Avoid another strategic surprise [pg. 16]

Elements within Israel's Arab minority pose a danger to our security. Let's address the problem.

In this second war with Lebanon the writing was on the wall. Yet we were surprised. There were red alerts and clear warning signals regarding the imminent kidnapping of soldiers, yet nonetheless it happened and sparked the war we are in. Six years earlier, those responsible for our hasty withdrawal from Lebanon knew in their heart of hearts that, sooner or later, the scenario now playing itself out was bound to occur. THE NEXT surprise to come is obvious. It emanates from within and could result in a great loss of life and many of us living under a grueling siege. I refer to the issue of our coexistence with the Arab citizens of Israel. Let me affirm that the majority of Israeli Arabs are loyal citizens and, as such, their lives are far from simple. Therefore, what I write here should not be taken as a generalization applicable to all Israeli Arabs. On the other hand though, Hizbullah is a minority in Lebanon, as is Hamas in the Palestinian Authority - yet their impact is dramatic. It is therefore important that we not be blinded to the fact that although the majority of Israeli Arabs are loyal citizens, a faction among them incites against Israel and poses a potential existential threat to the Jewish population. Since the onset of the October 2000 intifada elements within the Arab population of Israel have identified with Palestinian terrorism, and a tiny minority have taken part in terrorist attacks. Where do they stand in 2006? THIS SAME element derives inspiration from Hassan Nasrallah's actions. Meanwhile, there are Arab Knesset members who exploit their positions to practically call for the kidnapping of soldiers. Our reaction? Mostly business as usual. Israeli Arabs have been involved in arson attacks against the Lahav Forest in the south, just as Hizbullah was trying to set the Galilee in flames - and we remain silent. What irked the Nazareth father who declared that his children - killed by a Hizbullah missile - where shahids? That they had no place to take cover? In fact, the Home Front Command had announced that south of the Karmiel highway the public should remain near home, both in Haifa and in Nazareth. I propose that the authorities investigate whether this man's house was built with the necessary building permits that would have mandated construction of a secure room or underground shelter. MANY LOCAL Arab councils complain they lack resources. The Interior Ministry has even identified some of these locales for remedial assistance. But has the ministry determined how many houses in the Arab sector were built without legal permits? Estimates range in the area of 25,000. Has it examined the criteria determining the rate of municipal taxes in the Arab sector? Were it to do so it would likely discover that many private homes pay rates at a level more appropriate for storerooms or chicken coops. In most cases these rates are determined by municipal council employees who, coincidentally or not, are often the relatives of the assessed. These employees never face loss of their jobs - not for incompetence, and not even to balance the local budgets. With Katyusha rockets falling on the north as evening descends, many Palestinian Arabs begin their celebrations of these incidents. The question is: Where do Israeli Arabs stand? I have heard no condemnation of the attacks against Israel by the official representatives of Israel's Arab minority. We must pay attention to what is happening: Elements within the Israeli Arab community are conditioning us, and we in turn, are becoming conditioned. Despite the fact that none of the Arab countries are democracies, the Arab sector's leaders in Israel utilize our democratic system with sheer brilliance. Part of the reason is that the media naturally seeks balance and justice and tends to sympathize with the weak and minorities. So a sense of guilt and self-criticism is fostered within Jewish Israel over sins that we never actually committed toward the Israeli Arabs. THE NEXT catastrophe awaiting us if we do not wake up is the possibility of a violent uprising in the Arab sector. If that were to happen we could face the blocking of vital thoroughfares, shooting at passing vehicles and the massive deployment of weapons that have accumulated (stolen from the army?). A properly run country knows how to prevent threats such as these in advance. In the short term, the issue is one of internal security, and solutions need to be implemented by the appropriate authorities. But in the long run, a political, legislative solution is called for. Its core tenet is a change in the electoral system based on regional representation similar to the approach implemented by Charles de Gaulle. His change resolved the problem of communism in France once and for all. In fact, such a change would enable many of Israel's Arabs to realize their dream to continue living in their current towns (Umm el-Fahm, Jatt, Taibe), while also becoming citizens of a Palestinian state once it is established. Alongside electoral reform, we should not forget that if we do not wake up in time, the Jews of Israel will within decades become a minority and find ourselves facing such issues as changing the national flag and anthem. Now is the time to resolve how we will grapple with the problems relating to the country's Arab minority. It's time to save Israel from the next "surprise." The writer is the mayor of Ramat Gan and former commanding officer of the Israeli Frontier Guard and chief of the General Staff Branch of the Israeli Police Forces.