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Arabs In a Jewish State Print E-mail

By Jay Bushinsky
October 15, 2007

JERUSALEM -- One out of every six Israelis is an Arab.  That is a demographic fact which often is overlooked or misconstrued by this country's Jewish majority.  This may be due to lack of education for inter-ethnic, inter-religious and inter-racial tolerance.  Unlike the United States, whose schoolteachers have been harping on that theme for decades on end, Israel's Jewish schoolchildren are not taught to appreciate and befriend their non-Jewish counterparts and vice versa.

The prevailing attitude of disinterest and disregard for the Arab citizens of their common country extends to generalizations to wit the Israeli Arabs are a fifth column.  It also enables Israeli politicians of all ideological trends to regard them as expendable -- people who can be transferred from Israeli sovereignty to that of the projected Palestinian state.  The latter tendency reemerged recently when Israel's would-be architects of peace in the Holy Land proposed exchanges of territory whereby the residents of such cities as Umm el-Fahm in central Israel would find themselves under the unpredictable rule of President Mahmoud Abbas or his successors.

There was an immediate and heart-rending outcry from the Israeli Arab leadership.  "We are citizens of the State of Israel," one local Arab mayor said.  "This is our country and it always will be."  It is high time rank and file Jewish Israelis and their elected officials refreshed their historical memories and bore in mind the circumstances in which more than 100,000 Palestinian Arabs opted willingly and decisively for life under the Star of David in 1948, when Israel declared her independence.  Those who stayed behind while at least half a million of their brethren fled only to transform themselves as perennial refugees declared confidence in the possibility to co-exist peacefully with their Jewish neighbors and benefit from the medical, technological and political abilities of newborn Israel's Jews.

As Israel's Arab population increased so did the active involvement of Arabs in almost every one of this country's walks of life, with the general exception of the military establishment and the defense industries.  And concurrently, so did the Arab representation in Israel's Parliament, the Knesset.  There are Arab doctors in its hospitals, lawyers in its courtrooms, judges on its benches, correspondents on its radio, newspaper and TV staffs and professors in its universities.  That is in addition to the tens of thousands in building construction, commerce, municipal employment and other pursuits.

Needless to say, these people, 95 per cent of whom are Muslims and five per cent, Christians, speak, read and write Hebrew fluently.  This category includes some who have excelled as novelists and poets in Hebrew as well as Arabic.  In one instance not too long ago, then-Education Minister Yitzhak Navon decided to scan the Knesset for the deputy whose Hebrew enunciation was most authentic and accurate.  He nominated the Communist Party's Tewfik Touby, whose pronunciation was letter-perfect.  In fact, it should be borne in mind that there are more non-Jewish Israelis who have a total command of modern Hebrew than there are American Jews with an equivalent capability.

The conclusion to be drawn from all this is that Israelis would be wise to see the Arab population as a potential model for peace, that the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs who live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and also know Hebrew as human beings who harbor a sincere will to live side by side with this country's Jews rather than as their eternal nemesis and that Israel's Arabs are an asset rather than a handicap.  Most Israeli Arabs are like Switzerland's Italian-speaking citizens who maintain Swiss identify as do the French speakers of La Suisse Romande.

Jewish Israelis should not assume that Arab Israelis merely pay lip service to national loyalty.  Instead, they should accept the explanation given by one local Arab leader who stressed that the personal freedom he and his fellow Arabs enjoy here cannot be matched in any Arab country and that neither he nor they want to forfeit it.  And as for the so-called demographic problem, the Jews here and abroad should not predicate Israel's security on the worn out and unrealistic mantra that this is "a Jewish  democratic state."  Mere words will not make or keep it one.  It will be one without trumpeting those words if Jews continue to live here rather than emigrate to the U.S. and other attractive countries and if Jews continue to come here to settle rather than just to visit.  If they opt out, no territorial parameters or withdrawals will keep it predominantly Jewish -- if that is what they sincerely want it to be.
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