The Arab-Jewish Cleavage

Israel Table of Contents

The case of the Druzes highlights the peculiar problem of non-Jews, even demonstrably loyal ones, in the Jewish state. Both conceptually and pragmatically, the cleavage between Arabs and Jews is much more profound and perhaps unbridgeable than the one between Orthodox and secular Jews, or that between Ashkenazim and Oriental Jews. There has been an inherent tension between evolving an authentic Israeli national identity centered on the age-old religious character of Judaism and forging an egalitarian socioeconomic system open to all citizens. Reconciling the place of non-Jews within the Jewish state has been a particular problem. These problems have been characterized with special lucidity and frankness by the Israeli-American political scientist, Daniel Elazar:

The views of Israeli Jews regarding the Arabs in their midst are hardly monolithic, but whatever their character, all flow out of a common wish and a general ambivalence. The common wish of virtually all Jews is that the Arabs simply would go away (and vice versa, it may be added). It is possible to get many Israelis to articulate this wish when they are pushed to do so, but needless to say, its very unreality means that it is rarely articulated, and, if articulated by a few extremists, such as Meir Kahane, it is rapidly dismissed from consideration by the vast majority. Yet it should be noted at the outset, because for Israeli Jews, every other option, no matter which they choose, is clearly a poor second.

It is against this background that the Israeli settlement policies of the West Bank and Gaza must be understood. To annex these areas would be to add almost 1.5 million Arabs to the non-Jewish population of the Jewish state--hardly a way to make the problem "simply go away." Until late 1987, Israeli planners had proceeded to build infrastructure in the West Bank as though operating under the premise that two totally separate socioeconomic systems--one Arab, the other Jewish--would exist side by side. Alternatively, the Arab sector was hardly mentioned--as if it did not exist. Still, West Bank Arab labor has been significantly absorbed into the larger Israeli economy; the situation recalls the experience of Arabs in pre-1967 Israel.

The violent protests that began in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in December 1987 may well change this sort of thinking. For example, it has been argued by some analysts that the West Bank (as Judea and Samaria) had already become part of a "cognitive map" for a generation of Jewish Israelis born after the June 1967 War. In light of this analysis, some have noted that security efforts begun in April 1988 to close off the West Bank, thereby keeping journalists (among others) out and, Israelis hope, violent Palestinians in, have already had the unintended effect of reviving the old Green Line. Israeli Arabs living within the old Green Line have also been affected by events on the West Bank and Gaza--events that might prove fateful for Israel.

Between 1948 and 1967 Israeli Arabs were effectively isolated from the rest of the Arab world. They were viewed by other Arabs as, at worst, collaborators, and, at best, hostages. After the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the economic integration of its Arab population into Israel, social intercourse between Israeli Arabs and West Bank and Gaza Palestinians increased. Among other things, this contact has done much to raise the political consciousness of Israeli Arabs and strengthen their sense of Palestinian identity. In this sense, in the minds of many Jewish Israelis the dismantling of the old Green Line and the movement of Jewish settlers to fulfill their religio-nationalistic aspirations in biblical Judea and Samaria has been a double-edged sword. Along the way, the nationalist aspirations of Israeli Arabs have been invigorated as well.

Renewed political activity among Israeli Arabs was already evident when, in 1976, March 30 was proclaimed Land Day as a protest against Israeli expropriations of Arab lands. Several Arabs were shot by authorities during a demonstration, and since then Land Day has become a major event for expressing Israeli Arab political discontent, and for testing its organizational potential. Since early 1988, the political energies of Israeli Arabs have also been focused on expressing solidarity with their West Bank and Gazan brothers and sisters, who themselves have pursued more violent confrontations with Israeli authorities. It seems less and less likely that an unproblematic Israeli Arab identity will develop and that the Israeli Arabs will become, as Israeli Jews had once hoped, "proud Arabs and loyal Israelis." In the late 1980s, it was more relevant to speak of the Palestinization of Israel's Arab minorities.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress