The Muslim and Christian Arab inhabitants of Israel, the descendants of Palestinians who remained in their homeland during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, comprise about 20 percent of Israel’s present-day population. Although they’re citizens of Israel, some regard themselves as Palestinians of Israeli nationality, judging by surveys.
A number of Israeli Arabs have attained important positions as politicians, diplomats, soldiers, academics, physicians and judges, but still others are alienated from Israel and see themselves as second-class citizens in terms of employment opportunities, access to housing in cities inhabited mainly by Jews, and budgets allocated to all-Arab towns and villages by the government. Until 1966, they were subjected to military rule, their movements circumscribed.
In his documentary, My Home, due to be broadcast in Israel by Channel 1 on February 28 and by the BBC in March, Igal Hecht acknowledges the inequities that afflict Israeli Arabs, but tries to put a positive spin on the situation. An Israeli Canadian filmmaker based in Toronto, he makes his case by means of interviews with a fairly wide swath of Arabs. Most of his interviewees are upbeat about Israel and Zionism, but a vocal minority are disaffected, expressing complaints about discrimination and voicing dissatisfaction with the status quo.
Wafa Hussein, a Muslim from Deir Hanna who speaks idiomatic Hebrew, teaches English and Arabic in a Jewish school in Safad. Raised in a traditional Arab family suspicious of Jews, she considers herself a Zionist and believes in coexistence. But after widespread rioting erupted in Arab communities in October 2000, following the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising, she fell into a slough of despond. She left Israel and lived in the United States for a year before returning to Deir Hanna.
Mohammad Ka’abiya, a Bedouin, is a poster boy for Arabs loyal to Israel. He enlisted in the Israeli army and took part in the invasion of the Gaza Strip in 2009. Not having felt the sting of racism and believing that Israeli Arabs enjoy equality, he thinks Israel is a great country for Arabs. Yet, as he admits, he has been condemned as a “traitor” by fellow Arabs.
Father Gabriel Naddaf, a Christian priest in Nazareth, dismisses the claim that Israeli Arabs are victims of prejudice and counts himself as a lover of Israel. Indeed, he has been in the forefront of a campaign to promote the enlistment of Christians into the Israeli armed forces. Regarding Israel as a bastion of freedom and democracy, he speaks darkly of Christians’ future in the Arab world.
Jonathan Akhoury, a Christian resident of Acre born in Lebanon, speaks highly of Israel. He and his parents settled in Israel in 2000, around the time Israel withdrew unilaterally from its self-declared security zone in southern Lebanon. Members of his family belonged to the Israeli-trained and financed South Lebanon Army, which fought with Israel against Hezbollah.
Ayoob Kara, a Druze from Daliyat al-Karmel, is a Likud Party parliamentarian and a deputy minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. During the last phase of the 2015 election, when Netanyahu feared its outcome hung in the balance, he claimed that Arabs were “coming out in droves” to vote and urged Jews to rally to the Jewish nationalist camp. Kara defends Netanyahu, claiming he meant no harm.
Hecht gives viewers the other side of the story by presenting the views of Arab parliamentarians in the 13-strong Joint List bloc, headed by Ayman Odeh of Haifa.
Ahmed Tibi, a veteran of the Knesset, says Israeli Arabs suffer from discrimination in all aspects of life.
Haneen Zoabi, a firebrand who was aboard the Turkish ship Mavi Marmra when it was stormed by Israeli commandos in May 2010 en route to the Gaza Strip, echoes Tibi’s accusation. She identifies herself as a Palestinian and wants Israel replaced by a secular state of its citizens.
Hecht captures this spirit of disaffection by filming an “anti-occupation” march in the Arab town of Sakhnim.
My Home provides anti-establishment Arabs with a platform to vent their grievances, but on the whole, Hecht accentuates the positive by playing up the voices of moderation and conciliation in the Israeli Arab community.