Israel’s Arab sector instituted Land Day 38 years ago, foremost as a vehicle for political protest (pro forma against alleged discrimination and property confiscations).
As such, its objective, if not outright raison d’être, is to make headlines and generate publicity. Substantial sums and much effort are poured into the hype.
It is in the framework of building up expectations that Amnesty International issued stern warnings to Israel, ahead of the annual event last Sunday, “not to use violence to quash Land Day demonstrations.” Amnesty promoted the propagandistic speculation that Israel would “launch a violent crackdown on planned Palestinian protests.”
As it was, however, the organizers and their avid cheerleaders were in for a disappointment. Their project failed to live up to the hype. Not only were there no furious clashes, but the entire Land Day undertaking this year failed to excite much attention.
To no small extent this testifies to the disconnect between Israel’s Jews and Arabs. Without physical conflict, the Jewish majority remains largely uninterested in Arab marches.
Nothing appeared abnormal. The one-day strike did not keep Arab employees home and it filled the malls of Jewish cities with ever-more Arab shoppers.
Nevertheless, lack of awareness is tantamount to putting on blinkers and obstructing our vision. Had we paid attention, we would have seen a multiplicity of flags hoisted in Arab-Israeli communities – Palestinian, Hezbollah, Hamas and even Syrian flags. Indeed, the few fistfights that broke out were between supporters of Damascus despot Bashar Assad and his opponents. “Israeli security forces” stayed away, contrary to Amnesty’s dire predictions.
Yet parades featuring flags of terrorist organizations implacably opposed to Israel’s existence, right inside Israel proper, are nothing to scoff at. This denotes in-your-face extremism. Without even minimal deterrence, the potential for provocation appears greater than it was on the eve of the October 2000 riots.
This is underscored by shrill Land Day chants calling for suicide bombings and abductions. Jerusalem was hailed as “Palestine’s capital,” Israel was disparaged as an “apartheid state” and relatives of Israeli-Arab terror convicts were feted as heroes. It was hard to believe that this took place inside Israel. It seemed indistinguishable from across-the-Green Line pageantry.
This was all the more difficult to comprehend because of what Israel’s own Arabs cannot fail to observe outside our borders. In all directions, Arab states are in the throes of turmoil and internecine violence. The carnage in Syria may be the most appalling, but Iraq too bleeds profusely, hostilities trickle into Lebanon and Egypt is hard pressed to regain a modicum of stability.
The Arabs in Israel enjoy greater calm than any of their brethren, and by any yardstick live better than do Arabs anywhere else in the region. This is not so only by economic criteria. The civic liberties and the liberal ethos of Israeli society are unequaled in the Middle East and second to none in the free world.
In their heart of hearts Israeli Arabs know this, regardless of the posturing and the inflammatory rhetoric. Where else is access to the judicial system, including the Supreme Court, as free and open, and where else will courts as readily consider Arab citizens’ petitions and rule in their favor? Certainly not under any Arab regime. This leads to communal schizophrenia in Israel’s Arab sector. On the one hand there is an utter refusal to countenance any land swaps that would see Israeli Arab towns transferred to Ramallah’s jurisdiction (without loss of property). Conversely, rival Arab politicians whip up anti-Israel fervor and vie to see who can foment more discord and score more political points among voters they cynically radicalize.
Those who clamor for all the rights Israeli citizenship bestows should be the first to remember that Israel is the freest and most prosperous country for any Arab in the region. A scornful stance toward the state and its delegitimization hardly serve the interests of Israeli Arabs.
Those who yell loudest fear coexistence most.