The New Civic Covenant of Israel: The State and Its Arab Citizens

Situations of crisis usually provide the opportunity for soul-searching and changes, and right now Israel is witnessing such an opportunity — I refer
to the combined effect of Covid-19, rising crime and the collapse of the wall of Arab opposition to Israel, developments which take their toll on the Arab population of Israel.

As was discussed here before, Mansour Abbas MK and his Ra’am faction are already publicly grappling with this situation and are on the verge of splitting the Joint List, which is basically an Arab party. Whereas Abbas is a politician, and his positions can be attributed to personal or partisan interests, as is to be expected from a politician, Marwan Kabha is not a politician. He is a footballer, and a very good one. He plays in Hapoel Be’er Sheva FC, and also represented, like many other Israeli Arab footballers, the Israel national team in official international games. A few days ago, Kabha stated, in a sad and sobering interview, that he cannot take any more the wave of rampant crime in the Arab Israeli society, and it was after he heard about the senseless killing of three more Arab citizens. Marwan simply said something that so many other Arab citizens are saying, and that it is about time that the Arab political leadership started dealing with this and other issues which cause havoc within the Arab Israeli population. So, he said, this is why we should vote for Abbas. Well, this is not a political advertising article for Abbas, and this is, therefore, the last time that his name is mentioned. It is however a call for a change, not only among Arabs, but also among Jews. A change that will lead to the creating and cementing a civic Israeli society within the framework of the state of the Jewish people, which is what Israel is and should ever be.

A new civic covenant is needed in Israel, and the road for achieving it starts with telling the truth. Israeli Arabs should recognize, that honor killing, blood feuds and clan fighting are societal issues, which were not created by outsider, in this case, the Jewish state, rather they reflect long-standing traditions which are to be eradicated, first and foremost, by Arabs leading a change within their own society. The above is not meant to be patronizing, though my experience is, that many Arabs, in fact too many, tend to view the very mentioning of these issues as such. Put bluntly, Arab society has its internal ills, and it is perfectly legitimate for non-Arabs to mention them within the parameters of honest dialogue. Within the same parameters, it is also imperative for Jews to accept some of the grievances of Arab citizens.

It is arguably the case, that many Jews tend to dismiss any criticism by Arabs as an indication of a lack of gratitude. It is a common saying, that ”why do they complain, after all, they live much better than their Arab Brethren in the Arab world”. Well, it may be factually true, that per capita income, level of education and life expectancy are much higher among Israeli Arabs than among most Arabs[surely not all], in the rest of the Middle East, but then the question is so what?. Not every valid Hasbara point [And I admit, that throughout my long hasbara career I used this argument a lot…] is relevant
when dealing with issues of the kind discussed here. The need to maintain complete equality between all the citizens of the state is not a bargaining chip, not a Hasbara ploy, not a point to be used in any political beauty contest.

It is the heart and soul of what Israel is and should always be, exactly what was stated and promised in the Independence charter of Israel. So, in this context, there should be, for example, more effective policing of the Arab society. This policing cannot resolve the basic societal issues mentioned above, but it could do something else which is very important. It can give the Arab society a sense of caring, and it is not something that is always understood by many Israeli Jews. It is customary to hear statements like,”oh, but it is between them… so who cares”, when the news comes about more crime-related killings among Arabs or cases of killing within the family. It is a common and justified complaint of Arab citizens in Israel, that the police is infected with this attitude, so most of the murder cases remain unsolved, unlike the situation among Jews.

Years ago a brilliant Arab politician, an attorney by profession, who died at a young age, told me the following story which I considered to be an enlightening experience. He arranged a budget for providing at least one hot meal a day to students in the town’s schools. He was so proud of himself and for a good reason. Then, he visited one of the schools and the principal confided with him the bitter truth; the food was never delivered, as the local company which was supposed to deliver it, preferred to sell it and make profits out of it. Our mayor, as a matter of nature, complained to the nearby police station. A day later he was notified, that the complaint would not be dealt with, because the suppliers of the food told the police, that it was a clan feud between them and the mayor, an internal affair, so nothing for the police to intervene in. Well, in Israel the ”internal affairs” excuse should not mean, that the state has nothing to say and/or do about them, and, btw-it should be applied also to the ultra-Orthodox community as well. The food story is indicative of the problem-not enough is done by Arabs themselves to deal with old and damaging traditions, but also not enough is done by the state. This is exactly the circumstance, which requires a meeting of interests and action. So what can be done?

The Arab Israeli population should accept legislation of civic service by Arabs at the same age group as the Jews who are required to have mandatory military service. It will not be of a military nature, though the door should stay open for young Arabs of all denominations to volunteer to military service, as is the case today. This has to be legislated because it has to be a pillar of a civic covenant-between state and a community. Then comes the matching pillar-what should be done by the state, and a lot could and should be done, among other things, a relaxation of the emphasis on military service as an obligatory criterion for acceptance to jobs in some industries, which are not open for Arabs today. [not all the industries which are blocked today for Arabs are really security-oriented]. We can go on and on by providing examples of what can be done, but the main point at stake is, to establish and maintain policies, as well as to change laws [not the nationality law though], in a way which will greatly and quickly accelerate fuller integration of Israeli Arabs in all aspects of life in their state, the state of Israel. Yes, there is no discussion here about the Palestinian issue and its implications. The issue is on the agenda, and it does not seem to be any closer to a final resolution, but then let us ask again the question so what?.

A lot could and should be done to change the relations between state and community, even without a solution to the national problem. Put in sum, no solution to one problem should not justify no effort to solve another.

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina
Related Topics
Related Posts