The invisible minority

The Oslo agreements between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel conclusively cut off the Arabs of Israel from the national solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict...

Salman Masalha || The invisible minority

About two decades ago, at Ben-Gurion International Airport I happened to meet a Palestinian acquaintance who was serving as a minister in Yasser Arafat’s government. I didn’t ask him where he was heading because I figured he was most probably on his way to another European-sponsored appearance, at which under the baton of one maestro or another Israelis and Palestinians perform their unfinished bla-bla symphony.

One thing caught my eye at that moment. The Palestinian minister was holding a passport of a different color. He said it was the new Palestinian passport. I had a quick look at it and handed his new “identity” document back to him.

As we chatted a rather strange idea occurred to me. I whispered in his ear, as though imparting a secret, that many Jewish citizens in Israel possess at least one other passport in addition to their Israeli passport. Therefore, I said to him, since he is a minister in the new Palestinian government that issues passports, perhaps he could arrange a Palestinian passport for me so I could have equal status with the cousins who are bearers of diversely colored passports.

The minister’s answer was curt: Your are an Israeli and Israelis, even if they are Arabs and Palestinians, cannot hold a Palestinian passport. The conversation did not continue much longer as each of us hastened off in a different direction at the airport that proudly bears David Ben-Gurion’s name.

The Palestinian minister’s reply crosses my mind every now and then. Up front, I have to admit I am not all that eager to have a Palestinian passport, which is no great bargain. However, the minister’s answer does reveal the full force tragedy of the Arab public in Israel.

In a single moment of history the people who remained in the homeland, which was declared to be the state of Israel, were cut off from their natural and cultural surroundings.  The “remainders of the Nakba” found themselves helplessly facing an organized Zionist movement, the “remainders” of another expulsion and Jewish independence in the land of Israeli-Palestine.

For many years the Arabs in Israel have suffered from double exclusion. On the one hand, the surrounding Arab world related to them with scorn and loathing, as though they were half-Jews. Though this attitude has dimmed a bit over the years, it has not entirely faded away. On the other hand, the new Jewish state, of which they found themselves citizens, excludes them – by virtue of the state’s self-definition. The commitment in the Declaration of Independence to “uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex” was given as lip service and nothing more.

This double exclusion of the Arabs in Israel has pushed them and their leaders to speak in two languages. On the one hand, to win people over so they can get into the Israeli parliament and swear an oath of loyalty to the Jewish state with the aim of reassuring the Jews. And on other hand, to appear to the surrounding Arabs more Catholic than the pope, more Arab nationalist than Nasser, more Sunni than the sheikh of al-Azhar and more Shi’ite than Khamenei and Nasrallah – and all this to distance from themselves the suspicion that they are collaborating with the Zionists.

The Oslo agreements between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel conclusively cut off the Arabs of Israel from the national solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now the time has come for public discussion of the political schizophrenia of the Arabs in Israel. The Arabs in Israel must speak out in clear and focused language, equally to Jewish ears and to Arab ears. Therefore, when attempts to renew the negotiations for the advancement of the national solution are once again coming up, the Arab leadership in Israel must demand that it constituency be represented as a partner in the talks, which will involve their fate in their homeland.

It must be said to whom it may concern: Anyone who does not accept the Arabs in Israel as a part of the solution will ultimately have them as a part of the problem.
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Published: Opinions-Haaretz, April 12, 2013
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