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What Israeli Arabs really want from their leaders

It’s not what the Jewish majority likes to believe. 

A common Jewish Israeli criticism of Arab Knesset members is that they do a disservice to their constituents by focusing on high politics, mainly the Palestinian issue, instead of dealing with bread-and-butter economic issues that would really help them. (There may be something self-serving about this line of criticism, but who knows?) Last week I went to Jedeida-Makker, an Israeli Arab village a couple of miles inland from Acre, to hear Balad MK Haneen Zoabi give a campaign speech. The residents, including the local council head, indeed told her that she and her Arab colleagues in Knesset should concentrate more on the day-to-day problems of Arab citizens and less on the occupation. However, their complaints offered no vindication whatsoever to Israeli Jews who believe they know what’s best for the Arabs of this country, better than the Arabs do themselves.

The day-to-day, bread-and-butter economic problems the residents talked about all exemplified Israeli contempt for Arab rights. In other words, for Israeli Arabs, the issues they care most about are as highly political and uncomplimentary to Israel as can be.

Before Zoabi’s speech to about 50 people in a Balad campaign office, a local party activist and former Jedeida-Makker deputy council head, Mohasen Kais, showed me a court order he’d gotten a few weeks before. It said he owed the Israel Lands Authority – the state – about $80,000 for nearly a half-century of unpaid land use fees, and that if he didn’t pay it within 30 days, it was up to him to demolish the house and vacate the land, otherwise the “rightful” owner, the ILA, would do the job at his expense.

Kais, 60, says he’s lived in the house since his father bought it in the mid-1960s; his family lives on the top floor now while his brother’s family lives below. The Kaises come from what used to be a nearby Palestinian village – Mohasen said its name was Qurqurdani – that was destroyed in the 1948 war. The family migrated to different villages, to Lebanon, and finally in the early 1950s to Jedeida-Makker.

“First they destroyed our villages, took our land and made us refugees, now they want to do it again,” he said.

About three-quarters of Jedeida-Makker’s 19,000 people are former refugees and their descendants. Dozens of local households have received court orders like the one that arrived for Kais, said Abdallah Waked, an attorney and legal adviser to the local council. But the ILA’s campaign to collect or evict isn’t limited to Jedeida-Makker – it’s nationwide, Waked said, and it threatens the decades-old homes of untold numbers of Israeli Arabs. “The ILA decided on this policy in 2009, but only now started carrying it out intensively,” he said. “It’s going to be a big mess. These people don’t have that kind of money to pay, and they have nowhere to go.”

Waked also said he raised the issue with Zoabi a year ago, but it led nowhere. In the Q&A following her speech in the campaign office at the edge of town, one resident after another opened with warm words for her courage and dedication, but then implored her to give more attention to the routine sufferings of Israeli Arabs at the hands of the state’s ethnic discrimination.

“They built fences around this village, like in Gaza – we can’t expand, we have no master plan allowing us to develop, there’s no land for young couples to build homes on,” said Mohammed Shami, the local council head. He won the evening’s only interruption for applause when he urged Zoabi “to come visit more often, not just before an election.”

Another resident told her: “The Arab workers for Israel Railways in Lod have all been fired, there isn’t an Arab working there anymore. You people in the Knesset are asleep, you don’t know what’s going on.”

Zoabi defended her record, saying she devotes most of her time to the economic issues of Arab citizens, especially unemployment among Arab women, but it’s only her clashes with Israel over the Palestinians that interest the media.

She and the residents spoke in Arabic, which I don’t understand; all I had to go on from the meeting were a few comments translated by a man sitting next to me, then a 20-minute interview with Zoabi afterward. I don’t think she told me anything new; I’ll post my story when it’s published in Foreign Policy – here we go – but this long interview with Zoabi by Haaretz’s Dalia Karpel would tell a great deal more about her.

The main news I have to report is that Zoabi is a charismatic speaker; she held people’s attention for nearly two hours. She seems very well-liked, too; after she was finished, many people came up to her with fairly reverent expressions on their faces. A trio of high school girls exchanged phone numbers with her, and one told me (in Hebrew), “She’s the only Arab woman who speaks for us, who gives us the courage to stand up to the racism.”

The other news from the campaign stop, like I said, is that whatever dissatisfactions Israeli Arabs have with their political representatives, ultimately their complaints are directed at Israel, and these have to do with injustice, past and present.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Ben

      I would have sympathy for a non-5th column minority that didn’t abhor the state they live in, seek out national identity with an area they don’t live in (or want to), demand full privileges with little or no commitment to their country (since they haven’t left it), and rotate around politics that either don’t deal with daily economic issues–something this piece obliquely noted as “self serving” instead of, say, “factual”–or frame those in “Israel is wrong for demanding that people who owe taxes pay them” discourse.
      So, no sympathy here. If you’re alternately a hater and stupid, marginalization is where you’re going to end up. Too bad.

      Reply to Comment
      • Danny

        Funny how zionists constantly demand that Arabs love their state, when the state has NEVER, EVER shown any love for them, or even attempted to. Haneen Zoabi is probably too young to remember the years of martial rule, when her people were forced to live under military governorship for about 20 years, but doubtless her parents and aunts and uncles remember it very well.
        .
        Instead of asking Arabs like Zoabi to unconditionally love their state, the state would have done well to try to give Arabs like her a fair shot, like instituting an affirmative action program for Arabs, or at the very least investing in Arab communities. Of course, none of this EVER happened, and probably NEVER will. Because a state built on racism and disenfranchisement of the native population will not willingly change its DNA.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Her grandparents probably remember being surprised that the Jews didn’t get slaughtered and then they remember being afraid that what they planned to do to the Jews might get done to them.

          But, sure, let’s institute an affirmative action program because it worked so well in the States to cut the economic gaps.

          I wonder however why the Christian Arabs are doing so well within the confines of such a terrible system. Perhaps Zoabi herself might like to tell us the secret of their success.

          Reply to Comment
          • Haifawi

            The only thing the Christian Arabs do well is get educated. They are subject to the same shitty land-use policies as the rest of the Arabs. Have you been to Nazareth recently? Or the ruins at Bir’em and Iqrit? Everyone wants to go to Canada and make a better life there.

            Reply to Comment
          • Danny

            “But, sure, let’s institute an affirmative action program because it worked so well in the States to cut the economic gaps.”
            .
            At least it shows good faith on the part of the state. Israel has never shown any such good faith towards the Arabs.
            .
            “Christian Arabs are doing so well”
            .
            How so?

            Reply to Comment
          • Y-Man

            Forget what Arabs themselves say, you know better, right chief? You can smell the vitriol for Arabs in a statement like “Her grandparents probably remember being surprised that the Jews didn’t get slaughtered and then they remember being afraid that what they planned to do to the Jews might get done to them.” What a twisted worldview. Israel truly is “Serbia with nukes.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            @Haifawi, the Christian Arabs also have higher average income than Jews. Clearly this is a sign of terrible discrimination.

            @Danny, it shows that closing social gaps isn’t the point of programs like affirmative action. You just want to institute affirmative action as an expression of your agreement with the Arab narrative of exclusive victimhood. People like you just hide behind economic arguments on the matter.

            @Yman, I read enough stories told by Arabs from 1948 to know what they were thinking. Those that are refugees thought they would leave for a few days and when they came back the Jews would be gone. Those that stayed (other than the small number who thought the Jews would actually win) thought the same thing and were hardly surprised by the military government or the reasons for it. Don’t give me that innocent Arab crap. 6000 dead Jews from 1948 are evidence that your one sided story is crap.

            Reply to Comment
          • Y-Man

            shit, man, I didn’t tell any story. anyway, the history on the matter is very clear at this point, unless you don’t want it to be. Read Benny Morris’ “1948 and After” to learn some serious history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1948_and_After

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            I read Benny Morris so you are not revealing anything to me. Now go and read what the Arabs from 1948 themselves were saying. The vast majority thought the Jews would be massacred or pushed out within days.

            Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          >…when the state has NEVER, EVER shown any love for them, or even attempted to.

          What love exactly the state is supposed to show? Send flowers every weekend?

          Israeli Arabs enjoy most benefits of being Israeli citizens (medicine/electricity/water/transportation/education/security) while carrying next to none burden of an average taxpayer from Netaniya or Kiryat Gat

          1 – Arabs run own economy, VAT and income tax free. Haredim run their own economy as well, by the way.

          2 – Arabs hardly pay any National Insurance tax, yet are using medical services extensively.

          3 – Arabs are not obliged to military or civil service, like Haredim.

          4 – Arabs pay no municipal tax

          5 – Arabs generally are trying to refrain from paying any other utilities bills as well.

          >when her people were forced to live under military governorship for about 20 years, but doubtless her parents and aunts and uncles remember it very well.

          By your logic all Jews must despise Germans, which isn’t the case of course.

          >Instead of asking Arabs like Zoabi to unconditionally love their state, the state would have done well to try to give Arabs like her a fair shot

          Zoabi was given and extremely fair shot, yet her unconditional hate towards Israel remained intact.

          Danny, you really have some problems in your reasoning circuits.

          >like instituting an affirmative action program for Arabs

          Affirmative action proved to be a failure.

          >or at the very least investing in Arab communities.

          Investing in what?
          Roads? Street lights?
          Why? It’s municipal duty to maintain infrastructure.

          Would it make Arabs more friendly?
          Of course not. You must be thinking very low of Arabs if you think that their loyalty could be bought by a new pavement or a traffic light.

          Reply to Comment
          • Danny

            “What love exactly the state is supposed to show? Send flowers every weekend?”
            .
            The bare minimum should be to stop stealing their land, and give them equal rights to those of Jewish citizens.
            .
            “Zoabi was given and extremely fair shot, yet her unconditional hate towards Israel remained intact.”
            .
            Zoabi is a smart, talented woman who succeeded DESPITE Israel’s efforts to keep her and her people down. She is a thorn in Israel’s eye because she is smart and capable (contrary to popular Israeli racist notions that all Arabs are dumb).
            .
            If I were an Arab living in Israel, I would probably hate Israel too, just like if I was a Jew in Germany in the 1930′s, I would hate Germany. Stop being such a hypocrite!

            Reply to Comment
          • un2here

            He would have nowhere to go if he stopped.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >The bare minimum should be to stop stealing their land, and give them equal rights to those of Jewish citizens.

            Arab Israelis have more citizenship rights and less obligations than Jewish (or any other) Israelis, as I’ve listed above.
            Your claims are really nothing until backed up with at least some generalized facts.

            99.99% of Israeli Arabs live on their land rather happily. 0.01% is of somewhat smaller interest.
            You won’t be bothered if you’d hear that a Jewish family was evicted from the land which wasn’t theirs, would you?

            >Zoabi is a smart, talented woman who succeeded DESPITE Israel’s efforts to keep her and her people down.

            So giving her and her people right to elect her to Knesset is classified by you as efforts to keep them down.

            Idiotic or hypocritical? Both I suppose…

            >She is a thorn in Israel’s eye because she is smart and capable

            She’s a pain in the ass because she hates Israel and Jews unconditionally despite being an elected member of parliament.

            >If I were an Arab living in Israel, I would probably hate Israel too, just like if I was a Jew in Germany in the 1930′s, I would hate Germany.

            I’m pretty sure that if you was a Jew in Germany in 1930′s you’d be reasoning your neighbors that Jews already took too much from Germans and now it’s a time for a little payback in healthy and spacious labor camps.

            >Stop being such a hypocrite!

            Yeah, right.

            You are comparing German Jews (stripped of all citizen rights and mass exterminated) with Israeli Arabs (granted all citizen rights and elected to the parliament) and calling me a hypocrite.

            Reply to Comment
          • Shmuel

            “If I were an Arab living in Israel, I would probably hate Israel too”

            What do you mean ‘WOULD”? It is obvious that you DO hate Israel. Everything that you write here drips with hatred of Israel.

            Reply to Comment
          • Rauna

            “By your logic all Jews must despise Germans, which isn’t the case of course”

            Your’re wrong. Israelis hate the nazis (german ???) and has attempted on many occassions to prosecute/assassinate every single nazi alived.

            How many jews (members of haganah,irgun stein, those involved in shabra n shatila)has been prosecuted? Instead,one of them has been elected as your PM.

            Reply to Comment
      • Trj

        Alternatively, you could just read the linked interview, thus significantly increasing your chances of not looking like a complete idiot in front of the entire world.

        Reply to Comment
      • Jan

        @Ben – Why should the Palestinians of Israel love or even respect the state that stole their land, made them refugees and made them live under a flag with the religion of those who took their lands?

        The Palestinians were kicked out of their homes more than once by the Israelis and they do not want to leave again so that Jews from foreign lands can take the lands in which they have lived for so long.

        And they say that Israel is a “democracy?” What a laugh.

        Reply to Comment
      • Y-Man

        “…seek out national identity with an area they don’t live in (or want to)…” I guarantee that those Arabs very much want to live there, they just don’t want to be harassed by their government. And there’s nothing “oblique” about Larry referring to Israeli Jews’ preference that Arab MKs focus on the Booker T. Washington-like accommodationist approach (the one focused on day-to-day economic issues rather than the struggle for freedom as a people) as “self-serving,” but I admire your attempt at what you think is fancy writing.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Every time an Israeli Arab politician or community leader uses one of two phrases–”Palestinian citizens of Israel” or “1948 Arabs”–it pretty much kills any chance that any Israel on the right, center, or educated liberal part of the political spectrum will pay any attention to any of their complaints and issues. The fact that the Left/far-Left don’t notice or care about this is their problem to deal with.

          Reply to Comment
          • Y-Man

            “Every time an Israeli Arab politician or community leader uses one of two phrases–”Palestinian citizens of Israel” or “1948 Arabs”–it pretty much kills any chance that any Israel on the right, center, or educated liberal part of the political spectrum will pay any attention to any of their complaints and issues.” Well whose fault is that?!?

            Reply to Comment
    2. Richard Witty

      They live there. Accept them fully.

      Reply to Comment
    3. This post is real journalism. The lack of equal economic and civil rights as applied is striking. The Lands Authority’s goal in outcome is strikingly similar to that of land encroachment in the Bank. A partial and obvious block to the LA would be to provide immunity to LA claims to land held and lived by a family since, say, 1960. The Knesset will never do this.

      There is at bottom no difference between land and demographic policy in the Bank and Israel. Fighting for equal treatment of Israeli Arabs within Israel is as well a fight to stop the usurpation in the Bank. I continue to see rights jurisprudence within Israel as part of the long term fight of the apartheid Bank.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        This post would be journalism if Derfner spoke Arabic or brought a translator with him. As is all he can really tell us is that he sat through 2 hours of conversation he didn’t understand. Everything else flows directly from his imagination and second hand information.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bit of an exaggeration there, 9. I interviewed people, I doubt that the guy translating for me was an outright liar, and I don’t see where my imagination came into it.

          Reply to Comment
    4. Nir

      nsttnocontentcomment

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ted

      Dear Larry,

      Thanks for a very good piece with lots of very useful concrete examples.

      But one question, does Haneen Zoaibi call herself an “Arab” or a “Palestinian?” And the others you referred to as Israeli Arabs?

      IF she and others refer to themselves as Palestinian citizens of Israel, I would suggest you respect how they identify themselves. If she and others at the meeting referred to themselves as Arab Israelis would be educational for me and others to know.

      Thanks very much,

      Ted

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Ted,
        Prior to year 1948 EVERYONE who resided at Palestine was called Palestinian, obviously.

        That includes Palestinian Jews, Palestinian Arabs, Palestinian Armenians, Palestinian Circassians, Palestinian Jews, Palestinian Samaritans, Palestinian Beduins and probably another few minorities I’ve missed.

        After 1948 those who became citizens of the state of Israel respectively became Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, Israeli Armenians, Israeli Circassians, Israeli Samaritans and so on.

        Basically, Palestinian Arabs have no right to be called [the only] “Palestinians” thus pretending that no other nations had ever resided in this land.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ted, I use “Israeli Arabs” to avoid confusion w/Palestinians in WBank and Gaza. There’s no insult intended and I don’t think it is insulting. When I’m speaking to an Israeli Arab, I don’t use the term because I know most object to it. But in general I think there’s way too much emphasis everywhere on nomenclature – look at what AIPAC etc. are doing w/Hagel’s use of the term “Jewish lobby.” I think it’s all pretty trivial. Thanks very much for your nice comment about the article.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ted

          Deat Larry,

          Thanks for your response.

          As of course you know, like many conquering powers, Israel has employed divide and rule tactics with the conquered. One component involves labelling Palestinian citizens of Israel, “Israeli Arabs” and trying to foster the understanding that they are a different, separate, unrelated people to Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories, and by also taking actual steps to keep them separate and divided. Your story does a good job in showing how many Palestinaisn were forced to flee their homes and lands in many locations by the prestate and state Israeli forces. Palestinians and “Israeli Arab” families are often split, as you know.

          Israel’s purpose is to foster a sense of separate identity among Palestinians by labeling people differently, though each suffers from serious (if somewhat different) forms of discrimination and shares a culture and history. It also serves a purpose with outsiders. Reading obfuscating US media, it took me years to understand that “Arab Israelis” are directly related to “Palestinians.” I though they were some distinct people!

          By refusing to say Palestinian citizens of Israel, a phrase which does distinguish them from those who live in the OPT, your avowed concern, you are in effect supporting that obfuscation of identity by Israel.

          Still, I asked you a simpler question which you did not respond to. How does Haneen Zoaibi identify herself? If she identifies herself as a Palestinian citizen of Israel, don’t you have some responsibility to respect her self-identification, even if you are not concerned with obfuscating a people’s identity?

          Again, a very good piece, but I encourage you to seriously wrestle with this issue.

          Thanks,

          Ted

          Reply to Comment
          • Ted, I’ve thought about the points you raise, they’re all legit, but here’s what I think. Of course Zoabi doesn’t refer to herself as an Israeli Arab, but as a Palestinian – and I’m not sure what follows after that; there are many people, not only Arabs, who refer to Israel as “48.” Again, I would never call her an Israeli Arab to her face because that’s not how she wants to be addressed, but in my writing I see nothing wrong with it, and I don’t think it can be interpreted wrongly because of what I write. I use “Israel Arabs” or “Arab citizens” – I don’t use “Palestinian citizens of Israel” because it’s kind of clunky, and also because while Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in WB and Gaza have a common history before 48, they haven’t since then – they’re in a fundamentally different situation. But you’ve got a good point about not knowing at first that Israeli Arabs and Palestinians were traditionally one people – when I wrote the story for Foreign Policy, I thought of putting in a phrase to make that clear, but didn’t so as not to slow up the story, but maybe it’s a good thing to do. Again, thanks for raising the issue.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Larry, you forgot to tell Ted that referring to them as Palestinians would somewhat undermine your persistent idea that the ‘occupation’ of 1967 is the underlying problem. If the Arabs of Israel demand to be part of any resolution to the conflict then making a deal with the Arabs in the territories isn’t going to actually resolve the conflict. Logical?

            Reply to Comment
          • You got me.

            Reply to Comment
        • Mareli

          Thank you, Larry, for your discussion of use of the term Israeli Arab. Your view is the same as mine, but I have encountered many on the left who dislike my use of those words.

          Reply to Comment
    6. Palestinian

      The majority of the economic problems the Palestinians inside the green line suffer from are a direct/indirect result of systematic discrimination and impoverishing policies for decades .Whoever thinks (or pretends/claims) this is not related to the bigger conflict , is mistaken.In the Zionist mind ,the Aghavim (aka Palestinians)must be kept inferior.Few successful (mostly de-Palestinized) individuals wont the equation as long as the majority are under tight control.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >The majority of the economic problems the Palestinians inside the green line suffer from are a direct/indirect result of systematic discrimination and impoverishing policies for decades

        Lies.

        Reply to Comment
        • Palestinian

          Refuted by a Zionist ? really

          Reply to Comment
          • sh

            I find that like Arabs of other countries, many Palestinian citizens of Israel call themselves Arab and don’t find that shocking or pejorative (maybe it’s Israel that made it pejorative to some?) it’s just that you might need to speak to people who are not academics to find that out. But it’s only accurate if you use Nasser’s definition of an Arab as quoted by XYZ, above.

            Reply to Comment
      • Palestinian

        wont change *

        Reply to Comment
    7. XYZ

      What you say is incorrect. The first clause of the Palestinan Constitution says the Palestinians are an integral part of the Arab world and will work towards Arab unity. Thus, the Palestinians who are citizens of the Palestinian Authority also define themselves as Arabs. Nasser said an Arab was anyone who spoke the Arabic language and participated in Arab culture. There is a movement called “Pan-Arabism”. The official name of Egypt is the “Arab Republic of Egypt”, and the official name of Syria (at least at the moment) is “The Syrian Arab Republic”. The idea that calling an Israeli Arab an “Arab” is insulting him is a figment of the imagination of “Left-Liberal-Progressives” who are trying to create the idea that the Palestinians have nothing in common with neighboring peoples and this is supposed to make their struggle against Israsel more effective i.e. the “weak, small Palestinian people against the Israeli Goliath” instead of hundreds of millions of Arabs with a joing culture and identity against only 6 million Jews.

      Reply to Comment
      • Y-Man

        when have “Left-Liberal-Progressives” ever said that calling an Israeli-Arab an “Arab” is an insult? That’s one of the craziest things I’ve ever heard.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Are you new here? Look above for Ted’s nonsense. This isn’t a new discussion. Half the writers on 972mag refuse to refer to them as Israeli Arabs and insist on calling them Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.

          Reply to Comment
    8. sh

      …from where it positioned itself, my previous comment should have ended with the word “below”. Aaarghh!!!

      Reply to Comment
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