Israeli Arabs, Palestinians diverge in views

Field between French Hill and Isaweea neighborhoods of Jerusalem

Field between French Hill and Isaweea neighborhoods of Jerusalem

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–An opinion poll published in Friday’s Yedioth Aharonoth  provides an insight into the Arab population of Israel. Along with surveys of Palestinians, it should be viewed with a bit more salt than is usually taken with survey research. Arabs are less inclined than us blabbermouth Jews and other westerners to reveal their attitudes to strangers, to acquaintances outside of their families, or even within their families. The periodic surveys of Palestinian (West Bank and Gaza) populations tend to show shifts with whatever is being pushed as the time by the national leadership.

There are claims that Israeli Arabs–some of whom describe themselves as “Palestinians of Israel”–have been “Israelized” by 60 years of citizenship in a democracy, with three or four generations that have acquired Hebrew in school and other cultural traits via the media and personal contacts with Jews.

The Arabs acquired along with East Jerusalem in 1967 are an intermediate group between the Arabs of Israel and those living under the Palestinian Authority of the West Bank or Gaza. Most of them and the children born to them since 1967 have not become citizens. Arab residents of East Jerusalem receive Israeli social services, and can travel and work freely throughout Israel, but are less likely than Israeli Arabs to be fluent in Hebrew, and few exercise their rights as residents to vote in municipal elections.

Leaving aside the disputes that surround the issue of Arabs’ “Israelization,” the findings of the Yedioth Aharonoth poll suggest that the population is ahead of its political leadership in potentially important traits.

The poll indicates that the Arab population prefers economic and social service opportunities over the advancement of Arab nationalism, by a margin of 77 to 16 percent. Seventy-one percent want the United (Arab) list to join the government, another 16 percent want it to support a government from the outside, and only 13 percent oppose supporting a government. The population supports an agreement between the United list and Meretz with respect to surplus votes by a margin of 83 to 17 percent. Sixty-four percent are optimistic about future relations between Arabs and Jews, against 33 percent who are pessimistic.

Such findings contrast with the consistent promotion by Knesset Members of Arab parties of nationalist goals to the point of opposing just about every opportunity to play the political game along with the government or parties supported by the majority of Jews. Recently we’ve seen the rejection by the United list of an agreement with respect to surplus votes with Meretz, and a statement by Knesset Member Ahmed Tibi, that Zionist Union cannot count on the support of the United list. Since 1967 Arab activists have pressured East Jerusalemites to avoid voting in Jerusalem municipal elections. In this, they have given up the opportunity to be the policy-determining swing votes between the city’s ultra-Orthodox, Orthodox, and secular Jews.

The poll’s results do not go so far as to suggest that Israel’s Arab population is on the verge of warm and cuddly cordial co-existence with Jews. On the hot button issue of Knesset Member Haneen Zoabi, widely cursed as a uncompromising nationalist who supports terror by right of center Jews, 45 percent of the Arab population surveyed agreed that she contributes to the interests of Israeli Arabs, 34 percent said that she harms their interests, and another 21 percent chose the neutral response that she neither contributes nor harms.

In contrast to the Yedioth Aharonoth poll of Israeli Arabs, the latest poll of Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza published by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion shows less inclination toward cooperative co-existence with the Jews of Israel. Rather, it shows the population in line with recent actions of the Palestinian leadership. Sixty-one percent support their leadership’s threat of halting security cooperation with Israel, and 56 percent support the continued pursuit of Palestinian-Arab resolutions in the United Nations Security Council.

Neither Barack Obama nor the leadership of the UN come out well in the Palestinian poll. It shows that Palestinians resemble Israeli Jews in distrust of both the US and UN. Forty-six percent of the Palestinians polled favor halting communications with the United States, while 33 percent oppose such a step; 59 percent see the position of the UN Secretary General as “negative” toward Palestinian interests.

The poll was taken at the beginning of the Israeli election campaign, when commentators generally were predicting another Netanyahu government. Only 21 percent of the Palestinians polled believed that Yitzhak Herzog would succeed in becoming the Prime Minister.

Is the glass half empty or half full?

That depends on perspective.

There are Israelis who see every utterance of MK Haneen Zoabi as a threat against our national survival, and find further reason for worry in every incident in East Jerusalem or the West Bank, every Palestinian or Israeli Arab who disappears in the direction of the Islamic State, and every sign that Hamas is preparing for another round out of Gaza.

Other Israelis see paranoia in such concerns, and emphasize the recent years of relative quiet, especially with respect to the West Bank. Few if any are about to dismantle the Shin Bet and its network for gathering intelligence among the Arabs of Israel and Palestinians, and there is no prospect of turning the IDF into an all volunteer army.

Much of Israel’s security activities are directed not only at protecting Israel and Jews, but also protecting the Fatah activists and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank from more radical activists affiliated with Hamas or Jihadists. Now there are additional tasks of dealing with Muslims who are attracted to the cadres of the Islamic State, or who return from a period of service with them.

Our own neighbors in Isaweea are among the more problematic of Jerusalem’s Arabs. While walking the streets of French Hill we’ve seen one attack on a Jewish woman and one aftermath of an attack, most likely done by young men from Isaweea. Jews have narrowly escaped lynching after taking a wrong turn into Isaweea. In one instance they were rescued from violent Isaweeans by other Isaweeans. We shop alongside people from Isaweea in our neighborhood’s commercial center, and use the services of a nearby taxi stand, most of whose drivers are from Isaweea. Young and not so young men come from Isaweea to play football in the school yard that abuts our apartment. When a ball flies onto our balcony we can expect a polite knocking at the front door. Some have also thrown rocks at our building, and scrawled anti-Jewish graffiti on the school walls.

Isaweeans who have sat with people from French Hill on a committee of co-existence have feared pictures or media reports of their activity.

Many of Isaweea’s residents are Bedouin whose families were attracted by Jerusalem’s economic opportunities. A field between us and them looks green and luscious after to a good winter of rain. The sheep and goats were somewhere else on Friday afternoon, but a horse was enjoying the goodies.

*
Sharkanksy is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.  You may comment to him at [email protected], or post your comment, according to the instructions below.

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