Arab Israeli Right-winger Wants To Be Safe
I met an Arab Israeli who belongs to a right-wing party. That does not happen much. Sayid (not his real name) is not running for office. He is just a rank and file member alongside Jewish Israelis who believe in the right-wing ideology. A young academic in his thirties, he lives in an Arab village and grew up just like thousands of other Arab Israelis. But he pines for the freedom to speak his mind, to have the right to voice his opinions openly, to break the isolation he experiences in his own community. To not-need me to use a pseudonym for interviews like this one.
He once did try to stand up for Israel, the country he grew to love. He wanted to serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). But after being the target of serious threats to his life, he desisted. To this day, he still hurts over the loss of the opportunity he was forced to abandon.
Did you always support Israel, or is that something that developed at some point along the way?
When I was growing up, my views began to change and the world view I was raised on was turned on its head. I began to believe that this land belongs to the Jewish People only, that it has belonged to the Jewish People for thousands of years before the appearance of Islam. It is a fact that the first and second temples were built in Jerusalem. I wish for the dear Jewish People to settle in the whole of the Land of Israel with security and to defend herself from her enemies.
The overall attitude of my community, unfortunately, is one of hostility toward the state and support for Arab terror. They applaud when there is news of a terror attack against Jews; that has led me to distance myself from family and community and to thus be alienated from those with whom I grew up.
What happened that made you veer off in a different direction from those around you?
Everything began in high school when our history teacher would teach us about the history of the Jewish People. While teaching us from the official education ministry materials, she would tell us that we should not believe what she is teaching. She told us she is compelled to teach us these things but that the facts are not what she is teaching so we should not be fooled. That aroused my curiousity and I began to research the topic. I looked for history books and I went to the library at Tel Aviv University just so that I could check for myself what is true and what is not. I discovered that there is no doubt that the history of this land is the history of the Jewish People. This goes against the Palestinian narrative that I grew up on and that I believed for many years.
There were many other pupils in class; why did you take it upon yourself to do the research when it is likely that your classmates did not?
I was always like that. I remember that as a kid I always went to check out whatever I would hear. For example, if I heard something about Canada, I would go to the library and read up about Canada to become more familiar with the country.
But your new understanding about Israel did not necessarily mean that you would join a right-wing party? What brought you to the right?
When I began to take an interest in the history of Israel as belonging to the Jewish People, I saw terrorist organizations committing attacks against the Jews because they are Jews and I saw that they had the support of the Israeli Left. I understood that the Two-State option is just not relevant. With the Oslo Agreement, Israel gave the Palestinians large areas of the Land of Israel and afforded them self-rule, but their response was to use terror in Judea & Samaria and Gaza instead of accepting the plan. Therefore, I concluded that the agreement that I was happy to see signed when I was younger just brought harm to Israel and murder of Jews. That meant, for me, that the approach promoted by the right-wing parties is a more appropriate one for the Israeli reality.
What do you think of the Arab political parties?
The Arab parties operate solely as representatives of the PLO. They do not concern themselves with the needs of the Arab population in Israel. They neglect us and support terror. Arabs vote for them because there are not many options and, at the same time, the right-wing parties do not fight for the Arab vote. In spite of this, in my opinion, the right-wing members of Knesset, and Arab members of mainly Jewish parties, consider the needs of the Arab citizens more than the Arab parties do. There is now a call to boycott the elections because the Arab party candidates are interested only in their own seats and not in taking care of the needs of the Arab sector, but this is only a marginal phenomenon.
I hope that in the future there will be a new Arab party that will represent a pro-Israeli position and be supportive of the state. Then there will be a true alternative. It is doubtful, however, that that party would pass the threshold for gaining seats in the Knesset because of the control the current parties have in the Knesset; for example, Ahmed Tibi has been a Member of Knesset since 1999. Until there will be a viable rational Arab party, I would like to see more Arabs in right-wing parties as a more realistic option for getting a greater number of pro-Israeli Arabs into the Knesset.
What is your opinion of the Nation State Law?
I have no problem with the Nation State Law – on the contrary, the Nation State Law does not discriminate against citizens but emphasizes the principles of the State as the nation of the Jewish People only and Hebrew is the official language, with Arabic having special status.
Can you express this opinion openly?
I have said that I am not against the Nation State Law but I did not expand on my views. I have not met anyone who supports the law, but there are many who do not care at all either way. They have been brainwashed and therefore they do not understand that the law does not deny their rights but, rather, that it is just a clarification. I have read that Adalah [an Arab rights NGO], supported by [the Arab parties] Balad and Hadash, was planning to petition the Supreme Court against the symbols of the state because they say that these symbols discriminate against them. As a citizen sharing equal rights with the Jews within the Jewish state, I wholeheartedly support the Nation State Law.
What needs to be done to encourage other Arabs to open up to the possibility of being pro-Israeli?
In my opinion, there has to be a plan for encouraging Zionism among Israeli Arabs and instilling in them a love for the country. It should start in kindergarten and continue throughout school, with special programmes offered in the community. For that, a special government agency should be established with a budget. This agency would have the dual task of instilling love for the country among the Arabs and of protecting Arab Zionists who are threatened when they speak up openly.
Arab Zionists should be embraced by the government; the citizens need to feel that Jewish MKs and government officials are concerned about them.
But even before this, as a first step, the police has to be everywhere, in every corner in the Arab sector and there has to be intelligence gathered around the clock in order to identify the criminals and collect illegal weapons. If Arabs are brought into the police and IDF in large numbers, it could help. It is imperative that the security forces be in direct contact with the Arab population in order for them to feel they belong to this country. To know that what protects the country protects them as well.
But this would not be possible without the agreement of the residents themselves and their cooperation. For that, the Arab sector leadership has to be strong. What is needed is new leadership supportive of Israel instead of the current MKs, municipal heads and respected village elders who only defy Israel and incite against her, new Arab leaders who would encourage the residents to cooperate with the police and bring law and order into their own villages.
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The most disastrous thing that happened to me as I moved from the left side of the political map to the right was that I was called rather unpleasant names by some of my leftist friends (all of my friends were leftists) and dropped by a few of them. But my life was never threatened. I was able to find new friends on Facebook since I could be open about my views and find other like-minded individuals around the country.
Sayid cannot do this.
Sayid shares this isolation and loneliness with Habib, my friend from Hebron. It makes me wonder how many other Sayids and Habibs there are in both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. And both men are still unmarried. I wonder if that is a coincidence or not. And it makes me sad. Sayid told me he hopes to find a woman who thinks outside the box. And I despair for him – how can he find her when he cannot be open about his attitudes and beliefs?
And we Jewish Israelis (and our elected representatives) should be asking ourselves what we can do to embrace the Sayids and Habibs so that they can be safe to be themselves.