Know thy neighbor

Tall Shadows takes us into the lives of our neighbors and lets us hear what's on their minds.

shadow book 88 298 (photo credit: )
shadow book 88 298
(photo credit: )
Tall Shadows By Smadar Bakovic Hamilton Books 314 pp., $39.95 We see them on the streets of our cities, encounter them in the marketplace and sometimes slink away from them when boarding the same bus line. They are Israel's largest minority group, nearly one-fifth of the country's population, but we hardly know them. When was the last time any of us walked into the home of an Israeli Arab for a chat? In Tall Shadows, a collection of interviews with Israel -Arabs, Smadar Bakovic takes us into the lives of our neighbors and lets us hear clearly and openly what's on their minds. Interviews are organized into three major themes: Israeli Arabs and the Jewish state; Israeli Arabs and the Palestinians; and suicide bombings and shaheed. Expressed without restraint, many of the opinions are painful to hear, but Bakovic insists they should serve as a call for social change. "Of course there is discrimination in Israel," one of the interviewees says. "I can see this everywhere. I can see it in the quality of the roads in Arab towns and villages, or in the amount of money Arabs get from the social security system. We are angry, but we keep the anger inside because we don't have the energy to speak out." Feelings of discrimination and a strong identification with the Palestinian cause are foremost in the minds of the Israeli Arabs interviewed for this book, all of them residents and citizens of the State of Israel. Bakovic interviews ordinary residents of Umm el-Fahm, Arara, east Jerusalem and Abu Ghosh. We hear the voices of construction workers, teachers and housewives. Israeli Arab children voice their opinions most vociferously, based on what they hear in their homes, on television and in the classroom. They express their solidarity with the Palestinians and their hatred of Israelis much more strongly than their parents. Many of them state freely that they would consider becoming a shaheed, or suicide bomber, themselves. It is frightening to hear so many Israeli Arabs state their sincere belief that Jews have absolutely no real connection to the religious and historic sites of Jerusalem and Hebron, and time is of the essence as the next generation of Israeli Arabs grows up even more alienated and hostile toward Israel. The subjects interviewed admit to feeling lost somewhere in the middle of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are Israeli citizens, but don't consider themselves Israeli. At the same time, they would never consider moving or becoming part of an independent Palestinian state. A transfer of their towns as part of a final status agreement, they say, would be totally unacceptable. "We are confused and don't know what to decide," a Christian Arab priest says. "We are stuck between living here in Israel, but also wanting to belong to the larger Arab community, which really hates us." "At the end of the day, I would rather stay under Jewish rule," says another respondent. "Still, I want to have all my rights here, like other citizens." The writer, former editor of Israel Insider, is the author of The Virtual Kibbutz.