Arab Israelis Aren’t Pawns

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The northern Israeli town of Umm Al- Fahm, in 2019. 

This is what U.S. President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” says about the fate of 10 Israeli cities and towns: “These communities, which largely self-identify as Palestinian, were originally designated to fall under Jordanian control during the negotiations of the Armistice Line of 1949, but ultimately were retained by Israel for military reasons that have since been mitigated. The plan contemplates the possibility, subject to agreement of the parties, that the borders of Israel will be redrawn such that the Triangle Communities become part of the State of Palestine.”

Thank you very much, Mr. President. Israel must say no to annexation and reject out of hand this warped idea of the Washington peacemakers, who aren’t familiar with the fabric of life in Israel. The communities referred to are home to 280,000 Israelis, the overwhelming majority of whom see themselves as an inseparable part of Israel. They were born, raised and educated in Israel, where most of them want to keep living.

The residents of the “Triangle Communities” in the center of the country include prominent Knesset members such as Ahmad Tibi and outstanding economists such as Samer Haj Yehia, the chairman of Bank Leumi. The contribution of “Triangle” Arabs to society and the economy is important, and their fate is an integral part of the country’s fate.

Israel’s Arabs are not pawns. Their fate has been somewhat better than that of most of their people. They are descendants of the few Arabs who weren’t expelled and didn’t flee in 1948, who stayed in Israel and became citizens.

Since then the state has demanded their loyalty while not showing them any loyalty whatsoever. A military regime that doesn’t belong in any democracy was revoked in 1966 but was replaced with discrimination in funding and rights, and with the intervention by the Shin Bet security service in almost every part of the Arab citizens’ lives.

Still, their community has become part of the country and increasingly Israeli. They have faced difficult dilemmas between loyalty to their country and loyalty to their people, and have usually overcome them.

Their integration is now in full swing. Israel’s universities, colleges and health system are but a few examples of their integration into society and contribution to it. Israel must encourage this trend. Casting doubt on the possibility of their remaining Israelis is a destructive move whose results may be completely different from expectations.

If Arab Israelis are temporary citizens, the state shouldn’t expect their loyalty and integration. If Israel wants to be loyal to its citizens, all of them, it must immediately drop the dangerous and outrageous idea to drive this community out of here.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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