Four foundational experiences influenced leadership and voting patterns among Israeli Arabs: Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, which Arabs call the Nakba; the bloody Land Day of 1976; the second intifada that began in 2000; and the Arab Spring uprisings that started in 2011.
After 1948, Israel’s Arab citizens were represented by clan leaders who operated through satellite parties (lists) of the Zionist parties. Many called this generation of leaders the “submissive generation.”
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After the first Land Day in 1976, in which protests against land expropriations led to clashes with the Israeli police in which six Israeli Arabs were killed, a new generation of leaders appeared. They were young and educated with a deeper political consciousness, and they decided to built independent institutions – the national council of Arab local governments, the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, new political parties, nongovernmental organizations and extra-parliamentary movements.
Israeli Arabs’ voting patterns also changed. They began voting for Arab parties in the hopes of changing their political and national status and obtaining civic equality. But these parties didn’t succeed in translating their electoral power into influence over the state’s decision-making process. This generation of leaders was therefore called “the burned-out generation.”
The outbreak of the second intifada revealed a serious rupture of trust between the third generation of Arab leaders and the Israeli leadership, including even Israeli liberals. The latter were seen as fig leaves who enabled the continuation of Zionist hegemony.
The Or Commission – which investigated the Arab riots of October 2000, during which police killed 12 Arab Israelis and a Palestinian – described this generation as one that was frustrated, alienated, disappointed and had decided to vent its anger and launch a struggle to realize their rights. This was a generation that clung to its national identity, was aware of its rights, wasn’t prepared to accept discrimination and exclusion and adopted new methods of fighting, including research, disseminating information and legal battles. This generation was called “the proud generation.”
The liberation squares filled by young citizens of Arab countries in 2011 initially served as a source of inspiration for some young Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and worldwide. They decided to challenge the systems that erased them – the Jewish nation-state, the autocratic patriarchal culture, globalization and Western culture.
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Today, the Palestinian national leadership movement has been replaced by independent groups of young people that engage in short-term activity in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza to advance national and civic concerns.
Their activities include days of rage against the Prawer plan to settle disputes between the unrecognized Bedouin communities in the Negev and the state; mass prayer protests against stationing metal detectors on the Temple Mount; demonstrations against the separation fence; marches advocating the return of Palestinian refugees from Gaza, Syria and Lebanon to Israel; demonstrations against violence in the Israeli Arab community; campaigns advocating boycotts of Israel; and demonstrations against the oppressive policies of both the Palestinian Authority and Gaza’s Hamas-run government.
In November 2013, 60 young Palestinians from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza founded “Workers Moving for Palestine” with the goal of eliminating the geographic and mental barriers between different Palestinian communities, enabling them to communicate more freely and strengthening their national consciousness. These young Arabs aren’t operating in a vacuum. They have won support from research institutes like Masarat, Maultaka Palestine and Mada al-Carmel, as well as from members of the Balad party, the Sons of the Village organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel.
In 2018, Masarat and Maultaka Palestine issued two documents – the “Palestinian Young People’s Vision” and the “New Palestinian National Vision.” These documents called for establishing a single democratic state in all of historic Palestine that would absorb Palestinian refugees and grant equality to all its citizens; building a modern, independent national economy independent from the Israeli economy; preserving the Palestinian people’s collective identity and culture; creating joint political frameworks covering all Palestinian communities; ending security coordination with Israel; and waging a popular and media battle against Israel that would lead to the collapse of the colonial Zionist vision.
The documents’ authors thereby signaled Palestinian leaders that they must return to the core issues – refugees, prisoners, borders, settlements, Jerusalem and the holy places – instead of neo-liberal policy and pursuing economic and social achievements that come at the expense of ordinary people.
Not all members of the younger generation have been swept up by the independent groups; many still want a partnership with Jewish society. But if the feelings of alienation intensify, solidarity among these groups will grow and Arab Israelis will believe in their power to effect change.
The anger and shame that many young Arab Israelis feel toward the older, passive, submissive generation is being exploited by radical elements. In the name of murawa (a package of traits that men are supposed to excel at), and by taking advantage of Israeli democracy, they are encouraging young people to work for direct elections to the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, to resume the activities of the popular committees and to set up liberation squares that will shatter the silence and make it clear that Arab citizens’ lives aren’t cheaper than those of Jewish citizens.
Bringing the Arab parties into an Israeli governing coalition and advancing diplomatic political agreements with Fatah and Hamas are therefore an urgent necessity. Doing so would halt the decline that has begun in young Arab Israelis’ faith in the governing establishment and law enforcement agencies. It would also restore hope to young Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and prevent them from falling like ripe fruit into the hands of extremists.
Dr. Ronit Marzan is a researcher in Palestinian politics and society at the University of Haifa’s political science department and a fellow at the university’s Chaikin Geostrategy Institute.