Thursday, April 26, 2007

The growing polarization of Israel's Jewish and Arab communities

Claire Bolderson:

Arabs make up nearly 20% of the population, but they have long complained of discrimination, and official figures tend to back their case.

Arab villages for the most part receive less in state aid even though they are generally poorer than Jewish ones.

Life expectancy of Arabs is lower, so is educational achievement.

But just as bad, say Israeli Arabs, is the general attitude of the Jewish majority.

"When they look in your eyes you know. They don't have to speak to you, you know if someone likes you or not," says 18-year-old Ahlam over coffee in a Nazareth cafe.

She plans to go to university but complains that she will have to work twice as hard as any Jewish student to get a place, just because she is an Arab.

It is grievances like that that have prompted Israeli-Arab leaders to come up with a series of reports on the status of Israeli Arabs - or Palestinian citizens of Israel as many call themselves - and to suggest solutions.

Most provocative for Jewish Israelis was one commissioned by the mayors of Arab towns and written by leading Arab academics.

The report, entitled the Future Vision of the Palestinians in Israel, does not just list the problems of discrimination.

It calls for Israel to stop being a Jewish state.

Out would go the national anthem and the Star of David flag.

Israel would become a state of two equal peoples, Jewish and Arab.

To make that happen, the report says, Arabs should have much more autonomy politically and culturally with their own school system and separate curriculum for example.

All of that is completely out of the question for Israeli Jews across the political spectrum.

"Israel belongs not only to its citizens but also the Jewish people of the world," says one left-wing commentator.

"We want to preserve our uniqueness and if there's a threat to that then we're frightened," he says.

The Future Vision document has given Israeli Jews a reason to be frightened.

At the moment what little peace process there is with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, is based on the notion that one day there will be two states, one Jewish and one Palestinian, living side by side.

But what the Israeli Arabs have done is raise the spectre of two states, neither of which will be Jewish.

And that has confirmed the old fear of Israelis that they will never be accepted in the region.

Israel probes Arab politician accused of aiding Hezbollah


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