Our World: Whither Israeli Arabs?

The government is neglecting the Arab sector, but there may still be time to salvage the situation.

glick long hair 88 (photo credit: )
glick long hair 88
(photo credit: )
Last Thursday, a 28-year-old IDF non-commissioned officer was killed by a roadside bomb along the border with Gaza. A Beduin from the South, he served as a combat tracker. At his funeral, his cousin said, "He did everything he could to convince [Beduin] youth to enlist in the army to serve the state. He said his service was hard, but he chose to defend his country." Another cousin noted that almost all the men in their family serve in the IDF. At his family's request, his name was not released to the public. He was buried in a non-military funeral. The family's request stemmed from fear that the Israeli Arab leadership or terrorists from the Palestinian Authority would take revenge on its members for their service to the State of Israel. Their fear of violent attack outweighed their desire to have their hero receive the public honors he so richly deserved for sacrificing his life for his country. Contrast the fortunes of this family to those of an Arab family in Jerusalem who also lost a son last Thursday. Last Friday, hundreds visited a traditional Muslim mourning tent in Jerusalem's Jabel Mukaber neighborhood to pay their respects to the family. The tent was adorned by hundreds of posters of the dead man's face. It also was also decorated with Hizbullah and Hamas banners. The tent was erected to honor Alaa Abu D'heim. In a scene taken from a Russian pogrom, Thursday night D'heim entered Mercaz Harav Yeshiva and massacred eight boys and young men as they studied Torah. D'heim's family did not fear retribution from their fellow Arabs. His neighbors did not demonstrate against his crime. The Israeli Arab leadership did not credibly condemn it. Yet the lack of protests did not necessarily mean that his crime is supported by all Arabs in Israel. Sunday night, Channel 2's Suleiman Ashafi interviewed a young man outside the tent who said, "If I had known that he was planning to attack people, that he was planning to carry out a terrorist attack, I would have shot him in the head myself." The young man, like the Beduin soldier's family, requested not to be named. He used his hand to hide his face from the camera. He too, was intimidated. He too feared he would be attacked for voicing his condemnation of D'heim and his implied support for Israel. WHAT IS going on in Israeli Arab society? What are the implications of the tangible fear among those Arabs who support Israel and the unabashed willingness of the Israeli Arab leadership to defend the likes of Hamas, Fatah and D'heim in their terror war against Israel? Is Israel's Arab minority - which comprises 20 percent of the population - lost? In the 1996 electoral campaign which pitted Binyamin Netanyahu against Shimon Peres, Netanyahu appointed former foreign and defense minister Moshe Arens to run the party's campaign for the Arab vote. Arens succeeded in bringing the Likud candidate five percent of the overall Arab vote. His labors were credited with bringing victory to the party in that photo-finish race. In the aftermath of Thursday's massacre, Arens warns that it is wrong to view Israeli Arabs as a monolithic block. Indeed they are an ethnically and religiously diverse population. To start with, Israel's 100,000 Druse, who accepted compulsory military service for their young men in 1949, are fully integrated in Israeli society. Indeed, the rate of Druse military service is higher than it is among Jews. Another sign of Druse societal integration is their birthrate. Whereas in 1948, the Druse birthrate was higher than the Muslim birthrate, today it is equal to the Jewish birthrate. Like the Druse, Arens notes that the Circassians also accepted obligatory military service for their sons and they too are integrated into Israeli society. Many of the members of the Israel-allied South Lebanese Army who fled to Israel in the aftermath of Israel's precipitous withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000, have been welcomed in Circassian villages in the North even as they were blackballed in Muslim Arab villages. Then there are the Israeli Beduin. Although Beduin are Muslims, due to their unique cultural traditions, Beduin have historically perceived themselves as distinct from the other Arab Muslims in Israel. Their unique traditions are in the process of disappearing however. Arens recalls that 20 years ago, most Beduin encampments had no mosques. But today, every encampment has at least one mosque. And they are all run by the pro-Hamas Israeli Islamic movement. Similarly, the teachers in Beduin schools are overwhelmingly non-Beduin Israeli Arabs. Like the preachers in the mosques, they educate the youngsters to view themselves as Palestinian Arabs and to abandon their Israeli identity and loyalty to the state. Although the Beduin have never been obligated to serve in the IDF, traditionally, the majority of their male youths volunteered for service, both as trackers and as regular combat soldiers. Due mainly to the indoctrination of the Islamic movement, the number of Beduin youth volunteering for military service has been decreasing drastically in recent years. Radical imams and teachers bar IDF recruiters from speaking to the youth. Numbering 200,000, Beduin comprise some 25 percent of Israel's Muslim population. Most live in the South but some 70,000 live in the North and they have been less affected by the Islamic indoctrination campaign. In the North, traditional levels of Beduin enlistment in the IDF have been maintained. Then there are the Christian Arabs. As one Israeli Arab colleague, (who also asked not to be identified), notes, Israel's Christian Arab population is the only flourishing Christian community in the Middle East. From Iraq to Syria to Jordan to Egypt to the Palestinian Authority, Christians find themselves under assault by authorities and Islamic gangs. In Israel, in contrast, the Christian population has grown steadily in recent years. FINALLY THERE are the Israeli Arab Muslims. Since the 1994 establishment of the PA, the Israeli Muslim leadership has been radicalized. That leadership currently consists of Arab members of Knesset, the Israeli Arab Higher Follow-up Committee, the Islamic Movement and so-called Arab human rights organizations. All of these leaders and organizations have worked steadily to undermine the Israeli Arab Muslims' sense of attachment to the State of Israel and to intimidate dissenting voices into silence. While their intimidation efforts have been successful, it is far from clear that their indoctrination efforts have won over the Israeli Arabs. Recently, the government announced its intention to encourage Israeli Arabs who don't serve in the military to perform national service. The organized Israeli Arab leadership has worked studiously to undermine the program. Yet a poll carried out by University of Haifa last month revealed that 75 percent of Israeli Arabs between the ages of 16 and 22 support voluntary national service. The poll also found that the vast majority of the Arab public is unaware of the national service. 77.4 percent overall and 79.6 percent of youth said they know little or nothing about the program. Moreover, the poll found that once given basic information about conditions in the national service and its goals, not only were Israeli Arab youth supportive of the idea, but so were 71.9 percent of all Arab men and 83.8 percent of all Arab women. In contrast, some 80 percent of members of Arab political parties opposed national service. Arens believes strongly that the government must launch a serious, directed hearts and minds campaign among Israeli Arabs. The very fact that nearly 80 percent of Israeli Arabs know nothing about the government's national service initiative is proof that the government is neglecting the Arab sector. Arens contends that the place to direct such a campaign, at least in the short term, is among the Beduin. Israeli Beduin are the most impoverished ethnic group in Israel. Particularly in the South, they lack basic sanitation services. Their education system is appalling. And economic and academic opportunities for advancement are largely absent. Beduin who serve in the army receive no post-army assistance from the government. Arens spearheaded a private initiative with Ben-Gurion University in the Negev to provide them with post-army educational opportunities, but the program was cancelled. In short, demobilized Beduin soldiers come home with nothing to show for their service to the country and so have no way of countering the Israeli Arabs who indoctrinate the youth to pan-Arabism and jihad. Indeed, often their only choice is to join Beduin crime rings that run smuggling and protection networks throughout the South. Arens suggests that at a minimum, the IDF should set up day care centers and kindergartens for Beduin children staffed by soldiers from the IDF's soldier-teacher's unit which works in underprivileged communities. As defense minister, Arens sought to make military service compulsory for Beduin and he believes that such an initiative would still meet with success among the northern tribes. But his successors, bowing to the Arab political leadership, scuttled his initiative. Obviously, for Arabs loyal to Israel to feel comfortable expressing their support for the state, the current atmosphere of intimidation must end. The Knesset must pass laws outlawing the openly treasonous Islamic Movement and Arab political parties that reject the authority and legitimacy of Israel. Arab leaders who incite violence must be dealt with harshly by the legal system. As Arens notes, the natural pull of Israeli Arabs is towards the Palestinians. But that doesn't mean that their loyalty to Israel has been lost. It has not. To stem the tide, Israel must launch a twin campaign to help those Israeli Arabs who support the state and to encourage them to intensify their integration into Israeli society. And it must take concerted action against those radical leaders and organizations that work to undermine those bonds. The current situation, in which Israeli Arab heroes fear attack, and Israeli Arab traitors are extolled must be turned on its head.