PMW op-ed: Teaching Israeli Arabs to Love only "Palestine"
The following appeared this week in the Palestinian daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Fatah):
“The teacher wondered how any Geography teacher in the Arab schools could convince his students that “Safad” [in Arabic] was changed to “Zefat” [Hebrew] and that Sefuriya [Arabic] had suddenly became “Zipori” [Hebrew]. He expressed the opinion that the students would rip up these maps and the teacher who would accept them would be considered a traitor... He was reminded of [a recent] distribution of Israeli flags... the students ripped them to pieces and threw them in the garbage...”
These words wouldn’t be surprising if they were said by any teacher in a Palestinian Authority [PA] school. However the person being quoted was an Israeli Arab teacher. The children ripping up Israeli flags were Israeli Arab kids. The teacher who will not consider using a map showing Israeli cities in his classroom is an Israeli Arab on salary from the Israeli Ministry of Education.
With the media focus this week on the Or Committee’s criticism of Israel’s police during the Israeli Arab riots, it was virtually forgotten why the police were shooting. It was October 2000. The Palestinian Authority had started war against Israel. Two days into the war thousands of Israeli Arabs throughout the Galil joined the battle on the side of Israel’s enemies, supported vocally by Arab leaders and passively it seemed by the general population. They threw stones, firebombs, burned tires, killed one Israeli Jew and injured many others, as they closed down the main roads of the North for days. Israel, it seemed, had lost of the allegiance of 20% of its citizens, who in a time of war, had sided with the enemy. How did it happen?
While there certainly are many contributing factors, there is ample evidence that this transfer of allegiance was one of the prominent goals of the Palestinian Authority long before the start of the October 2000 War. The PA implemented a systematic and determined policy towards Israel’s Arabs, especially the youth, targeting them continuously with the message that their identity and allegiance should be with the PA alone. At the PA initiative, there was a never ending agenda of PA-Israeli Arab meetings, contacts, educational programs, sporting events, conventions and cultural events that were being reported daily in the PA press and the message both explicit and implicit was always one of joint history, culture, and destiny.
When the PA decided to have a “Miss Palestine” contest in 1999, they included Israeli Arabs girls. Moreover, they made sure that 6 out of the 10 finalist and the winner, were all Israeli Arabs. When they set up a national soccer team, the Coach was and Israeli Arab from Nazareth. There were numerous organizations and programs in the PA whose sole purpose was to promote this involvement and identity, including "Committee for Relations with 1948," "Children Without Borders," "Contacts Between the Members of a United People," "Relations Without Borders" - all of which had ongoing activities the purpose of which was, according to the PA daily: “to increase the contact and affinity between the members of the Palestinian people in the West Bank, the “Inside” [Israel] and the “Gaza Strip.” [Al-Quds, May 24, 1999] In Arafat’s office there was a special wing, called “the Committee for Contacts with the Residents of Occupied Palestine.” Terms like “Inside Arabs” and the “Residents of Occupied Palestine” are all PA euphemisms for Israeli Arabs. The PA denied the possibility of the existence of an “Israeli- Arab” writing in one 1999 editorial - “there can not be an Israeli Arab. How can the executioner and the victim be one?” [Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Fatah), Aug 18, 1999]
The PA was careful to send representatives to events that were internal to Israeli Arabs. Numerous graduation ceremonies in Jerusalem and the Galil had no representative of Israel’s Ministry of Education but did have a PA representative:
“A year end ceremony in a Jerusalem school was held in the presence of the PA Ministry of Education representative and the Palestinian national anthem was sounded.” [Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Fatah), May 25, 1999]
The opening gestures by the PA were actively accepted by Israel’s Arab leaders, who joined in urging Israeli Arab youth to reject any Israeli identity they may have considered. MP Azami Bashara, for example when campaigning in Israel, marched with tens of Israeli Arab youth holding PA flags. He explained on television that were they to lose their Palestinian identity, all that would remain would be their family and tribal identity, but not an “Israeli-Arab” identity, because “there is no such identity.” Speaking to Arab youth he said “The blue card [Israeli ID card] you have in your pocket is not an identity card; it is a residence card.”
In the election campaign of 1999, the Israeli Arab leadership fought for the votes of Israeli Arabs by competing in their denial of an Israeli identity. Rowya Habibi, the daughter of Emil Habibi, who was so Israeli he had been awarded the Israel Prize, said in a TV broadcast of the Arab-BALAD political party:
“…They dressed us in blue and white clothes, the flag of Israel. I don’t know, maybe they incarcerated my brain…they educated us to believe that we are Israeli Arabs. I had a confused identity, I knew it but I didn’t understand: I am a Palestinian Arab.”
And a similar message in the Arab Hadash Party broadcast:
“There are people who want to drive me crazy. On the one hand I am one of the Israeli Arabs and on the other hand I am one of the "1948 Arabs" …What nonsense, why should you determine who I am?… I am a person, a Palestinian Arab, and they will not succeed in confusing me.”
The PA initiated the process of “de-Israelizing” Israel’s Arabs, and found in them willing partners. This happened openly, starting immediately after the establishment of the PA, under the eyes of the Israeli government who did nothing to try and preserve the allegiance of its citizens. Today’s Israeli Arab attitude can be summed up by the words in Al-Quds, a PA newspaper: “This state [Israel] is not their state, its interests are not their interests, its symbols are not their symbols, its policy is not their policy…” [Al-Quds, April 20, 1999]
Tragically, even if this does not reflect Israeli Arab attitudes today, it may well in the not too distant future.