Behind the Headlines West Bankers’ View of Israel

Years of working in Israel does nothing to improve the negative view most West Bankers have of the Jewish State, a research project by Bar-Ilan University sociologists has found. On the contrary, in some instances at least, the experience actually heightens the West Bankers’ antipathy or hostility towards Israel–this despite the better living standards that Israeli salaries have undoubtedly brought.

Preliminary findings of the Bar-Ilan team, led by Prof. Yehuda Amir, were reported in Yediot Achronot this week. Amir and his team selected Israeli Arabs from among the university faculty staff to aid them in interviewing hundreds of West Bank workers over a period of two years. The interviewees were invited to the campus and interviewed in the open, as informally as possible, in order to allay suspicions that their words might be recorded or otherwise used against them.

In order to overcome fears and suspicions advanced techniques were used whereby the interviewees were ostensibly required to assess what other West Bankers’ reactions would be to given situations, rather than their own. For instance, the interviewees were presented with drawings of situations involving West Bankers and Israelis, and asked to put reactions into the mouths of the West Bankers in the drawing. In this way, the researchers felt, the interviewees would feel less awkward about airing their true feelings.

One scene depicted an Arab and his two wives, all in traditional dress, watching Israelis in bikinis and swimming trunks sporting on the beach. Some of those asked put in the Arab’s mouth such reactions as: “Shameless conduct–let’s get away from here.” A minority, though, had the Arab in the drawing react more positively, even suggesting that this carefree way of life might be better than the more closed existence required by strict Moslem traditions.

STEREOTYPE AND HOSTILITY

While the reactions to such apolitical issues were divided and varied, the closer the questions got to the vexed political problems of the area, the more stereotyped–and hostile–the responses became. Such questions as What is Israel’s place in the world?; Can Arabs and Jews live together in peace?; How do you think Israelis regard you ? received almost uniformly negative replies. Summing up the project, Prof. amir said:

“Most of the responses varied between an attitude of Kabdehu Vehashdehu (respect him but suspect him) to one of outright negativism. To my great regret we found virtually no really positive responses. The best responses we received were those expressing neither enthusiasm nor downright hostility.

“That was true regarding the less politically-oriented issues, such as, Has Israel contributed to the West Bank economy?; Should Israelis be able to visit the West Bank?; Is the Israeli wife generally faithful to her family? But there was a generally negative response to such substantive questions as, Can Jews and Arabs live together in peace?”

While the research team implies that the basic attitudes result from objective considerations, they note, nevertheless that interviewees’ answers, even to politically-oriented questions, are noticeably affected by their individual experiences at their Israeli work places. This is particularly true in connection with the grade of responsibility that the West Banker feels he has at his work.

What is important here, the team says, is not necessarily the actual level of responsibility but the subjective feeling of the individual.

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