Saturday, February 23, 2008

Equal But Separate

There can be no question of the good faith behind Interior Minister Meir Shitreet’s announcement this week that Israel would establish a new city for its Arab population in the Galilee. There can also be no question of its weirdness.

The city’s mandate, if that’s the word for it, is to compensate Israeli Arabs in some measure for the way they have been boxed in during the past 60 years. The plan is particularly aimed at providing affordable housing for young Arab couples.

“It will be a modern city,” Shitreet said, “where young couples can afford to buy property and live just like in any other city in the world.” And the matter of residency is particularly fraught. Arab citizens make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population (and are still disproportionately engaged in agriculture), but they live on perhaps 5 percent of the land. As a rule of thumb—and while being mindful of the exceptions—you may assume that the state has spent on Arab citizens, per capita, less than half of what it’s spent on Jews.

Public lands of all kinds, managed by the Israel Lands Administration, are over 90 percent of Israel’s territory within the Green Line. Management, according to the ILA’s charter, is meant to recognize “the special relationship between the People of Israel and the Land of Israel and its redemption.” Israeli Arabs have successfully, if fitfully, sued the state to be able to live on land once belonging to the Jewish National Fund (upon which most veteran Israeli towns were established).

Still, the state has not actively enforced these judgments and most public land is, in effect, closed to non-Jews. (I explore this subject in depth in my forthcoming book, The Hebrew Republic.) It is hardly any wonder, then, that the idea for a new city for Arabs originated with an Arab politician, Hadash MK Hanna Swaid, and that Israel’s only Arab member of the government, Sports, Science, and Culture Minister, Ghaleb Majadele, strongly endorses the plan. Many Jews do too. The proposal was endorsed by “18 left-wing members of Knesset as well as right-wing MKs.”

I presume that left-wing, in this case, means Israeli MKs from former socialist parties who, like (now fugitive) Azmi Bishara think there is a material gap to be closed, an Arab bourgeoisie to be reconstituted, and a separatist Arab culture to be surrendered to. There is also, among Israeli Jews, a measure of what Arthur Koestler once called “claustrophilia.”

THE PROBLEM HERE is that when you actually ask Israeli Arabs what they want, you are reminded of the liberal freedoms and hybridized identities that, come to think of it, cities were created to engender. You also wonder how—given the knowledge economy we live in—anyone could possibly think Israeli Arab professionals or entrepreneurs could thrive without integrating into Israeli cities, enterprises, and communities of practice. And the person who, for many years, has asked Israeli Arabs what they want is Professor Sammy Smooha, the Dean of Social Sciences at Haifa University, who threatens to give empirical sociology a good name. Here are some of his findings:
  • 75 percent of Israeli Arabs between the ages of 16 and 22 support voluntary national service;68 percent would be willing to live in a Jewish neighborhood, and 80 percent would like Arabs to enjoy parks and share swimming pools with Jews;
  • Over 53 percent feel rejected as citizens of Israel;
  • Almost 75 percent of Arabs support the return of refugees only to a Palestinian state; 45 percent said that they feel closer to Jews in Israel than to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza;
  • Almost half support “comprehensive integration into the Western world.”
  • Only 13 percent would be willing to move to a Palestinian state, from which one may infer that they would also be unwilling to move to an Israeli Arab city.As for Israeli Jews, over 75 percent said they would hesitate to enter an Arab town.
THESE FINDINGS GIVE reason for hope. Also dread. My Israeli Arab friends leave no doubt about how they cherish democracy, which has come to them in Israel's Hebrew version. Israeli cities have given them the language, broadly, to speak of individual freedoms, sexual desire, the foibles of fathers, scientific doubt. In many courses of study at Haifa University, Arab students make up more than half the class. Tel-Aviv means you can be a part of the global thing. South Tel-Aviv means you can be bad. Yet to promise equality to young Arabs, teach them Hebrew, introduce them to classical arts, give them broadband, unhinge them from traditional families, dangle Intel and Google workplaces before their eyes—and then tell them they are not really wanted in the Jewish state—is to invite what Smooha calls, with characteristic tact, alienation. The polls show only about 3 percent would entertain the use of violence. That is 35,000 people; the Islamists are biding their time.

Jews, by the way, might well remember the violent feelings prompted by an impulse to modernize that was thwarted by a civil society only half-open to them. They might remember, that is, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, and Radek—remember that in the first Soviet Central Committee, only Lenin and Stalin were not Jews? If Czar Nicholas had turned around and promised Odessa’s maskilim a city of their own, what do you think most would have called it?

A footnote: Last night, a Shabbat evening when Jewish Jerusalem goes quiet, my (step-) granddaughter had high fever and I drove her and her anxious parents to the Magen David Adom emergency clinic. An Arab doctor healed her. Today, my master fuse shorted. An Arab electrician fixed it. In both cases, the diagnoses and blessings were given in Hebrew; the professionalism was palpable. The city, today at least, seems promising.

(Photo Credit: Lisa Katz, Israeli Arab town of Mashad)


david santos said...

Excellent, Benard!
Thank you.

bar_kochba132 said...

I have to admit that Sami Smooha's findings are astounding. All I know is that the Arab Knesset members do everything they can to take as radical and anti-Jewish position as they can. I don't see how these two things can be reconciled, because if that is NOT what the Arab population wants, then why do the political parties propagate such a radical position. For example, one of the representatives of the political Islamic movements said his people would look upon any Arab who did national service, EVEN WITHIN THE ARAB COMMUNITY as a traitor and sell-out.
I am aware of the fact that many Arabs do not vote for the Arab parties, but I still find this dichotomy puzzling.

In any event, I think it is reasonable to extrapolate from this that the Arabs of Jerusalem, as indeed is reflected in public opinion polls, would oppose handing their neighborhoods over to Palestinian control. They know that that would lead to the destruction of the city.

bar_kochba132 said...

I just heard a report on Israel radio...a Knesset committee received a complaint by some Arab girls who had performed National Service and received death threats as a result. Apparently those in the Arab community who are not in Bernie's camp of "progressive Arabs" aren't happy with with those who are..they said in their threats that by performing National Service they are "helping the Zionists to eradicate Arab national and religious conciousness".

What I find interesting is Bernie's belief that Arabs, deep down, want to really be part of his secular Israeli/European/American-style materialist/consumerist culture, the same one his Ramallah grocer friend Sam Bahour is pining for. Shimon Peres wrote in his book "The New Middle East" (which I imagine is something of a bible to Bernie's Israeli 'elite') that whereas in the past, people cared about "ideologies", today, on the other hand, all people care about is making as much money as possible and spending their free time surfing the internet (or chasing boys or girls as Bernie indicated in this posting).
The New York Times had an interesting article last week about how educated Egyptian youth are turning in masses to a fundamentalist Islamic lifestyle. The writer, Michael Slackman, attributed this to frustration at the lack of an ability to land a decent job and get married (which requries large dowries for the groom). That may be, be it should be noted that this turn to strict Islamic observance is also seen in the wealthy Gulf States, and, for that matter, among Muslims in Europe and the United States, many of whom are quite prosperous. Why Israeli Arabs should be different is not clear to me. And I again ask, if most Israeli Arabs want integration, why are their political representatives in the Knesset more and more expressing opposition to it?

Margaret said...

I believe alienation can be described as a response to situations inherently dichotomous.

That there is no great desire evidenced to move to a Palestinian state does not mean Arabs living in Israel reject their identity as Palestinians. What Bernard Avishai describes sounds to me like natural and unavoidable integration of Arabs living in Israel into Israeli society. I understand from reading Once Upon a Country, by Sari Nussebeih, that this is not an expectation traditional to Israel, which when smaller was in many places bordered by encircling barbed wire. I suspect that positions considered anti-Jewish might include those which give to the Arab resident of Israel equal standing "in the Jewish state."

The description promise equality to young Arabs, teach them Hebrew, introduce them to classical arts and the dance, give them broadband, unhinge them from traditional families, dangle Intel and Google workplaces before their eyes...

is similar to that given of what women experienced before suffrage brought the right to own property and to vote. The expectations of the suffragettes, considered inflated, were blamed on education.

Almost half support “comprehensive integration into the Western world.”

What this report depicts for me is a State that is kept from commensurable integration by Israel's military agression and the reprisal such policies bring. The barrier so created successfully prevents "comprehensive integration into the Western world" of resident Arabs, particularly in that Arabic educational facilities, faculty and students are subject to boycott coming and going.

The separation plays out in the fear of Israeli citizens, as well as in the fear of the Arab citizenry of the Territory, justifiable because of the ongoing slaughter of citizens. Perhaps the greater willingness of Arabs citizens for negotiation has as much to with the region's culture as it does with the benefits to be achieved by joining in partnership with Israeli society. Being of a land lying in the path of travelers to and from the various continents, the cultural roots of Arabic society honor the necessities of trade, and this basis is equal in weight to that which gives rise to the stereotype of all Arabs as Islamic militants.

It really is impossible to dismiss the value and importance of the knowledge the world derives from historical Arabic studies, yet such is done by those who equate political Islamic movements to all Muslims, or reaching wider, all Arabs. The damage to be done by repeating stereotypes that have great power because of fear can only be counteracted by exposing the shallow nature of such perceptions.

Creating us against them situations is essential to maintain the separation of the people on both sides of the iconoclastic wall. The 'Net has no such boundaries.

Margaret said...

"it should be noted that this turn to strict Islamic observance is also seen in the wealthy Gulf States, and, for that matter, among Muslims in Europe and the United States, many of whom are quite prosperous. Why Israeli Arabs should be different iass not clear to me."

A focus on the religious identify of Israeli and Arab serves to distract one from questions about the behavior of the governments involved. That people are religious too often is used to discriminate between some and others. The issues enjoined are not specific to a race or religion, not to a region or political affiliation. The issues are life and death, land and water.

bar_kochba132 said...

Here is an excerpt from the Jerusalem Post about the Knesset hearing I mentioned in a previous comment:

Furor erupts at meeting over nat'l service for Arabs

Ehud Zion Waldoks , THE JERUSALEM POST Feb. 24, 2008


Charges of "Little fascist!" and "Traitor!" rang out as tempers frayed at the Knesset Education Committee meeting Sunday, during a debate about national service for Israeli Arabs.

MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) and MK Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Beiteinu) could not restrain themselves to polite debate as they championed opposite sides of the issue.

"The leaders of the Arab community oppose national service. We are fulfilling our rights and obligations to explain to the youngsters the ramifications. Whoever does national service will be caught in the middle, and Arab society will consider him a traitor and a leper," Zahalka declared.

---- cut part of article

Two Israeli Arab women described to the committee how they had been attacked.

Rizak Marlan, coordinator of the NGO Equality, told the committee she had been attacked "in Bir al-Maksur in a school, and afterwards I received threats. I filed a complaint with the police. That person also attacked a social worker, who also filed a complaint."

Nibian Kitan, a volunteer with the national service program in Nazareth, told the committee, "I was also attacked a month ago and filed a complaint. I don't know what happened with the complaints."

Kitan, who teaches computers at a school, said she did not plan to stop volunteering, despite being attacked and branded a traitor. "I see myself as a Palestinian Arab living in Israel. I belong both to my nation and to Israel."

...cut rest of article

Margaret said...


It almost seems as if your recitation of the troubles encountered by some Arabs living in Israel is meant to provide the basis for a broad generality regarding all Arabs. "...those in the Arab community who are not in Bernie's camp of "progressive Arabs" aren't happy with with those who are."

As if a compelling issue should be the existence of differences in individual political views among Arabs in Israel, rather than the fact that most public land in Israel is closed to non-Jews. The open debate to which you refer serves to reinforce rather than diminish the promise offered by Arab integration into Israeli society; the second quotation denotes the struggles that take place within a society faced with major changes. The crux of the matter is the basis on which such changes occur, including the need for public lands in Israel to be available to residents without discrimination, rather than having land assigned by discriminatory categorizations which further institutionalize the standing of Arabs as less than equal in entitlement under Israeli law.

Leila said...

"68 percent would be willing to live in a Jewish neighborhood, and 80 percent would like Arabs to enjoy parks and share swimming pools with Jews;"

OK we have de facto residential segregation in the USA still, although there are laws against it. And our public schools are often segregated, again de facto. And I know all about Israel's measures against Palestinians in the territories, and what she has done to her Arab citizens and their land...

But do I understand from this quote that Arab Israelis are not allowed to swim at Jewish Israeli pools? Not allowed to enjoy Jewish Israeli parks? Please tell me I misunderstood this.

I don't know why segregated swimming pools shock me. Just seems so incredibly, horribly, stupidly racist. Well, since Arabs and Jews are indistinguishable by "race" or looks or DNA, I guess it's - anti-Arab. Anti-Semitic? Gross.

Joshua said...

The Israeli Arabs, especially the newer generation, are a peculiar symbiotic entity, where the progression has certainly vested the light upon the younger Arabs, while the elite still have the lasting effects of the separatist rule of Israel. In effect, it appears the policy is to decrease the number of Arabs, therefore neutralising them by the welcome "rewards" of intergration, the same examples that Bernard has listed while still being labelled as a non-Jew.

While far from being the odious colonialist policies from former settler states that attempted to "whiten" their indigenous population, I believe that the elite Arab members do see the offer of national service, etc as the same type of erasure of Arab culture and identity, hence their rhetoric being on the stronger side against such actions that help enable more Arab involvement in Israeli life. This is in gross conduct even when the state still wants to continue its separation from Israeli Arabs, placating them in the hope that they won't revolt just like their brothers in the occupied territories.

Leila said...

Yes but can an Israeli Arab swim in a "Jewish Israeli" pool? Or are the pools for Jews only? That's what the quote implies and I just have to get it straight.

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