How Israel Alienates Arab Citizens

A key founding principle of the United States was that a secular government would protect the religious freedoms of all groups. But Israel’s insistence on a Jewish state that systematically discriminates against Arabs has drawn America down a different path, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar notes.

By Paul R. Pillar

Most Palestinian Arabs face Israel as residents of the occupied West Bank or the partially blockaded Gaza Strip, or as refugees in surrounding Arab countries. But then there are the Arabs of Israel itself, who constitute about 20 percent of the country’s population.

Once the Israeli Arabs were looked to as a potential bridge, between other Israelis and other Palestinian Arabs, whose existence might facilitate an eventual settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not any more, and some of the reasons show through in a just-released surveyconducted by Sammy Smooha of the University of Haifa in conjunction with the Israel Democracy Institute.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The poll was one of a series done over the past several years to tap attitudes of both Arab and Jewish Israelis about relations between the two communities and about the place of Arabs in Israel.

The dominant attitude of most Israeli Arabs is one of alienation. Seventy percent of the Arab respondents say that the government treats them as second-class citizens or as hostile citizens who did not deserve equality. A majority feel “estranged and rejected.” Two-thirds fear a population transfer, and more than three-fourths fear “grave violation of their basic rights.”

Only 12 percent of Israeli Arabs consider Israeli citizenship to be their most important identity, as opposed to their religion or ethnicity. This represents a sharp drop during the past decade, and the opposite of a trend during the same period among Israeli Jews, who were asked a similar question. Fifty-nine percent of Israeli Arabs say that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza would be justified in starting a third Intifada “if the political stalemate continues.”

The survey’s findings regarding Jewish Israeli attitudes were more of a mixed bag but reflect some of the same wide gulf between the two communities. More than two-thirds believe that anyone who self-identifies as “a Palestinian Arab in Israel” cannot be loyal to the state and its laws. Twenty-eight percent favor denying Arabs the right to vote in elections for the Knesset. Sixty-five percent would choose the Jewish character of Israel over its democratic character to the extent the two come in conflict.

There are nonetheless signs that if prevailing Israeli policies and priorities were to change, a better relationship between the two communities might be possible. Despite the alienation, the Arabs’ responses suggest realism about their situation. Majorities of Arab respondents said they were reconciled to living in a state with a Jewish majority and a Hebrew culture, and a majority said they would rather remain in Israel than live in any other country.

As for Jewish attitudes, Smooha perceives evidence of movement toward centrist views, and with that an absence of any broad trend of even harder attitudes toward Arab citizens. But, he says, a “vocal radical Jewish right” has emerged and has “succeeded in reinforcing the alienation of the Arab minority and in engendering growing fear of collapse of democracy among the elites of the center and the left.”

Unfortunately it is that destructive element in Israeli politics that has been driving Israeli policy, including driving it in directions that make the second-class status of Arab Israeli citizens even worse.

Mitchell Plitnick, in raising broader questions about what sorts of values are reflected in Israeli policies toward all the Palestinians, notes that the Knesset has taken the first step toward passing legislation that would evict tens of thousands of Israeli Bedouin — who are some of the Arab citizens of Israel — from land in the Negev where they have lived for generations, since well before Israel’s establishment.

A proposed use of the land is the construction of new Jewish communities, thereby mirroring what has happened repeatedly in the occupied West Bank. As Plitnick suggests, whatever values underlie such policies, in which a country shoves aside even its own citizens solely because of their ethnicity and to favor a different ethnic group, are not values shared with America.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

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10 comments on “How Israel Alienates Arab Citizens

  1. Hillary on said:

    ” the Knesset has taken the first step toward passing legislation that would evict tens of thousands of Israeli Bedouin ”
    .
    The superior attitude with 2 Jews “always” having 3 opinions ?
    .
    “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs… Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home”——- Mahatma Gandhi

  2. DIA ex... on said:

    3] points:
    1] With all due respect t Mahatma Ghandi he was uninformed as to the full true nature of the region etc. Besides which one can stand opinions against opinions to no end. e.g Martin Luther King stated clearly his opinion that any Anti-Israel stance is the same as Antisemitism.
    2] For those who believe in various Holy Tomes; the Bible states most clearly that the Creator gave the land of Israel to the Jews; The Koran states clearly the very same thing (though there it refers very clearly that it is for the religious Jews, this was clarified by the Saudi representative to the UN in 1948.) AND that the sanctity of Jerusalem is due to the Jewish Holy Temple that stood there.

    3] Pillar’s bias has never been a secret to us who know him, & is obvious in this article.

    He neglects to point out a few truths. Look at all the Arab/Muslim states. Most of not all of them are states are controlled by Muslim clerics & Muslim religious rules & laws. In almost all of them non-Muslims are either 2nd rate (or worse) residents or are not even permitted to reside there. The news of recent murders of Christians in Arab states is only awareness of what has been going on for centuries in those countries. Jews in the few Muslim countries were the can reside are under constant threat.

    One must ask one’s self why is it that he rants against a “Jewish” state but not against Christian or Muslim states? One must recall that the Jews were forcibly exiled from the land now called Israel when their kingdom was overrun by the Romans. They lived in exile 2,000 years, driven & chased throughout. In 1948 the UN authorized the establishment of the “Jewish State of Israel” as a renewed home for that nation. So why is there such a fuss about it?

    Also he hides the fact that in earlier years of the state of Israel there was much better rapport etc between Jewish & Muslim citizens. The deterioration has come about by Israeli Arabs who have been duped by self-interested politicians from without & within to go against the state they live in. This being despite that they enjoyed & still enjoy more freedom, more medical & educational benefits, more rights than they ever had under Turkish, British or Jordanian rule.

    He also hides the fact that a considerable portion of Anti-Israel provocation among Arab youth was perpetrated by CIA agents who paid those youngsters to burn tires make demonstrations etc etc.

    • gregorylkruse on said:

      If you don’t believe in “Holy Tomes”, why do you use one in your argument? Even if their God did give the land to the Jews, they still had to invade and kill everyone who was there already. The way they’re acting now, they’re headed for a third Intifada, and maybe, if their God is real, a third or fourth Diaspora.

    • Carroll on said:

      @ DIA
      “One must ask one’s self why is it that he rants against a “Jewish” state but not against Christian or Muslim states? One must recall that the Jews were forcibly exiled from the land now called Israel when their kingdom was overrun by the Romans. They lived in exile 2,000 years, driven & chased throughout. In 1948 the UN authorized the establishment of the “Jewish State of Israel” as a renewed home for that nation. So why is there such a fuss about it?”

      I think the world has seen enough of how your Zionist cult state operates today to suspect there were some practical political reasons they were exiled in the past by the ‘nations’and ad nausum…so drop the myths and eternal innocent poor victim whine.
      It’s way past it’s ‘sell by date’. No one is buying it anymore.
      And dont bother with anti semite smearing rages either..that’s also pass it’s “use’ date.

  3. DIA ex... on said:

    Oh, this part was missed in my previous comment.
    The truth as seen in Israel is that YES all other religions are indeed respected & given freedom no less than USA or England etc. The Muslims, the Bahai’s, the Christians have full religious freedom. Look truthfully at the Muslim countries & you will see that aside from Abu Dabai NO Muslim country really tolerates other religions.

    Any so-called anti-Muslim discrimination one might claim in Israel is NOT due to their religion but rather due to anti-state activities & rhetoric. This is something that no state can tolerate, & Israel has been much more tolerant in this respect than one would expect in any other country.

    • rosemerry on said:

      “so-called anti-Muslim discrimination one might claim in Israel!!!!!!”
      Why should remaining native inhabitants of a stolen land agree with those who have taken over and restricted their rights after killing or removing the majority of the population? You call Israel’s behaviour reasonable? I suppose you also think the USA is tolerant and the 2.3 million incarcerated there are all criminals, that the deportations of “aliens” are justified and that the “humanitarian” wars are fair.

  4. Morton Kurzweil on said:

    Israel is surrounded by Arab league states that will not recognize Israel’s right to exist.
    The fanatical Muslim governments have betrayed their own people with false interpretations
    the Qur’an and the continuing genocide of Muslim sects. This is a political attempt by terrorists
    who rule by fear and coercion. There is no democracy in the Mid-East except Israel.

    • rosemerry on said:

      “Israel is surrounded by Arab league states that will not recognize Israel’s right to exist.” Morton, have you never heard of the Arab Peace Plan, devised in 2002 and still available? They recognise Israel IN ITS FORMER BORDERS ie before the 1967 6-day War and subsequent illegal occupation, and offered peace. Iran and Hamas and Hezbollah were part of it. Israel ignored the plan, as did the USA. Read your history, please.

  5. John on said:

    The question of Israel’s right to exist brings up two points. Israel theoretically is illegal by international law and the UN. The partition proposal (not a final plan but start) was only passed by the UN General Assembly, not the Security Council. For it to have some legitimacy the Palestinians have to say they accept the plan as it is. They had no say in its production, it hurts them badly, and who in their right mind in their shoes would accept it especially when one knows that political Zionism’s intent is a greater Israel. It’s the only ace they have up their sleeve, but no western government seems interested in international law especially when we have AIPAC in the US, Conservatives For Israel and Labour for Israel in Britain, similar groups in Canada. It’s all money and power games not law.
    The 82 Israeli onslaught into Lebanon had two aims, get rid of Arafat who trusted Rabin was open to recognition of Israel, compensation for Palestinians who could return to their homes and a Palestinian state with the border being the 67 line. After signing Oslo he called Carter and said we finally had a country. Then some religious political Zionist shoots Rabin and the whole process went up in smoke with Arafat left with nothing to show the Palestinians (he so trusted Rabin unlike any other Israeli leader.) The other ambition was to gain Lebanese territory between the Israeli border and the Litani river they had asked to be included in the partition proposal. That begat the resistance group Hizbollah who in time pushed the political zionist initiative back. Is Hizbollah a terrorist organization. Israelis have blammed them for two attacks, one in Argentina (once considered by Jews as their respite instead of Palestine) and another in Europe. In either case ther has never been any credible proof given. The only incident outside Lebanon was when Hizbollah attacked an Israeli military jeep on the border in an attempt to to capture some Israelis to swap for their own held for years in Israeli prisons.
    And secondly, WHAT ISRAEL DO THEY SUPPOSED TO LET EXIST, the one within the 67 line, the expanded one, or what !?
    As for the Biblical history of God giving land to a people (is the world really only 5,000 years old :-) ), it’s tripe. Would a loving God instruct Jews to kill every man woman and child just to give some other tribe land. It was an old nationalistic tale, just like the ideas of the Boers on their Exodus to South Africa and some Pilgrims Exodus to the States (begat Mormonism). Religion is about being honest and good to others. It makes one feel good but that gets lost when politics enters the scene.

  6. I think it pertinent to put things in perspective. The Middle East has been under the thumbs of European powers since WWI. Before that much was under the Ottoman Empire. Lawrence of Arabia sure was upset after all the help he got from the Arabs, the British never kept their promise to the Arabs when the war was over.
    The Arab have had little experience with democracy, as the meddling West always supported whosoever (mainly despots) would look after their interests. Oil and the Suez canal were big factors in the West supporting despots.
    Israel is different, the European stock has had more experience with democracy and they made a smart move. They became the right hand of America and some other western states. They helped Britain to little avail in the Suez crisis much to America’s chagrin at the time. Israel helped American presidents in the Iran Contra affair, with Republicans in killing Carter’s chances for reelection , in training agents to undermine Iranian authority in Iran’s oil region, and much ado with arming despotic and racist governments in Africa, South and Central America.
    Arabs never got a fair hand. After Balfour, huge Zionist funds were used to buy estates in Palestine (only 7% of what is Israel according to the 67 line was purchased.) The Jewish faction then passed a law that no Arabs should be hired to work on these estates. Sounds racist to me.
    Why did the minority (Jews) get the most and the best land at partition? Sounds racist to me.
    After the 67 war, European and NA immigration was too small to quickly fill the occupied territories. Deals were made with Russia (US secrets were passed onto the Russians – Pollard case for one) and in payment Jews from Russia were allowed out and to settle on the occupied land and housed by federally funded housing. Sounds racist to me.
    Now we have fast growing Zionist zealots burning Palestinian olive grows, shooting at olive pickers, harassing Palestinian farmers with scary nocturnal antics, racist graffiti painted onto Mosque walls. Even the Christian Palestinians aren’t immune as their churches have become targets with the likes of “Mary the whore!” painted on their walls. A Palestinian farmer was killed when border guards tied him to his donkey and then whipped it up to speed. He partially fell of and his head smashed on the curb. This practice was not unheard of. One IDF unit had several racist t-shirts, one of which showed the crosshairs of a rifle on the abdomen of a pregnant Arab women and the caption was, “1 shot 2 kills.” After it became very public these were banned. Sounds racist to me.
    Does anyone expect Arabs to be saying thank you.
    Over 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes around 1948, hoping to return. Some still hold the keys to their houses. What drove them away fear. There was violence against them in Haifa and other centres, and at least three early massacres in Arab villages. Sounds racist to me.
    Need I say more other than when you treat people like that how do you think they will react to the perpetrator. Palestinians once had an enviable record for level of education. Not any more. Their schools were closed down, children in the occupied territory were threatened by settlers on their way to class. Sounds racist to me.