Arab citizens are not a fifth column

Expecting Arab citizens to accept suffering, killing in Gaza is unrealistic

sakhnin 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
sakhnin 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Within the central context of the war between Israel and Hamas, the fabric of relations between Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens is suffering a serious blow. As the issue of the identity and loyalty of Arab citizens with the state was raised during the Second Lebanon War, we are currently witnessing an aggressive campaign to delegitimize the Arab public and its right to take an opposing position. Expressions such as "fifth column," "an additional front" and "an internal Hamastan" have ceased being slogans of the extreme Right alone, and are being heard from both political leaders and leading media voices. The demand directed at Arab citizens is to unambiguously choose sides in the conflict. Lack of complete support for Israel is interpreted as identification with Hamas. Sadly, too many Jews cannot reconcile the identity of the Palestinian citizens of Israel with the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza, part of their people. Accusing Arab citizens of being a "fifth column" is bringing out very disturbing expressions from many citizens. A quick survey of "talkbacks" from news Web sites finds calls for mass deportation of Arabs, withdrawal of citizenship, an economic boycott and even a proposal that the police use live fire against Arab demonstrators. Strong expressions from a portion of the Arab leadership, describing the government as war criminals, are capturing high media visibility, and isolated disturbances among youth and young adults (who are not following the calls of leadership for peaceful protest) are painting the broad Arab population as a general threat to public order. There is complete avoidance of the fact that the vast majority of the Arab public is continuing with life as usual - despite the pain and the worries. The police leadership acted correctly when it announced that it would allow marches and other expressions of protest. Its decision to avoid bringing forces into Arab communities is an important one, as in fact it has been maintaining contact with Arab municipal leaders with the goal of coordinating activities. We hope that this attitude will continue and that the police will avoid using force. DURING THIS difficult hour, it is our responsibility to say to Israel's Jewish citizens: it is unrealistic to expect that Arab citizens will accept the suffering and the killing in Gaza. The protest of Arab citizens must be understood as a legitimate expression of their identification with their fellow Palestinians. This protest should be seen as a source of strength and an expression of a resilient democracy. To Arab citizens we say: Even as the pain is great, protest must remain within the framework of the boundaries of democracy. And finally, to all of Israel's citizens we say: Jews and Arabs will continue to live together - for better or for worse - even after the current crisis. It is incumbent upon us and our leaders to act with restraint and responsibility so that we will be able to live together on "the day after." The writers are co-executive directors of the Abraham Fund Initiative, whose aim is to advance coexistence, equality and cooperation among Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens