Kisra Samia 311.
(photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
Umm el-Fahm was not originally part of Israel. Jordan consented to include the
strategically located community – then a town of 4,500 – on the Israeli side of
the 1949 armistice line established after theWar of Independence.
On My Mind: No longer a sleepy town
some Israeli Jews want to reverse that decision of 62 years ago. Reducing the
number Arab citizens, now 20 percent of the population, they believe, would
benefit the country’s future. Umm el-Fahm, its largest Arab city, with a
population of 43,000, is therefore a target.
Umm el-Fahm, as far as we
know, was not one of the Arab communities that, according to the ‘Palestine
Papers’ released in January, then foreign minister Tzipi Livni proposed to
include in a Palestinian state during bilateral peace negotiations in
Baka al-Gharbiya and Barta were mentioned. However, with few
exceptions, the residents of these and other Arab towns would oppose such a
proposition. They want to fulfill their aspirations as Israeli
Still, it has become clear that a permanent peace agreement
will involve a land swap. This accommodation will meet the need to include most
of the Jewish settlers in West Bank communities near the Green Line, and the
Palestinian desire to secure the equivalent of virtually every inch of land in
the West Bank and Gaza.
While most reports and maps indicate that the
area offered for a swap does not include Arab communities, the conflict has
engendered an undercurrent of distrust among Israel’s population.
ISRAEL Democracy Institute found last year, as it did in 2009 in its annual
Democracy Index report, that 53% of Israeli Jews agree that the government
should encourage Arab emigration.
This antagonism toward Arab citizens is
more prevalent among immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
report revealed that 71% of them, compared to 50% of long-time Israelis, would
favor the departure of Arabs.
The sizable and influential FSU
population’s long-term impact on policy is potentially significant. Indeed,
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman gives Jews from the FSU, including those in
the US, where they comprise some 25% of New York City’s Jewish population,
But Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu ran in the 2009 Knesset
elections on a platform hostile to the Arab minority.
Since joining the
Likud-led coalition two years ago as the second-largest faction, Israel Beiteinu
has introduced a number of bills aimed at the Arab minority.
a territorial swap that includes existing populations. “The responsibility for
primarily Arab areas such as Umm el-Fahm and the Triangle will be transferred to
the Palestinian Authority. In parallel, Israel will officially annex Jewish
areas in Judea and Samaria. Israel is our home; Palestine is theirs,”
states the party on its website.
Inspired by this contentious political
atmosphere, Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir organized a demonstration in Umm
el- Fahm last October to coincide with the anniversary of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s
assassination in New York. In July 2009, a protest in the Beduin town of Rahat
was yet another attempt to intimidate, or provoke, Israeli Arabs. That march,
led by MK Michael Ben-Ari of the National Union, followed another protest at Umm
el- Fahm in March, also led by Marzel.
In response, Knesset Speaker
Reuven Rivlin visited the city and made it clear that it was an inseparable part
of the country. Indeed, the Declaration of Independence recognizes the Arab
minority as an integral part of the country.
Other political leaders need
to emphasize that Arab citizens are safe. Schools must work harder to inculcate
in young Israelis – both Arabs and Jews – understanding and appreciation for
each other. Civil society groups dedicated to advancing Jewish-Arab relations
are critical to these efforts.
Jews in the Diaspora, including those from
the FSU who have settled in the US and attained leadership postions, also have a
responsibility to speak out. After all, the values that undergird the American
Jewish community are also at the bedrock of Israel.
Twenty-six years ago
American Jewish organizations galvanized in response to a member of Knesset
elected on a platform to push Arabs out. A nationwide effort succeeded in
banning Kahane from speaking engagements in Jewish communities across the US.
The notion that any politician might still contemplate some kind of population
exchange is anathema, and should be vigorously opposed. Ultimately, such
rhetoric threatens not just one group, but the very fabric of
democracy.The writer is director of communications for the American