Palestinian in the Jewish State: Reflections on Discussions with Arab Israelis (day 8)
by Asher Mayerson, Dartmouth College, ’15
Sitting in small group in a tiny office in Haifa, I listened as an Israeli Arab citizen described the discrimination she faced from her government, and sometimes also her neighbors, on an all too regular basis. These stories made the unfortunate and undeniable reality of so many within Israel’s largest minority community all too clear.
Our speaker, a representative from the civil rights advocacy group Mossawa, described the legal discrimination faced by her community. One of the most prominent was the the “Nakba Law,” passed by the Knesset on March 22, 2011. The Nakba literally means “catastrophe” – a word Palestinians use to describe their losses during Israel’s War of Independence. While I celebrate 1948 as a miracle for the Jewish people, I know that others suffered at this same period. The “Nakba Law” makes it illegal to publicly commemorate the Palestinian narrative of the War of Independence.
As a Zionist and American Jew, I see 1948 as a War of Independence and miraculous. I also recognize that my War of Independence was a far different experience for others. I can maintain my narrative and celebrate a miracle for my people while also acknowledging the legitimacy and reality of Palestinian narratives.
Protection of minority rights and equality under the law are two core tenets of liberal democracy, upon which Israel is built. An open and liberal democracy should and must welcome even those ideas and narratives anathema to the majority. This, of course, is one of the great achievements of democracy and a reason I am proud of supporting a democratic and Jewish Israel.
When I see and hear Israel’s achievements in education and technology, I feel a deep sense of pride. As I listened to Israeli Arab civil society leaders describe the issues faced by their community, I heard a story far different from the one which makes me a proud Zionist. In the realm of education, for example, Arab Israeli schools receive 5% of the overall education budget, though Israeli Arabs comprise 20% of the population. Additionally, the Israeli government often fails to provide basic public transportation services to Arab communities within Israel.
The discrimination faced by Arab citizens of Israel is not only immoral on its own accord, but also harmful to the future of the Israel. Continued discrimination will inevitably lead Arab Israelis to feel completely disconnected and distinct from Israeli society and the State of Israel. The ramifications of this phenomenon are obvious. In addition, the void in social services left by the Israeli government has – and will continue to – leave a critical opening for extremist groups to provide those basic social services. When the Israeli government failed to provide transportation to Arab Israeli communities, the Muslim Brotherhood started funding buses to these very communities.
Amongst the many complex problems within Israel and the Palestinian Territories, improving the treatment of Israel’s Arab minority is among the easier to address. It is not only just – but also imperative – for Israel to embrace its citizens of Palestinian heritage. Indeed, the character of Israel’s democracy and the safety of the future of Israel depend on an investment, across Israel and the larger Jewish world, in the equal and just treatment of all Israeli citizens.