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Rights and responsibilities of Israel's Arab citizens

The Israeli Arab leadership’s positions on belonging to the state and its institutions are full of contradictions, and the time has come to resolve them.

Salman Masalha || 
Rights and responsibilities of Israel's Arab citizens


Police clash with protesters in the Arab town of Kafr Kana, November 11, 2014. (Photo by Gil Eliyahu)

The footage showing the chain of events in Kafr Kana leaves no room for fancy interpretations: Khayr al-Din Hamdan was shot in cold blood as he tried to flee from policemen who jumped out of their patrol car after he attacked it with a knife.

Incidents like this don’t happen out of the blue. They proliferate against the background of the intense national conflict and tension in this country. The Israeli occupation and the ongoing military administration of Palestine ever since 1967 have entailed human rights violations from the day they began. True, the military administration in Israel itself was abolished in the 1960s. But after decades of human rights violations in the occupied territories, the attitudes of the military administration are seeping back into Israel within the Green Line.

The time has come for all responsible parties, Jewish and Arab alike, to stop hiding behind empty slogans. They must gather their courage, delve into the roots of the unstable relationship between the state and its Arab citizens and come up with solutions. Relations between the Arab community and the central government cannot continue in their current warped format. The authorities must internalize the principle of equal citizenship for all citizens, with everything this implies.

But it seems that in no Israeli government have the prime minister and the other ministers ever seen things this way, and that is the root of the evil in the Israeli regime. Yitzhak Rabin, the only prime minister who did try to change direction with regard to the state’s attitude toward its Arab citizens, was murdered by a Jewish assassin following a prolonged campaign of incitement and the tribal claim that he had no Jewish majority.

On the other hand, leaders of the Arab community have come to the Israel Police more than once with demands that it enforce the law in Arab towns – that it confiscate illegal weapons, fight the rising crime and catch those who murder women. Yet at the same time, the Israeli Arab leadership’s positions on belonging to the state and its institutions are full of contradictions, and the time has come to resolve them. Anyone who demands that the police do its job in Arab towns must give it the public backing it needs to carry out the task imposed on it.

President Reuven Rivlin recently visited Kafr Qasem and declared that Arab citizens are “part and parcel of this land.” The Israeli government must state publicly that it is adopting the president’s frank words. If it does so, the Arab leadership has an obligation to demonstrate civic courage and respond with a similar statement about the need to uphold the rules of the democratic game in this country.

And one more thing: Even after the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved, Israeli Arabs will continue to be citizens of this country, and only partnership in the government will enable them to lead normal lives here. Israeli Arabs must be full partners in running the country. This requires Arab ministers to fill executive posts in every government established here.

In addition, so that Arab citizens will feel the police belong to them, too, every patrol car must include Arab policemen and every such vehicle must be marked in Arabic as well as Hebrew. Steps such as these could eliminate the alienation that exists between Arab citizens and the police.

Partnership in government will bring responsibility in its wake. But without a full and genuine partnership, we are destined to go from failure to failure.
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Published: Haaretz, Nov. 18, 2014

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