Motion to Abolish Military Rule in Arab Areas Defeated in Knesset
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Motion to Abolish Military Rule in Arab Areas Defeated in Knesset

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A motion to abolish military government in Arab populated areas of Israel was defeated by the hairline margin of one vote in a tense Parliament today. The vote was 57 to 56. Five bills calling for radical changes in or abolition of military rule were introduced in the Knesset by deputies of the Liberal, Herut, Mapam, Achdut Avoda and Communist parties.

The parties mustered every possible deputy for the vote which sparked demonstrations yesterday by both university students and Israeli Arabs. One deputy arrived from a sick bed and another hastened back by plane from an overseas trip. There were five abstentions, four from Agudat Israel and one Arab. Special security measures were arranged near the Knesset building for the vote.

Balloting was preceded by a one-hour speech by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion who strongly defended the military rule. He said Israel’s “unique” security situation demanded continuance of such rule. He asserted that no other country in the world was bordered by states which daily by press and radio propaganda incited and threatened Israel’s existence. He had announced he would go to the people on the issue if the vote was negative.

The only areas in Israel which seemed not to participate in the excitement over the vote were the Arabs in the affected areas. Villagers were reported working as usual while students were demonstrating in Jerusalem. The Arab villagers were quiet. A number of Mapam and Communist members tried to induce the Arabs to demonstrate prior to the Knesset vote but they were generally unsuccessful. It was an uneventful day for the police patrols in the Arab sections.


The Prime Minister told the Knesset that Israel Arabs, who were “constantly exposed to the incitement from bordering states, ” were in need of military rule for their own security as well as that of Israel. He said that while most of the 250,000 Israeli Arabs–Moslem and Christian “strive to be loyal citizens, ” it was also true that there were elements who “are avowed enemies” of Israel. He cited examples of anti-Israel propaganda disseminated in Arab schools.

Reiterating that military government in three specific areas was necessary for security, the Prime Minister declared that if such government was ended, infiltration and espionage activities would become “rampant” because the usual civilian police procedures would not be adequate for such problems.

He added that residents of the military-governed areas were permitted to move freely in all parts of Israel and that only some 2,000 “whose machinations are known to the administration” were restricted to temporary moving permits. He rejected charges of undue hardships for the Arab minority, insisting that the situation of that minority differed from others in other countries.

The Prime Minister called the existing situation “unparalleled, ” because Israeli Arabs spoke the same language, were related to and felt close to the Arabs of the neighboring states. He stressed that as long as there were no indications of a rapprochement between Israel and the Arab countries, whose populations totalled 90,000,000 persons, “there will be need for precautions along the sensitive border areas, ” However, he added that relaxations will be made–“as they were in the past” insofar as conditions permitted.

Two of the four Arab deputies affiliated with Mapai voted against abolition of military rule, one abstained and one voted for it. In the debate for the resolution, Menachem Beigin, Herut leader, cited the “stigma” of the emergency regulations, on which the military government was based, because they were of British origin. He argued that security could be maintained without this “hated hangover” which he called “demoralizing and redundant.”

Moshe Carmel of Achdut Avoda, speaking as a former army commander, said both he and former Brigadier Yigal Allon, now Labor Minister, considered military rule redundant and that security could be expected by measures other than by “non-democratic” rule. Mordechai Bentov of Mapam cited a Supreme Court judgment which admonished a military administrator for using his authority for political purposes.

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