Integrating Israel Arabs is a worthy cause for Israel

Much still needs to be done to advance the conditions of Israel’s Arab citizens, but most in need are the Arab residents of East Jerusalem.

Moshe_Arens_cropped-150x150By Moshe Arens

There was a big demonstration by Jewish residents of Afula last week, protesting because Arab residents of neighboring Arab villages had won all the tenders of the Israel Land Authority for 50 plots of land next to Afula Ilit. That captured the headlines of the following morning’s newspapers, but the real news – and it is good news – is that Israeli Arab citizens would like to settle in Afula, which until now had been a 100% Jewish city. It is another sign that Israel’s Arab citizens are integrating into Israel’s society and into Israel’s economy.

Afula is only the latest example. Nineteen percent of the residents of Nathareth Ilit, originally planned as a “Jewish” Nazareth, are now Arabs who have moved in from Nazareth and from neighboring Arab villages. There are Arab professionals living in Tel Aviv, in “Jewish” and “mixed” sections of Jerusalem, and on Mount Carmel in Haifa. The northern branch of the Islamic Movement does not like it, some xenophobic Jewish Israelis may not like it, but it is a good sign that Israel’s Arab citizens are beginning to feel at home in the State of Israel.

Sixty six years after a battle for life and death between Jews and Arabs in this land, Israel’s Arab citizens are finding their place in Israel’s democratic society and are moving up in Israel’s economy. Physicians, lawyers, accountants, academics and many others are taking advantage of Israel’s educational institutions and the opportunities that Israel’s free economy is beginning to offer to its Arab citizens.

They don’t have to say it out loud, but when they look around the Middle East – to Iraq and Syria, and to the Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria and Gaza – most of them realize that they have been fortunate to grow up in Israel. Still, much needs to be done. In addition to equality before the law, there must also be full equality of opportunity. But we are getting there, even though no Israeli government has as yet given top priority to the integration of Israel’s Arab citizens into Israel’s society and economy.

And most of Israel’s Arab citizens acknowledge that there should also be equality of the obligations that all Israel’s citizens owe their country. That paying their taxes is only a part of these obligations. The most important one is taking part in the defense of the country. A growing number of Israel’s Christian youngsters are volunteering for service in the Israel Defense Forces. The Bedouin battalion, composed of volunteers, has for years been an outstanding infantry unit in the IDF. Despite the opposition of Joint Arab List MKs, the number of Arab boys and girls volunteering for national service is growing from year to year. The day is not far when all of Israel’s citizens – secular and Orthodox Jews, Druze and Circassians, Christian and Muslim Arabs – will share the burden of defending Israel against its enemies.

Much still needs to be done to advance the conditions of Israel’s Arab citizens, with special attention required for the Bedouin population in the Negev. But most in need of assistance are the Arab residents of East Jerusalem. Their neighborhoods were incorporated into Israel’s borders 48 years ago, but have been forgotten since then.

No wonder that some of the inhabitants of these neighborhoods have recently been involved in attempts to kill Jews in the city. Although they are residents of Israel with an option to take out Israeli citizenship, their neighborhoods have suffered from neglect by the government and the Jerusalem municipality. The recent wave of violence is a wake-up call to all those who refused to acknowledge the fruits of years of neglect.

What is needed are massive investments in the Arab neighborhoods in the city, a program that should enjoy universal support, from the right and from the left, each for their own reasons. It might overcome the recent display of hostility toward Jews by some of Jerusalem’s Arab residents. A worthy cause from every point of view in Israel.

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