pointed to the explicit purpose of the nation-state law, which the majority of the court, all Jews, preferred to ignore, and settle for only its “declarative” reading. The definition of the state as the state of the Jews alone will continue to seep into the consciousness of anyone who wants the Arabs in Israel to disappear, and who will use it as a legitimate tool for erasing their existence. And I have yet to say a word about the abolition of Arabic as an official language, which is also an expressive educational symbol for the Arab community.

This marginalizing and distorted perception will have social and emotional costs that will harm the delicate fabric of Israeli society that many have worked to cultivate.

I call on all of you, just before launching a blame game that doesn’t promote reconciliation between the two peoples of the tormented land: Look at us, the middle generation of Arab society. We are neither here nor there. Are we not equal enough in your eyes? Without this reconciliation neither we nor the generation after us have any future. The time has come to listen. Is there still hope that Israel will remain a state of all its citizens?

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