The Facts Were in on Israel's Arabs

Two statements by former prime minister Ehud Barak in his testimony before the Or Commission, which is investigating the events of October, 2000, should raise an eyebrow. Or rather, raise hackles.

Two statements by former prime minister Ehud Barak in his testimony before the Or Commission, which is investigating the events of October, 2000, should raise an eyebrow. Or rather, raise hackles. One was, "There was no concrete intelligence assessment" of the possibility that disturbances of these dimensions would break out, and the other was that the reason no discussion had been held on the issue of the Arabs of Israel was "because in any case long-term problems would have come up in any such discussion."

Both of these statements testify more than anything else to the worldview of a prime minister that can be summed up briefly thus: The Arabs of Israel are an enemy; in the best case they are an amiable enemy who from time to time go out and demonstrate, a protest "of the dimensions of Land Day or Land Day plus." Therefore, "dealing" with them need not go beyond the level of the specific occurrence. Hence, there is also no need to meet with their leadership, except when the Shin Bet security service believes that such a meeting is essential.

A discussion of the question of the Arabs of Israel? Why wear ourselves out with it when all that could come up would be only long-term problems? Now, of all times, do we need to start dealing with the question of discrimination against Arabs? Or the fact that no Arab city has been established to date? Or perhaps of the NIS 4 billion that the government had allocated on paper to close the gaps? After all, what we have before is an acute problem - Arabs are throwing stones at policemen and blocking roads. This is the only problem, and there is nothing more to it. No history of failings and no future of civil revolt. It began and ended in the month of October. Why should the prime minister deal with a problem like that? It's a problem for a squad commander, maximum a regional commander.

From Barak's statements it may be understood that indeed he had expected that "something" was going to happen in the Arab sector. The only thing was that he did not comprehend the size of that "something." The logical failure in Barak's conceptualization also lies here. If the Arabs of Israel are the enemy of the state, and if their identification with the Arabs of Palestine is as great as the experts on Arabs rushed to testify, then there was no need at all for a concrete intelligence warning about how they would behave after the events on the Temple Mount. After all, an enemy behaves like an enemy, no matter which side of the Green Line he is on. The size of the response by the Arabs of Israel, according to this perception, could not have been any different from that of the Palestinians.

If, however, Barak believes that the Arabs of Israel are one of the elements of the state of Israel, citizens of whom civic behavior is expected, he should have gone around worried and anxious throughout the period of his brief tenure and not only during the month of October. This is the case because when a group of citizens like this, about 17 percent of the citizens of the state of Israel, are carrying around a grievance in their gut because of a "long-term" problem that was created with the establishment of the state, there is no need for an intelligence warning. It is enough to read the newspapers, perhaps the State Controller's Report or simply any one of the scores of reports that have been submitted to all the governments of Israel on the situation of the Arabs of Israel, to understand that this sore will burst on its own.

Barak was right. There was no need for a special discussion of the Arabs of Israel before the events of October. There was need for a policy and a statesman. All the necessary discussions had already taken place. And even if a special discussion had been held, it is possible to assume what its contents would have been. Some of the participants would have shown harsh statistics about the situation of the Arabs. The head of the Shin Bet would have said that only a "Land Day" might be expected, which is what his assessment was in any case according to Barak's testimony. Therefore there is no reason to assume that his assessment would have been any different, and hence the result would have been that same dismissive wave of the hand to all those annoying elements who keep reminding us about the distress of the Arabs of Israel.

It would be a mistake on the part of the Or Commission to limit the prime minister's responsibility to the concrete event and to separate it from the path that led to the outburst. Barak, however, can have only one defense in this matter: He is not the first and apparently not the last to unravel the fine seam that somehow held the two Israeli communities together.