“Imagine the Jews lived in the State of Palestine, under Islamic leadership. What would the Jews do?” asked Ramy Sayegh, a Christian Arab living in Jaffa. “Wouldn't the world then rise up and say this is antisemitism?”
Sayegh, a history and civics instructor at St. Michael’s Orthodox school in Jaffa, says that the Arab community lives under poor conditions, as second-rate citizens.
Under the 1947 UN partition plan, then predominantly Arab Jaffa was designated part of the Arab state, making Jaffa an Arab island inside the Jewish State. Jewish fighting brigades took over the city, causing tens of thousands of Arabs to flee, including Sayegh’s family. Since the 1950s, many of Jaffa’s veteran Arab residents have returned.
Sayegh said that israel cannot be defined as a Jewish and democratic state when a third of its citizens do not relate to Judaism and Jewish culture. “It’s like saying to someone - "you are being ruled by a Jewish sovereignty and you count as a second-rate citizen, and this is what is happening on the ground.”
Sayegh, who has been a member of the Balad political party for 10 years, says they object to a Jewish democratic state because the laws will obviously favor the Jewish sector. Balad promotes a fully democratic state which grants equal citizen rights and which recognizes the nationalism of both Jews and Arabs.
Sayegh explains that Balad, which held 3 seats in the outgoing Knesset, has a twofold job: To prevent the legislation of laws which discriminate against Arabs, and to propose new laws that benefit the general Arab population, including improving the most basic living conditions of the Arab citizens of Israel. Sayegh said that the issues of Arabs Israelis and the issues of the territories need to be dealt with separately. ”Even Balad separates it,” he said. “Lets first talk about ‘48, solve the problem of the Arabs, improve their daily lives, and then we’ll talk about democracy, a state for all its people, and after all that, we’ll be free to deal with ‘67.”
Looking at a map of the West Bank, Sayegh says the two-state solution is not a viable option since the Palestinian lands are islands spread throughout Jewish-controlled territory. Everything is moving in the direction of one state, he said.
“We are aware of the fact we are a minority. But that’s different than saying ‘we are a minority and we give up’. Because we don't have anywhere else to go.” There are people with the conviction that Arabs can simply go to any other Arab countries, he said, ignoring the fact that the Arab community in Israel dates back to generations in the land.
“There’s nowhere else to go. This is what we have here, this is where we were born. And even though there is a radicalization, we can’t give up, and of course we will hope for better. Because in politics there are always ups and downs. Twenty years ago, before Rabin was assassinated, the whole Israeli street was open and attentive. And everything today is the opposite. So I hope that it will shift again for the better.”