Civil Fights: Reaping the bitter fruits of bad policy

For 60 years, Israel has mistreated its allies while pandering to its enemies.

Even among those few Israeli Arabs who volunteer for national service, Nicole Luka's description of her service would ordinarily be unsurprising: "I'm contributing to my community, but I'm not doing it for the state or for Zionist reasons," she told Haaretz. But Luka is no ordinary Israeli Arab, raised from birth to view the state as her enemy. Her father joined the South Lebanon Army at age 17, fought alongside the Israel Defense Forces in Lebanon for years, then moved here when the IDF quit Lebanon in May 2000. She grew up viewing Israel as a friend and ally. She makes no secret of what changed her mind. "The government turned its back on us after we came her seven and a half years ago," she said. "We started with nothing, living in an absorption center in Tiberias. They took no account of what our family had done for Israel." Luka's charges are shamefully correct. Thus Israel, by its own actions, turned a supporter into an opponent - and Luka is not alone. For 60 years, Israel has mistreated its allies while pandering to its enemies; now, it is starting to reap the bitter fruits. Israel's treatment of the SLA was a classic example. For 18 years, the SLA served as the front-line defense of Israel's northern border. Yet when the IDF quit Lebanon, it fled overnight, giving its allies no advance warning, no chance to organize their own retreat. SLA families who feared vengeance from Hizbullah if they remained had no time to withdraw money from the bank and pack their belongings; they had to flee as penniless refugees. Israel even made the refugees leave their cars at the border; they were allowed in only with what they could carry. Some Lebanese even had to abandon relatives who were too far away to reach the border that day. Then, for four and a half years, Israel refused to give them citizenship or even permanent residency, meaning they were unable to work; they had to subsist on government handouts whose continuance was never assured. Nor did the government offer any financial compensation. Thus instead of being able to start anew, they were kept in limbo, with no end in sight. The situation was so debilitating that many opted to return to Lebanon and throw themselves on Hizbullah's mercy. Three years ago, the Knesset finally granted them citizenship and limited financial compensation, enabling them at last to start rebuilding. That was clearly better than nothing. But for many, like Luka, it was too little, too late: The searing memory of Israel's betrayal will never be wiped away. Nor was Israel's treatment of the SLA exceptional: It is committing the same betrayal, on a slower scale, against its Druse citizens. UNLIKE OTHER Israeli Arabs, Druse are drafted into the IDF, generally vote for Zionist parties and support the Jewish state. Yet rather than rewarding their loyalty, Israel systematically discriminates against them - in government funding, land allocations, the job market and more. Consequently, they are at the bottom of Israel's socioeconomic ladder, even below Muslim Arabs by most measures. Indeed, the Druse have actually been penalized for their loyalty: While powerful interest groups, from leftist parties to the Supreme Court, frequently demand - and sometimes obtain - increased state funding for other Israeli Arabs in an effort to "ease their disaffection," nobody lobbies for the Druse. Not being "disaffected," they are ignored. Three years ago, Sheikh Muwafak Tarif, a Druse leader, commented despairingly: "Even the Arabs constantly say, 'the Druse give everything, yet Druse villages are in even worse shape than Arab villages'." Under those circumstances, how do you persuade young Druse that loyalty pays? And indeed, there are worrying signs that this loyalty may be fraying - like October's riots in Peki'in. The same goes for the Beduin. They are not drafted, but for years, hundreds volunteered for the IDF every year, usually serving in front-line combat units. Then they returned home to discover that not only are they discriminated against in the job market, they cannot even legally build a house in order to start a family, because their villages lack zoning plans, making legal construction impossible. Unsurprisingly, Beduin enlistment in the IDF has fallen sharply in recent years. Even worse, the government is abandoning this community to the most hostile element of Israeli Arab society: the Islamic Movement. In 2002, for instance, the Islamic Movement reportedly raised NIS 120,000 for scholarships for Beduin students. "All the state has to do is put up a similar amount of money for veterans to help change the atmosphere," argued Ibrahim al-Huzeil, a Beduin veteran, at the time. Given that Israel's budget that year topped NIS 250 million, the sum was trivial. But even that proved too much for the government. THEN THERE is Jordan, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and has faithfully observed it ever since. Yet for 13 years, Israel consistently refused its pleas to repatriate a few dozen Jordanian criminals imprisoned in Israel - even as it released thousands of terrorists to Hizbullah and the Palestinians, both of which were, and still are, actively killing Israelis. Once again, being Israel's enemy paid better than being its friend. Sheikh Ali Fellah, honorary president of the Druse Zionist Movement (yes, there is such a thing), put the problem succinctly in a 2005 interview. "You have to remember that an oppressed Druse is oxygen for Israel's enemies," he said. Fellah is right - because when Israel mistreats its allies, it does three things: It drives fence-sitters into its enemies' camp; it drives away the allies themselves; and it assures its enemies that they have chosen the wiser course, thereby distancing prospects for peace. It is probably too late to win back Luka, but it is still not too late to start addressing the Druse community's pressing needs or to invest in helping Beduin veterans. However, the window of opportunity appears to be closing. If Israel does not act swiftly to demonstrate that loyalty to the Jewish state pays, it will soon have no allies left to lose.