Israeli anxiety over ‘enemy within’

Israeli Arabs are becoming more assertive in calling for autonomy

By Claire Bolderson
BBC News, Israel

“There’s one thing in common between Arabs and Jews in Israel,” says Amnon Rubinstein with a wry smile. “They can’t stand each other. It’s sad but its true”.

The former Israeli education minister, now at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Herzliya is not the only Israeli anxious about deteriorating relations between Jewish Israel and its Arab minority.

A series of events since last summer’s war in Lebanon have reawakened fears in Israel of an enemy within.

At the time, some Israeli Arabs were very critical of Israel’s actions.

“When Israelis look in your eyes you know. They don’t have to speak to you”
Ahlam

And this week, one of the most outspoken critics, has resigned his seat in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.

It has emerged today that Azmi Bishara is being investigated by the Israeli police reportedly for aiding the enemy during war time.

Mr Bishara, who has left the country, says he is being persecuted for his strident criticism of the Jewish state.

His case has exacerbated the growing polarisation of Israel’s Jewish and Arab communities.

Minority discrepancy

Arabs make up nearly 20% of the population, but they have long complained of discrimination, and official figures tend to back their case.

Arab villages for the most part receive less in state aid even though they are generally poorer than Jewish ones.

Azmi Bishara thinks its time to take his fight to the outside world

Life expectancy of Arabs is lower, so is educational achievement.

But just as bad, say Israeli Arabs, is the general attitude of the Jewish majority.

“When they look in your eyes you know. They don’t have to speak to you, you know if someone likes you or not,” says 18-year-old Ahlam over coffee in a Nazareth cafe.

She plans to go to university but complains that she will have to work twice as hard as any Jewish student to get a place, just because she is an Arab.

Future vision

It is grievances like that that have prompted Israeli-Arab leaders to come up with a series of reports on the status of Israeli Arabs – or Palestinian citizens of Israel as many call themselves – and to suggest solutions.

Most provocative for Jewish Israelis was one commissioned by the mayors of Arab towns and written by leading Arab academics.

The report, entitled the Future Vision of the Palestinians in Israel, does not just list the problems of discrimination.

Israelis are horrified at the prospect of a bi-national state

It calls for Israel to stop being a Jewish state.

Out would go the national anthem and the Star of David flag.

Israel would become a state of two equal peoples, Jewish and Arab.

To make that happen, the report says, Arabs should have much more autonomy politically and culturally with their own school system and separate curriculum for example.

No state solution

All of that is completely out of the question for Israeli Jews across the political spectrum.
“Israel belongs not only to its citizens but also the Jewish people of the world,” says one left-wing commentator.

“We want to preserve our uniqueness and if there’s a threat to that then we’re frightened,” he says.

The Future Vision document has given Israeli Jews a reason to be frightened.

At the moment what little peace process there is with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, is based on the notion that one day there will be two states, one Jewish and one Palestinian, living side by side.

But what the Israeli Arabs have done is raise the spectre of two states, neither of which will be Jewish.
And that has confirmed the old fear of Israelis that they will never be accepted in the region.

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