Crisis in the Middle East

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Israelís Arab Minority: A New Paradigm
November 2000

At the beginning of the recent strife between Israelis and Palestinians, the vast majority of Israelis were shocked at the vehemence that the Arab-Israeli community displayed toward the Israeli Government and toward Israeli Jews. The nation was forced to realize that it had in its midst a minority population that had changed dramatically over the years.

The radical rhetoric emanating from that community intent on enlisting participation in the current "Al Aska Intifada" was a clarion call.

The upsurge of Islamic movement activity within the Green Line over the past year has been a cause for concern amongst Israel's Jewish inhabitants. In addition to addressing important social concerns, the Islamic movement has added a religious fervor to an emotionally charged nationalistic struggle. Many within the Arab Israeli population credit the Islamic movement for their profound contribution to building a self-reliant and self-confident people. Thus, many have refrained from speaking out against some of the movementís extremist tendencies.

.As more and more Arab Israelis speak and act out in favor of Palestinian independence, Jewish Israelis are simply questioning the loyalty, ambitions, and trust worthiness of their fellow Arab citizens.

Exacerbating fears further is the use of new terminology such as the label "Palestinian minority in Israel" instead of "Arab Israeli". Though it has been known for some time that an overwhelming majority of Arab Israelis identify with Palestinians and their "struggle" for statehood, this change is much more than symbolic and has very significant reverberations for both Jews and Arabs. This new self-awareness has bolstered the nationalistic component of their identity and has put them on equal footing with the Jewish population of Israel. It has also added to their claim that a bi-national state should be created within the Green Line, as they have openly expressed no desire to reside in a Palestinian state created in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. On the other hand, Jewish Israelis find this new definition as threatening to their existence and Israelís Jewish character, and as one more obstacle to co-existence.

There are several indications that elected Arab-Israeli leadership has also turned more extreme. These well educated, articulate and 40-something, male parliamentarians have attracted tremendous media attention for themselves and Arab Israeli issues.

However, due to the fact that a cultural, educational, socioeconomic gap has emerged between the elected leadership and those they represent, these leaders have been forced to adopt a more radical tone to maintain their popular support. Statements such as those praising the terrorist group Hizbullah as a "legitimate resistance organization" or calling for Arab Israelis to take on a more active role in the Palestinian struggle for independence have also enraged Jewish Israelis.

While Jewish Israelis are determined not to shed the Jewish character of the State, the latter bears an obligation to ensure equality for all its citizens and reinforce the pillars of democracy on which the State of Israel was founded. Despite the dismay of those Jewish Israelis who oppose granting full rights and privileges to the Arab Israeli minority in Israel, the Supreme Court continues to be active in enforcing equality as delineated in Israelís Declaration of Independence.

Most polls continue to show that Israeli Arabs still see themselves as Israelis in terms of identity and future. Still, the trends underscored by the communityís activism in recent months are troubling.

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