A 30-member delegation of Israeli mayors spent a week in Washington, DC and New York this past week. Despite the level of the delegation, I have yet to come across a single news article covering their visit. Should their visit have garnered media attention, perhaps readers would brush it aside as part of Israel’s ongoing lobbying efforts in the U.S. In effect, consolidating Israel to a one-dimensional player making its decisions within a conflict setting. But the makeup of this particular delegation reveals a complexity that is often missed or ignored. The reality is that Israel is a multidimensional country with a very complex society that we should make an effort to understand, particularly that the Arab world is party to the conflict despite popular views that the conflict is between Palestinians and Israel. Albeit, this unrealistic view provides the Arab world with a sense of detachment allowing it to call for “justice” instead of working with other parties to the conflict on a practical resolution. Without each Arab country fully embracing its role in the conflict a resolution will continue to be elusive.
As a group, the Arabs have an impressive track record of failing to impose their will on Israel. In fact, at almost every pivotal juncture in the history of this conflict Israel managed to win the battle of the day and ultimately increase its geographical footprint. If we were honest, we would accept the defeat without making excuses or assigning blame to others. So long as Arabs have tried and failed at winning the military war, and because they are failing to achieve any tangible diplomatic victories for the Palestinians through the U.N., they should reexamine their assumptions and revise their approach to the conflict.
The Arab citizens of Israel operate on two levels; one, as citizens of a country that discriminates against them. Two, as Palestinian nationalists resisting the aggressions of their own stateWalid Jawad
Granted, the majority of Arab states are battling for internal stability, which in a number of cases has created an opening for Iran and ISIS to extend their destabilizing tentacles. Oddly enough, the thread of the Palestinian conflict is woven through the litany of issues cited by these disruptive forces, which brings me back to my original point. Understanding the centrality of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a common denominator of sorts should be reason enough to accept the conflict as an Arab-Israeli conflict. We must make the distinction that the Arab world is not a monolithic entity and therefore none of its countries can defer to those Arab countries that are engaging Israel diplomatically. The lack of research centers concerned with Israel studies is very telling and can be a starting point particularly for those countries concerned with the so called “normalization” with Israel.
Back to the headline
The 30 mayors who are mentioned in the first sentence are actually a group of Arab Israeli mayors which are half of the 60 or so Arab Israeli mayors who represent the 1.6 million Palestinian Arabs of Israel. The majority of this 1.6 million are Sunni Muslims, with a significant Christian minority as well as Druze (some of whom consider themselves more Israeli than Arabs). Though they comprise 20 percent of Israel’s population, they are rarely covered in the news or referenced in political decisions. The goal of the mayors’ visit was to meet with and learn from the political successes of American minority groups.
Arabs of Israel
Arabs of Israel
The Arabs of Israel are faceless people who are neither counted as part of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict nor the Arab-Israeli struggle.
The Arab citizens of Israel operate on two levels; one, as citizens of a country that discriminates against them. Two, as Palestinian nationalists resisting the aggressions of their own state against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Their peculiar place within the greater Palestinian-Israeli conflict means we don’t hear about their struggles as Israeli citizens nor know the extent to which they are battling the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories seized in 1967.
The systematic discrimination against them by the Israeli government includes land confiscations, limited budgetary consideration amounting to a four percent share only and the numerous laws passed to limit their rights. This systemic discrimination is what brought this group of mayors to Washington, DC and New York. Meeting with and learning from American minority groups such as Arab-Americans, African-Americans, Latino-Americans, Japanese-Americans and Jewish-Americans prompted leader of the delegation Mohammad Darawshe in his talk to emphasize his guiding vision “for Israel to become a society for all of its citizens in addition to serving what it defines itself as being: a Jewish and democratic state.”
Loyalties and investment
Such a statement and other similar ones raise many questions. Are Arab Israelis strategically invested in the betterment of Israel? On whose side should they be counted? Here is exactly where understanding the complexity of Israeli society comes into play. For one, this is the first time Arab Israelis are taking proactive steps toward effecting the outcome of the upcoming Israeli elections. A singular list of Arab candidates will run in this election instead of the usual crowded field of candidates splitting the Arab vote. In his remarks, Dr. As’ad Ghanem said “we will have one Arab Palestinian national list and 80 percent who will vote, will vote for this list, which is an historical achievement.” Although the effect of this new tactic has yet to be seen, it is reasonable to suggest that it will bolster the standing of Arab Israelis as a voting bloc. This is significant in this upcoming election as, by most accounts, Netanyahu is running on a platform that is consumed with giving a new meaning to the “Jewishness” of the state of Israel. The sentiment among the group is that it will make this election about “the status of Palestinians in Israel.” This means that the “Jewishness” of the state of Israel will lead to ethnic cleansing of its Arab population by mass expulsion should Netanyahu win. This is one side of their struggle, on the other side is their struggle against Israeli aggressions.
To that end, Mayor Ahmad Amer said proudly “Al-Bayariq,” citing an example of Arab Israeli resistance. Bayariq is a caravan shuffling a steady stream of Arab Israeli Muslims to and from the al-Aqsa mosque for the purpose of holding a continuous vigil and preventing any attempts by extremist Jewish Israelis to desecrate or vandalize the third holiest site of Islam. Since its inception 14 years ago, Bayariq (meaning banners or flags) has transported tens of thousands of Arab Israelis to al-Aqsa each year. When the Israeli authorities limited males access to the mosque by age group, women, who call themselves al-Murabitatt, took on the responsibility of holding the vigil.
Arab Israelis are confident in their ability to protect the al-Aqsa for the time being. “Arab countries shouldn’t attempt to resolve the conflict before they resolves the conflicts within and between them” insisted one of the mayors. A hope in a resolution to the conflict still tickles the imagination of this group, albeit within a timeframe that is much farther in the future. Some are doubtful of the practicality of a two state solution believing the window of opportunity has closed on that option. Nevertheless, Israeli Arabs believe they have a role to play regardless of how a peaceful resolution would look because they believe they will be the “gatekeepers of the peace in the Middle East.”
Not knowing much about the Arabs of Israel is an unforgiven political travesty. It is time for Arab countries to accept their role in the conflict and educate their populations to see them for who they are with all of their complexity on political, racial and religious lines. The effects of allowing religious leaders to brainwash Muslim youth with demonizing narratives about Israel is problematic. When this is combined with the observable impotent policies of the Arab world in the face of Israel it drives some to join violent groups such as ISIS in a misguided effort to attempt to ultimately restore justice to the Palestinians - one aspect contributing to the instability of the Middle East, which Arab leaders can work toward fixing.
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj