Israeli Arabs Are Both Palestinian and Israeli Patriots - It’s Complicated

One has the right to say: 'I am a Palestinian whose Israeli ID card was forced on him, and I prefer to be subject to an apartheid regime than to live under Palestinian rule.’

Alexander Yakobson
Alexander Yakobson
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Alexander Yakobson
Alexander Yakobson

It goes without saying that the Israeli Arab community has the right to reject the idea of land swaps a la Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an idea that’s a complete nonstarter in any case. The question is, why do they want to reject it?

The Albanians in Kosovo had the full right to keep their Serbian citizenship; no one had the right to deprive them of it. Instead, they renounced it, in order to cast off Serbian rule.

The Arabs in Israel, on the other hand, cling to their Israeli citizenship and choose Israeli over Palestinian rule – even Palestinian rule in an independent Palestinian state achieved by a peace agreement. Lieberman’s idea is not for them to move to the future Palestinian state, but for it to come to them. This they totally reject.

One wonders if any nation-state has ever received such a vote of confidence (for its citizenship and system of government, not for its policies) from a national minority during a bitter national conflict. Israeli politics doesn’t come out of this affair well, but Israeli citizenship does.

Jewish and Arab nationalists vie with each other with white-hot rhetoric, yet Israeli citizenship, common to both Arabs and Jews, proves that it is much more meaningful, valuable and strong than often thought. Both the minority and the majority display an unexpected saneness in an insane situation.

The Arab community’s position on this issue in no way contradicts the overwhelming majority view – that this community is part of the Palestinian people. For who is more aware than the Jews that one can identify with one’s conationals in other countries, treat another state as the national home of one’s people and still live outside that state? Nor does such a position rule out criticism, however harsh, of Israel's realities and policies.

It does, however, contradict some of the wild talk that sometimes accompanies this criticism. Of course, one has the right to say: “I am a Palestinian whose Israeli ID card was forced on him, and I prefer to be subject to an apartheid regime, an oppressive, fascist, racist and colonialist regime. I prefer all this to having to live under Palestinian rule.” A person who exercises his or her democratic right to express such a position cannot prevent others from exercising their democratic right to find such a statement ridiculous.

Many Jews will say that “it’s all because of the Israeli welfare allowances.” But it’s a lot more than the Israeli welfare state. Obviously, the state’s social and economic achievements are part of the reason Israeli citizenship is attractive. But a number of polls show that between 40 and 50-plus percent of Israel’s Arabs say, even under today’s difficult conditions, that they are “proud to be Israeli” and are Israeli patriots. It’s true that in the same polls they voice opinions that are hard for Israeli Jews to stomach.

That alone proves that their answers are honest, that the situation is complex, as is their relationship to the state. “Proud to be Israeli” is a strong statement, much stronger than “however bad the Jews are, an Arab regime will be even worse and for now it’s good we have national insurance.”

Given the circumstances, the fact that the relationship between Jews and Arabs in Israel is complex, not simply negative, is a great accomplishment – for both sides. If this relationship were only negative, the lives of us all, Jews and Arabs alike, could easily become hell.

But Israel’s citizens, Arabs and Jews, are smart enough not to go there. As an Israeli minister, Lieberman is supposed to be interested in seeing the residents of the Triangle – the area in central Israel bounded by the Arab towns Baka al-Garbiyeh, Taibeh and Tira – feel more Israeli, rather than propose that they stop being Israelis.

Israeli Arabs waving Palestinian flags during a rally in the northern Arab-Israeli town of Sakhnin on March 30, 2013 commemorating the 37th anniversary of 'Land Day.'Credit: AFP

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