JERUSALEM (Sep. 23)
The writing was on the wall — literally.
At the Islamic Movement’s giant rally last Friday in Umm el-Fahm, the stage was decorated with a picture of the Al- Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem and the slogan, “Al-Aksa in Danger.”
To the 60,000 Israeli Arabs who cheered in support, the meaning of the phrase was clear: The Jews were out to destroy the Muslim holy site on top of the Temple Mount.
If anyone needed a reminder that relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel are deteriorating badly, last Friday’s rally provided it. As the second anniversary approaches of the October 2000 riots, in which Israeli police killed 12 Israeli Arabs, the rift between the two communities seems deeper than ever.
According to a new book, it’s not just the Islamic Movement that is rejecting accommodation with the Jewish majority in Israel: An entire generation of young Arabs is distancing itself from the Israeli mainstream, according to “The Upright Generation” by Khaula Abu-Baker, an Arab social worker from Acre, and Danny Rabinowitz, a Jewish anthropologist from Tel Aviv University.
These young Arabs were born in the State of Israel, carry Israeli passports, vote in Knesset elections, read Israeli newspapers and even write in them, and speak Hebrew fluently — yet they have never been more alienated from Israeli society since the founding of the state 54 years ago.
“Israelization is the gravest threat to Palestinian uniqueness in Israel,” Israeli Arab journalist Zuheir Andreus recently wrote in Al-Quds al-Arabi, an Arabic daily printed in London.
Assimilation threatens to turn Israeli Arabs “into a deformed group in the present and a frustrated group in the future,” he wrote.
Abu-Baker and Rabinowitz’s book focuses on the third generation of Israeli Arabs since the establishment of the state in 1948.
The first generation is that of the “Survivors” from the 1948 War of Independence, weak and humiliated, the authors write. The second is that of the “Worn-Out Generation,” who were born after the establishment of the state and tried in vain to integrate into Israeli society.
Theoretically, members of the young generation, who are now in their late 20s or 30s, are best fit for the process of “Israelization.” However, Abu-Baker and Rabinowitz write, they have turned their backs on Israeli society not because they feel more Palestinian, but because they feel Israeli society has not been willing to accept them and open all doors to them.
The authors named the young generation the “Upright Generation” because in their view it is a generation that no longer knocks on the door, begging; it makes demands. It will join the rest of Israeli society only if it is fully accepted on its own terms, without reservations or limits.
Television reporter Riad Ali, a representative — at least by age — of the Upright Generation, feels the authors have placed too much emphasis on Jewish rejection in molding the young generation’s Palestinian identity.
In Ali’s view, young Israeli Arabs also have been strongly affected by their identification with the suffering of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“Undoubtedly if the Palestinian problem had not existed, the Palestinian identity of the young generation of Israel’s Arabs would have come out in a different way,” Ali said. “They would have stressed more civilian issues than nationalist issues.”
Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua, whose latest bestseller “The Liberating Bride” deals extensively with the issue of Israel’s Arabs, told JTA he agrees in principle with the basic thesis of Abu-Baker and Rabinowitz. Yet he believes it would have been easier for the young Arab generation to integrate into Israeli society if there had been a basic separation between Israel and the Palestinian territories.
“Due to the lack of border with the Palestinians, they were drawn into a strong process of Palestinianization,” he said.
The Israeli Arab political leadership contributed to the process. By strengthening ties with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for their own political ends — and by repeatedly testing the line between political speech and incitement against the state — they earned the distrust of Israeli Jews.
“It must be a national goal to integrate the Arab population into society, because if trouble starts there then we are really in deep trouble,” Yehoshua said.
The authors of the Upright Generation believe that responsibility for repairing the rift lies mainly with the Jewish majority. It needs to cease defining Israel as a Jewish state willing to tolerate its Arab minority, and instead see itself as a “state of all its citizens” that accepts the Arabs not only as equal citizens but as a Palestinian national minority within Israel.
“I don’t have any illusions,” Rabinowitz said in an interview. “I know that it is a far-reaching goal, but I am not a politician. I am a social scientist who reads the political map and points out the best solutions. It is up to the political leaders and society at large to carry them out.”
It is not going to be easy. The Umm el-Fahm rally and the comments of opinion-shapers such as Andreus are a case in point.
Andreus wrote that it is time to set up a separate Palestinian educational system in Israel, independent of the Ministry of Education.
He also suggested that Israeli Arabs boycott Knesset elections.
“It is unacceptable to watch an Arab politician swear allegiance to the Hebrew state. This phenomenon is the climax of the dangerous Israelization process,” Andreus wrote. “Moreover, on our way to the Parliament we give the Hebrew state the opportunity to brag before the world that it is a democratic state, just because it allows the Arabs to present their candidacy to the legislative branch.”
The thousands in Umm el-Fahm were more virulent.
“With our blood and our spirit we will liberate Al-Aksa,” they chanted against the background of the huge poster of the mosque.
“In the past, we said Al-Aksa is in danger. Today, we say Al-Aksa is in greater danger, because it is clear to us that the Israeli establishment is trying by force to extend and strengthen its occupation in the mosque, and, at the same time, prevent in every possible way any Arab-Muslim-Palestinian sovereignty over the mosque, which is the natural sovereignty, as history testifies,” Islamic Movement leader Sheikh Raid Salah told the crowd.
“I call on the Islamic nation and the Arab world and Arab leaders all over the world and say to them: Every second that passes, the Aksa Mosque remains under occupation,” he continued, “and all of you will be responsible for what happens in the future.”
Such rhetoric — especially given the absence of any actual threat to the mosque — is not likely to do wonders for intercommunal relations.
Israeli President Moshe Katsav said Sunday that there is a link between statements like those of Islamic Movement leaders at the rally and the growing involvement of Israeli Arabs in terrorist attacks against Israel.
Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit said he would look into the possibility of outlawing the Islamic Movement and bringing incitement charges against speakers who denounced Israel at the rally.