by A. Altieri D’Angelo
I recently completed a trip to Israel. It was a tour that took me through the history of the country. It was amazing to see the convergence of three great religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Muslim). The trip also vividly showed how Israelis and Arabs suffer from a policy that creates separate and unequal status among its people, leading Israel down a path of civil strife and possibly worse.
Abraham Lincoln once declared,
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”
Lincoln referred to the fact that the U.S. was deeply divided over slavery. He knew that the slavery issue would lead to war. Although Israel does not engage in slavery, it also suffers terribly from being a “house divided,” and civil war is possible.
I spoke with Israelis and Arabs about race relations. People did not overtly criticize the government, religion, or nationality, but the undercurrents of frustration, fear, and anger were there. It seemed like Israel was a pot that was going to boil over. Any incident could lead to a damaging Intifada. And that is a great pity because few people want to resort to violence. Unfortunately, the country appears incapable of finding a comprehensive solution; and time is running out.
Israel holds itself out as a Jewish state. Arabs represent @20% of the population and have the right to vote (including women). Arabs enjoy civil rights, such as the right to personal safety, a fair trial, voting, and state support for the retention of religion. But Israel does not recognize them as a national minority and part of the Palestinian people. Arabs are exempted from military service. (Skeptics would ask if the exemption was put into place because the Israeli military did not trust Arabs). On paper, Arabs have the same rights as Israeli citizens.
But the reality is that Israel has developed an Arab policy that calls for integration without assimilation. Integration consists of the extension of civil rights to Arabs as individuals, the acquisition of the basic patterns of Israeli culture by the Arabs, and their incorporation into public institutions. Arabs are expected to become bilingual, bicultural, and accustomed to life in Israel. But there is no appetite for assimilation.
This separate but “unequal” approach is demonstrated by how Israelis and Arabs live. There is no formal segregation policy, but many Jews and Arabs have chosen to live separately in all but a handful of cities. Arabs go to separate schools. Interfaith marriages are rare. However, Arab villages have historically received less funding than Jewish areas. The lack of resources has affected the quality of Arab education, infrastructure, and social services. As a result, Arabs are underrepresented in high-tech and professional services.
The lack of interaction is also a breeding ground for tension between the two communities. The 10-day war in Gaza in 2021 had a very negative effect on both groups, and many Israelis still feel a high degree of anger and fear toward Arabs.
Mistrust between the communities is made worse by the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the Holy Land. Threats of evictions in a suburb of East Jerusalem, police raids at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, growing tensions with Hamas, and Arab attacks on Jews exacerbate an already tense relationship. Israeli leaders of the far-right make matters worse by portraying Arabs as a security threat, linking them to extremist groups, such as Hamas, that reject Israel’s legitimacy. To make matters worse, the Ultra-Orthodox community, which has the highest birth rate in Israel, is gaining political influence; they are also pushing Israel to the far right.
The tragedy is that both sides seek prosperity. No one wants war. Arabs want respect and to be treated in the same way as Israelis. In the long run, assimilation may challenge the idea that Israel can continue to be a Jewish state. Lasting peace, however, can only be achieved if Israel is a true democracy. For that to happen, the policy of integration without assimilation must end. Israel must provide adequate funding to all Arab organizations. It must increase opportunities and remove internal trade barriers so that Arab businesses can compete with Israelis and their trades. There is no in-between. However, Arabs must also change; they can choose to remain separate (and unequal) or integrate and increase their chances for a better life.
Sadly, neither group wants to change, and no short-term solution will be found. Violent civil strife will occur again. What a waste of talent-a great tragedy!