Thursday, August 13, 2009

Israeli-Arabs

An article that was brought to my attention in the comments to a previous post about Arabs in Israel is somewhat sensationalized but nonetheless upsetting.

The article focuses one a family who lost their home when the land it was built on was expropriated. It also quotes Israeli officials from the region suggesting that the region belongs to all its inhabitants but it's important for all to remember that they live in a Jewish state. It further quotes the (shockingly bigoted) Israeli Minister of Housing arguing for a separation of Jews and Arabs in the Galilee. The article takes meetings with Arab member's of the Knesset and the 2003 Israeli Or Commission report as demonstrations of the veracity of the claim that there is discrimination against Arabs in Israel.

Though it's little comfort to anyone observing the comments of the obviously bigoted Minister of Housing, he advocates not only complete segregation between Jews and Arabs, but also segregation of religious Jews from secular ones. It's truly an embarrassment that someone like that could be a minister. Of course, he's entitled to his opinions, but as a minister, it's scary to think that he may actually act on them. His attitudes appear to be consequences of intense fear of the other likely entrenched by the examples he cites of Arab-Israeli riots.

On the other hand, on a slightly brighter note, positive things are happening for Arab-Jewish relations in other parts of Israel. Take for example the 2003 Or commission report--set up not to study the status of Arabs in Israel, but the Israeli handling of riots by Arabs in Israel--which concluded that there was a serious problem of discrimination in Israel. The report itself is a positive thing as it is a government recognition of a serious problem in the country. Nonetheless, the problems it exposes are serious. Amongst other things, it highlights, interestingly, that the Prime Minister's office seemed very unaware of the realities on the ground for many Arabs in Israel. This is a truly telling point since, if the government is not aware, how can the government work to fix the problem?

Two years after the report, this lecture was given examining what has changed since it was first published. Some important progress is highlighted including political recognition of the problem, changes in the education system and a more open discussion of how to deal with the discrimination being faced. Nonetheless, there remains a long way to go. That road is being travelled, however. Not too long ago, Ha'aretz reported (thanks to the Debate link) that the speaker of the Knesset was to give a speech on Jewish-Arab relations in Israel. The basic content of the speech as published affirms that Arabs are part of Israel and that expelling them, or moving them around is simply out of the question. The speech also, significantly, recognizes the "trauma" suffered by Arabs when Israel was created.

So yes, despite the full legal rights afforded to Arab-Israelis, discrimination remains, some of it quite serious. Nonetheless, it seems that at least some small steps are being taken in the right direction, even as some seem to continue to want to regress. As "they" always say, admitting you have a problem is the first step towards fixing it.

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