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A Layman's Guide To WWIII:
Who's Who in Israeli Politics
By Kevin Filan

Israeli Arabs

Haredim   |  Israeli Arabs   |  Likud   |  Labor   |  Nat. Religious Party   |  Shas

The 1948 Declaration of Independence called upon the Arabs remaining in Israel to "participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions." Today over 1 million of Israel's 6.3 million citizens - almost 20% of its population - are Israeli Arabs. Arabic is recognized alongside Hebrew as one of Israel's official languages, and Israeli Arabs serve in the Israeli Defense Forces and the Knesset. Still, major disparities exist between Israel's Jews and Arabs, as well as tensions which have only become worse as the intefada wears on.

Israeli Arabs enjoyed a considerably higher standard of living than their brethren in the surrounding Arab countries and, while they may have felt some sympathy for the disenfranchised Palestinians living in the Occupied West Bank, they were also leery of the growing trend toward Palestinian extremism. A fair number of Israeli Arabs are Christians, while still others are Druze, a sect influenced by Islam but considered heretical by most orthodox Moslems. Under the Moslem Ottomans, they faced constant and frequently bloody persecution; in Israel their religious rights are protected. Still, few question that Israeli Arabs are second-class citizens: while they are 20% of the population, Israeli Arabs own a mere 3% of the land. When police response to an October 2000 riot in support of the Palestinians left 13 Israeli Arabs dead, it became increasingly clear that many Israeli Arabs were now identifying as Palestinians, not as citizens of Israel.

In the past, most Israeli Arabs threw their support - and their votes - behind the Labor Party. For their part, the Labor Party assumed that the Israeli Arabs would act as a "Bridge" between the Jews, the Palestinians and the Arab world. In 1988 Abdulmalik Dehamshe split with the Labor Party to form the Arab Democratic Party. Since that time the gulf between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs has only widened, and their representatives have become increasingly vocal in criticizing Israel and supporting its enemies. In November of 2001 the Knesset voted to strip Arab MK Azmi Bishara of his parlimentary immunity and to charge him with "incitement" for statements he had made in Syria supporting Palestinian resistance. Unsurprisingly, the reaction to this trial has polarized the populace among ethnic lines, with Jews expressing alarm at the developing "Arab fifth column" within Israel, while Israeli Arabs complain of efforts to silence Arab voices and stifle protest and dissent. Today few Arabs are voting in Israeli elections, while several of the recent suicide bombings have been carried out by Arabs carrying Israeli passports.

It is difficult to tell what will become of Israel's Arabs after the establishment of a Palestinian state. Many prefer the Israelis to Arafat's corrupt and ineffective government; while they may give lip service to Arafat as "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people" few of them are moving to the Occupied Territories. One thing is certain; Israel's Arab population is growing faster than its Jewish population. The creation of a Palestinian state beside pre-1967 Israel will slow Israel's transition to a multicultural state with a Jewish minority but it may not be enough, at this juncture, to prevent it.



 


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