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Arab Israelis can help end Israel-Arab wars by telling the truth about history

Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas with Israel’s President Isaac Herzog in November 2022 (credit: Kobi Gideon / Wikimedia Commons).

The Times of Israel reported that Arab Israelis are largely staying away from the anti-overhaul protests. Amal Oraby, an Arab Israeli activist and lawyer, said “I don’t see myself there.” With respect, the reason that she doesn’t see herself in there is because she’s not there.

The article says that Arab Israelis feel that there is no place for them in the protests because of “the ubiquitous Star of David flag, the national anthem about the yearning of the Jewish soul for Israel, and the heavy participation of former officials from the military.” Again, with respect, what do they expect to see at Israeli protests? Palestinian flags and PLO officials?

As the article reports, organizers “have repeatedly invited Arab Israelis to participate”. Protest organizer Shir Nosatzki said, “There is no other group in Israeli society that’s been the target of so much effort to rope it into the protest.”

Also as the article reports, “Arab Israelis have potentially the most to lose if the government’s plan, which would likely weaken the judiciary’s independence, is implemented.”

So here we have it: Arab Israelis have more reasons than any other group of Israelis to oppose the overhaul, and they have been invited more assiduously than any other group of Israelis to join the protests, and yet, they are mostly staying away because of Israeli flags and Israeli generals.

This does not seem to make sense, but the explanation is provided indirectly by the same Arab Israelis quoted in the Times of Israel article.

Sami Abou Shehadeh, a former member of the Knesset for the anti-Zionist Balad party, said, “In this demonstration, we don’t talk about occupation. We don’t talk about racism. We don’t talk about discrimination.” Demanding that the issues of Arab Israelis be represented is fair, but one the other hand, Abou Shehadeh is openly anti-Zionist, which means that he opposes the Jewish right to self-determination. He refuses to be an ally to the Jews in their own struggle, and yet he expects Jews to be his allies in his struggle.

Another Arab Israeli quoted in the article is political activist Reem Hazzan who said, “It [the anti-overhaul protest movement] is a struggle that is lacking when it doesn’t discuss the root of the problems. The real invitation for Arab citizens will be genuine when these protests will come and say, ‘Friends, we want to build a future together, without occupation, with peace and with equality.’”

Hazzan is expecting a solution from the wrong people, and she doesn’t understand the root of the problems. Jewish Israelis, even those who are most opposed to the current right-wing government, have no magic wand that they can wave to make the occupation disappear and to make peace flourish. These things cannot happen as long as the Palestinian side isn’t ready for it as I discussed extensively in previous posts, including the one where I wrote that the Palestinians can end the occupation if they want. If Hazzan is eager to see peace and an end to the occupation, she should be directing her words towards Palestinians and Arabs first.

While I share Hazzan’s wish for “equality”, there cannot be complete equality if many Arab Israelis continue to elect anti-Zionists to the Knesset. To advance equality effectively, Arabs need to be part of the Israeli government, not just for one year (as Mansour Abbas’ Ra’am party was) but continuously.

A fundamental question that Arab Israelis should ask themselves is this: are they willing to accept Israel for what it is, the Jewish state? Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas answered this question in December 2021 when he said, “Israel was born as a Jewish state. And that was the decision of the Jewish people, to establish a Jewish state. The question is not ‘what is the identity of the state?’ That’s how the state was born, and so it will remain.”

Arab Israelis should go even further. They should recognize the grave injustice that the Arab world did to the Jews and the Palestinians when Arabs refused to accept Israel’s declaration of independence in May 1948.

The 1947 UN partition plan gave the Jews a little more than half of Israel/Palestine, much of it deserted and inhabitable. It gave the Palestinian Arabs the rest. If the Arabs had accepted the plan and all Palestinian Arabs had stayed put, the Jewish state would have been bi-national while the Arab state would have been almost exclusively Arab.

In other words, if the Arab world had accepted the plan, the Palestinians would have gotten a lot more out of it than the Jews would have. But the Arabs could not accept Jewish self-determination in any size or configuration, so they started a war that is still killing Jews and Palestinians on a regular basis.

The Arab Israelis, the descendants of the Arabs who decided to buck the general Arab trend and to stay in Israel, are the right people to tell the world this history. They should exhort the Arab world to seek amends for what they have done. They should exhort the Palestinians to end the hatred and to see the facts of history.

This cannot be overstated: the root of the Israel-Arab conflict and therefore of the Israel-Palestinian conflict is the Arab rejection of the Jewish right to self-determination. Understanding that, addressing this root cause, is the key to ending the conflict.

So Arab Israelis should stop feeling sorry for themselves, and they should do their duty of telling the truth about the conflict, something that they should have done decades ago.

About the Author
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. Fred supports Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, and he supports the Palestinians' right to self-determination in their own state. Fred supports a liberal and democratic Middle East where all religions and nationalities, including Palestinians, can co-exist in peace with each other and with Israel, and where human rights are respected. Fred is an atheist, a social liberal, and an advocate of equal rights for LGBT people everywhere.
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