Where Are All the Arab Billionaires?

Odeh Bisharat
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Sheldon and Miriam Adelson at a Trump rally in Las Vegas on February 21, 2020.Credit: JIM WATSON / AFP
Odeh Bisharat

This year, too, I decided to check the list of Israel’s 500 wealthiest people, published by TheMarker. Who knows? Maybe some relative of mine sneaked in and grabbed a spot between Miriam Adelson ($17.8 billion) and Patrick Drahi ($12.25 billion).

It was a big disappointment. Of the 57 people with assets exceeding $1 billion, not one was named Bisharat. In fact, there were no Arab last names at all. O God, O God, why hast thou forsaken us? We have been cast to the margins of Israel’s economy, even though our roots run many times deeper than those of the Adelsons and their friends.

I found the explanation for this absurdity on Friday, when I attended a small meeting, in compliance with the coronavirus rules, in my destroyed village of Ma’alul.

The meeting was attended by displaced persons and by good Jews, who refuse to leave us alone when we commemorate our day of sorrow, July 15, 1948, when Ma’alal’s residents were expelled and their homes were destroyed. And that’s precisely where I found my lost billion dollars.

After all, in light of such circumstances – dispossession and expropriation – what chance is there that I, or any of my relatives, or the hundreds of thousands of other internally displaced persons, will be rich?

Imagine that my grandfather’s land in Ma’alul had been inherited by his descendants, as is the norm everywhere. It’s reasonable to think that over time, given the “Palestinian mind” (which is no less intelligent than the “Jewish mind”), we would be, if not No. 1 on the list of the country’s wealthiest people, then at least No. 2.

Today, I gaze from afar at our land in Ma’alul; I am forbidden from working or living on it. “Smell, don’t taste,” as the Arabs say. At a time when the shortage of land in Arab communities is setting new records, in nearby Ma’alul, to take one example, there’s an abundance of land. As an Arab poet once said, “Like a thirsty camel wandering in the desert ... while jugs of water are borne on his back.”

Cry for us, the Palestinians! Once, the wealthiest people in the land emerged from our ranks. Today, we’re at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.

Nevertheless, I have not lost hope. TheMarker hasn’t yet published its full list of the 500 wealthiest Israelis, so I’m still expecting to see an Arab millionaire or two somewhere toward the end.

Some time ago, I watched “Heshbon Hadamim,” an episode of the Kan public television series “Osim Lebeiteinu” about the Holocaust reparations that Germany paid to Israel in the 1950s.

Until then, I had thought of the reparations only in moral terms. But it turns out they also boosted the Israeli economy years ahead in every walk of life. Similarly, the individual families that received such reparations had their financial situation wonderfully improved. Perhaps the root of the socioeconomic gaps within Israel’s Jewish community was planted then.

Consequently, it’s reasonable to demand a settling of accounts from the state over our situation. When they had to leave without anything, neither land nor other property, internally displaced persons were forced to start over from less than zero. Their starting point was negative even compared to their Palestinian brethren who remained in their homes, and who experienced discrimination and expropriation, but not uprooting.

We need to open this account. It’s not just former Prime Minister Levi Eshkol who kept an open notebook in which he wrote down everything; we have hundreds of thousands of sons and daughters and a forest of notebooks and writing hands.

The phrase “what’s dead is gone” is appropriate for someone who has died, but if he’s still alive and kicking, nothing is dead and gone. Especially if the demand is to obtain what justice is possible, as long as obtaining that justice doesn’t cause additional tragedies.

If anyone has gotten the wrong impression, I must correct it: I certainly don’t think every Jewish Israeli has a billion dollars hidden under his floor tiles. But the very fact that there are almost no wealthy Arabs in Israel says something about the character of the state – that aside from the ethnic discrimination that exists, there’s also a horrific lack of equality.

To correct this injustice, we want an Arab tycoon or two. And not just so that we can curse him out during times of crisis.