Israel Must Prove Its Loyalty to Its Arab Citizens, Not Vice Versa

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
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A 2018 protest in Tel Aviv against the nation-state law.
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

Mohammed Zayat was murdered four years ago, in September 2017. He was a truck driver and father of four from Jisr al-Zarqa. When we came to the bereavement tent to hear about the circumstances of his death, we realized that no one in the town was surprised by the murder.

The family and neighbors told how two and a half years earlier, another resident of the town had murdered someone and then fled to Zayat’s house, where he took a shower and changed his clothes. Zayat, a conscientious citizen, reported this to the police and later testified in court. Subsequently, his and family’s life became hell. Shots were fired at his home, the family car was torched, and even after he left town for a few months at the suggestion of the police, it didn’t stop. Ultimately, Zayat was murdered.

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This is one tragic story, but it’s not the only one. More than anything, it attests to the intolerable dilemma facing many Arab citizens of Israel. For much of the Jewish public, this element is not part of public life.

The capture of the escaped Palestinian prisoners, partly due to reports by Arab citizens, caused many Jews, as is customary in our parts, to again voice their opinions on the extent of loyalty felt by Arab citizens towards their state. This also happened, with obvious differences, during the riots that took place a few months ago. Every person had a story that accorded with their position. Anyone looking for a “fifth column” found one, while others looking for signs of co-existence found that instead.

The truth is that drawing conclusions based on 2 million people based on the conduct of a handful of people is always superficial and unreliable. In every society there is a huge range of people, opinions and approaches. Relating to a society as a uniform entity is convenient for a Facebook post, but it doesn’t help solve problems.

Back to Zayat from Jisr al-Zarqa. Instead of automatically trying to register the loyalty of citizens toward the state, it’s time to examine the state’s loyalty to its citizens. Ultimately, before any ideology, 99.9 percent of people want to live in security. This is true for all populations, regardless of race, religion or gender.

This includes the Bedouin woman who voted for Netanyahu, the Bedouin man who joined the Black Flag anti-Netanyahu demonstrations, the Arab citizen who volunteers in emergency service organizations or the Arab woman who supports the reunification of families – as well as the Druze man who went to an IDF officers’ course like all his brothers before him, or the Druze woman who is part of a group that opposes Druze enlistment in the IDF. All of these are first and foremost citizens, and the state must be loyal to them, just as it is to its Jewish citizens.

In the case of Israel’s Arabs, the state has for years failed in demonstrating its loyalty towards them. This finds expression in many ways, from the condition of sewage in their towns and villages, to the inability to get a mortgage and the whistling bullets that hit their homes at night, with the shooting continuing even after it’s reported to the authorities.

The state has simply disappeared for so many citizens here. They have no security and no one to rely on. And yet, too many other citizens choose to check what kind of contract Arab citizens signed with the state, not noticing that the contract they got is broken daily.

Perhaps, if the state managed to better protect its citizens, and if they knew they could trust it, an ordinary citizen who notifies the police about an escaped prisoner would not become primarily a political story, but simply a story about a choice made by a free citizen in his or her country.

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