Aaron David Miller and Hillel Zand: Progress without peace in the Middle East
It is hardly coincidental that the trigger for this unprecedented focus on Arabs, who form 20 percent of the population, as exemplary citizens is an epidemic.
Our nationalized health-care system is one of the few areas of Israeli society that is fully integrated. Nearly a fifth of Israel’s doctors, a quarter of its nurses, and almost half its pharmacists are Arabs. Arab doctors head hospital departments and emergency rooms; one heads a hospital in the Galilee. Jews and Arabs encounter one another most intimately in maternity and cancer wards.
Israel’s ability to create a shared identity for its Arab and Jewish citizens is complicated by its relentless security challenges. For Jews, military service is central to their national identity, while Arabs are exempt from the draft, deprived of the unifying experience of Israeliness.
For Arabs, a history of government land confiscation and systemic budgetary discrimination, as well as the seemingly endless occupation of the Palestinians, has left deep wounds and mistrust. The implicit message Arabs take from the country’s Jewish identity—from its national symbols and its ethos of “ingathering the exiles,” granting citizenship to any Jew—is that they don’t quite belong.
For both Jews and Arabs, majority-minority status is a fluctuating state of mind. Jews are acutely aware of belonging to a minority state in an overwhelmingly Arab and Muslim region, largely hostile to its existence; most Arabs are at once an uneasy minority in a Jewish state and part of the region’s ethnic and religious majority.
Many Israeli Jews fear that Arabs can’t be loyal citizens, a suspicion aggravated by Arab Knesset representatives who have expressed support for Palestinian violence.
One Arab member of the Knesset, Heba Yazbak, was nearly disqualified from the recent elections by the Supreme Court for a tweet calling Samir Kuntar, convicted of helping murder an Israeli family, including a 4-year-old, a “martyr.” Another Arab politician, Azmi Bishara, fled the country just before being indicted for aiding Hezbollah during wartime. Although Ayman Odeh, head of the United Arab List, the Knesset’s third-largest party, has reached out to Jewish voters, he alienated Jews with his 2017 statement calling Palestinian attacks on Israeli soldiers legitimate (but he was careful to distinguish between Palestinians under occupation and Palestinian Israelis). The United Arab List rejects the Jewish identity of the state and has opposed every Israeli military action, including acts regarded as self-defense by almost all Jewish Israelis.
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The disparity between the Palestinian nationalism of Arab politicians and the integrationist tendencies of Arab voters was revealed in a new poll by the Israel Democracy Institute, in which 77 percent of Arabs said they feel they are a part of the state and share with it a common destiny—the highest percentage ever. Call it the coronavirus effect: When Israeli Arabs feel respected as citizens, they tend to respond in kind.