Arabs of Israel: Citizens Whose Citizenship Cannot be Taken Away
Anyone who thought there cannot be serious peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians was sadly mistaken. The talks are on the table and people of the right are feeling the pressure. This is also the pretext for Liberman’s latest proposal for transferring territory and populations in exchange for Israeli populated areas of the West Bank. According to his plan, Wadi Ara and the Triangle would be transferred to the Palestinian state, together with the inhabitants. The very idea is despicable, immoral, a blow to Israeli society, and, in any case, constitutionally, does not stand a chance of being adopted.
Some background: Wadi Ara and the Triangle were assigned to Israel at the armistice talks held with Jordan in Rhodes in 1949. This is how it came about that 300,000 Palestinian Arabs live in the villages and cities of the area. They represent an historic ethnic minority with their own distinct culture and dialect, much like the more than a million other Arabs living in other parts of Israel.
While the Arabs of Israel are sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle for independence, they regard themselves as citizens of Israel and entitled to equal treatment as partners in Israeli society. The population and territorial exchange program is an attempt to “kill two birds with one stone” : to make it possible to leave as many settlements as possible in the West Bank and at the same time, improve the “demographic” situation in Israel by transferring the Arabs to Palestine. This is a suggestion that runs counter to the basic values of Israel as set out in its Declaration of Independence and reinforced over the years by legislation that bars disenfranchising anyone or depriving them of their rights on the basis of their ethnic or geographic origin. Israel is also a signatory on international conventions that commit her to respect individual rights.
As the director of Givat Haviva, I meet Arabs every day. In the conversations I hold with communal leaders, teachers, and villagers and city people from Wadi Ara, I can state unequivocally that the vast majority of Israeli Arabs want to remain equal citizens of the State of Israel. That position has been borne out by any number of studies conducted over the past few years. These studies also found that the vast majority of the residents of Wadi Ara and the Triangle absolutely refuse to accept transfer to the State of Palestine.
It’s about time that we put a stop to these immoral and impractical attempts to rid ourselves of the Arab citizens of Israel and, instead, start thinking in terms of making their bond to Israel more secure, making them true partners in Israeli society. Anyone who suggests that the Arabs of Wadi Ara and the Triangle be transferred to a Palestinian state simply reinforces the separatist message preached by Sheikh Re’ad Salah, the leader of the northern wing of the Islamic Movement. It is a sure way of undermining the democratic nature of the State of Israel, and, instead, it is incumbent on Israel to do everything in its power to incorporate the Arabs into Israeli society.
Here is a prescription for keeping Israel democratic: end the occupation; see to the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank, and build a shared, egalitarian society that would be made up of the majority Jewish and minority Arab populations. This will ensure a future that combines the nation state of the Jewish people and a viable democracy.
Yaniv Sagee, Executive Director of Givat Haviva
Givat Haviva is a non-profit organization founded in 1949 as the national education center of the Kibbutz Federation in Israel. It is dedicated to promoting mutual responsibility, civic equality and cooperation between divided groups in Israel as the foundation for building a shared future and shared society. This is done through facilitating cross-community projects; leading training and capacity building activities; convening seminars, workshops and conferences to cultivate concrete ideas that foster change; and translating these ideas into action. A leader in its field, Givat Haviva was awarded the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education in 2001 for its longstanding work in promoting Jewish-Arab dialogue and reconciliation.