Israeli Arabs, Government Leaders Discuss Worsening Relationships at Labor Party Symposium

Israel’s top leadership and representatives of the Arab community — at least that section of it considered loyal to the State — engaged in a frank exchange of views today over the growing problem of deteriorating relations between the Jewish majority and Arab minority in Israel. The occasion was a day-long symposium, sponsored by the Labor Party and held at the Party’s ideological center, Belt Berl. The chairman was former Foreign Minister Abba Eban. The speakers included Premier Yitzhak Rabin, Defense Minister Shimon Peres and members of the Knesset both Jewish and Arab.

Both sides expressed grievances. David Hacohen, a veteran MK and ardent promoter of better Jewish-Arab relations, chided Israeli Arab leaders “who know better” for remaining silent while a campaign of vilification was mounted against Israel by the PLO charging that “we kill, murder and slaughter the Arabs in Israel.” Hacohen wanted to know, “Why don’t you who know better, raise your voices? Why don’t you publish letters… Where are you?”

Saif A Din Zuabi, an Arab MK associated with the Labor Party who was defeated by a Communist slate for re-election as Mayor of Nazareth, spoke of discrimination against Israeli Arabs. He charged curtailment of Arab rights and deliberate disregard of the Arabs’ national identity.

Zuabi acknowledged that living conditions and educational opportunities have improved for Israeli Arabs. But he charged that the State does little for Arab youths after they complete their studies. They cannot find jobs and are thus easy prey for the Communists, he said. He cited the events in Nazareth as an example of how governmental neglect opened the door to a Communist city government. He said that Arabs who were previously respected for taking a positive attitude toward co-existence with the Jews now find themselves the targets of jeers and disrespect.

Jamil Jalhoob, an Arab lawyer, agreed that Israeli Arabs had improved their economic condition. But men do not live by bread alone, he added.

RUBIN DEFENDS GOVERNMENT POLICY

Rabin defended his government’s policy toward the Arab minority but admitted that mistakes were made in carrying out that policy and that equal rights in theory were not always translated into practice. However, he said, Israeli Arabs are exempt from many obligations placed on Jews, such as serving in the armed forces. He stressed that the problem of Israel’s Arabs cannot be isolated from the larger Arab-Israeli conflict and the continuing threat to Israel’s existence by Arabs outside its borders.

Rabin cited the “enormous achievements” of the Arab populace in education health and economic well-being. Arabs enjoy freedom of expression and can criticize the regime a privilege they do not have in the Arab countries, he said.

Peres addressed himself to the immediate issue of discord between Israeli Arabs and Jews — the expropriation of land by the government, especially in Galilee. But the Defense Minister maintained that the expropriations were not discriminatory since they involved more Jewish than Arab-owned lands. He said that since the State was established. 300,000 dunams of land were expropriated of which 120,000 were state lands. 74,000 Jewish owned and only 42,000 dunams Arab-owned. He said there was no clear ownership title for another 77,000 dunams. All the land expropriated was required for development and industrialization that benefits all citizens. Peres claimed. He denounced the growing appeal of Communism in the Arab community. Communism has brought to this area neither peace nor development. but hatred, incitement and armament. Peres said.

Eban summed up the discussion with the observation that Israeli Arabs find themselves in a conflict between their national identity and political identity. He said that both Jews and Arabs have their complexes. The Arabs have a minority complex in Israel and the Jews have a minority complex in the region as a whole.

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