Bulldozed and confused

Today’s bizarre attack in downtown Jerusalem has Israelis searching for answers.

We don’t know yet why Husam Taysir Dwayat went on his rampage, whether it was planned — or even if it is, in fact, linked to Palestinian terrorism.

But, since Israelis need to find a lesson in every event, we are all searching for connections, trying to find a pattern.

What is striking, immediately, is the seeming similarity between the act of Dwayat, an east Jerusalem Arab working on a construction site for a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) apartment building, and the shooting attack carried out in March, at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva by an east Jerusalem Arab who used to work at the seminary.

These two attacks, carried out in close proximity to each other and under similar circumstances, raise uncomfortable questions about the interaction between Arabs and Jews in this country. As it is, dozens of Israeli Arabs have been involved in terrorist activity, whether it has been in cooperation with Palestinian groups, Hizbullah, or even al-Qaida affiliates. Although most Arab citizens are law-abiding, the Jewish majority in this country finds itself questioning whether — or to what extent — Israeli Arabs constitute a fifth column.

There are, of course, historical reasons for the deep divide and alienation that separate Jew and Arab in Israel. But as the state celebrates its 60th anniversary, this situation can not be allowed to remain as it is. Put simply, there is a dire need to integrate this country’s Arabs into Israeli society.

Now, that remark needs qualifying. After all, in addition to being janitors and construction workers, Israeli Arabs are doctors and nurses, lawyers and judges, actors and models, and star athletes. Legally and practically, Arabs have equal opportunities in Israel. They also have equal benefits, enjoying National Insurance Institute health care, child allowances, welfare payments and old-age pensions.

What they don’t have, however, is equal responsibilities.

Specifically, they are not asked to serve the state in a military or even in a civilian capacity. Practically speaking, an Arab citizen can live his entire life as a benficiary of the state, without in any significant way declaring the legitimacy of the state. 

Further, there is no expectation that Arab citizens will accept an “Israeli” identity, as such. So many describe themselves not as “Israeli Arabs” but as “Arabs/Palestinians of 1948,” an allusion to the War of Indepence that they continue to describe as a national tragedy (that nation being Palestinian). As such, they hold onto a national narrative that is not only separate from the Jewish national narrative but actually contradictory to it. They don’t go to school with Jewish Israelis until they reach university, and even then the two populations remain mostly separate.

(My article on the recently approved program to encourage Israeli Arabs to perform community service discusses the arab community’s conflicted sense of identity in greater detail.)

Definitely, there are gross budgetary inequalities, and those need to be corrected. But pretending that this problem can be treated through budgets alone is a dangerous illusion. There is an urgent need to integrate schools, and to widen the national service program and make it compulsory on all Israeli citizens (including haredim).

There is no guarantee that, another crazed Arab in a bulldozer will follow Dwayat’s example. But what is certain is that, without these reforms, Israeli society will continue to be crushed under the weight of this divide.

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One Response

  1. If it is true, as the article states (in the tenth paragraph) that Arabs will not accept an Israeli identity, regard themselves as “Arabs/Palestinians of 1948,” and “hold on to a narrative that is not only separate from the Jewish national narrative but contradictory to it,” then it seems counterproductive and foolish, if not actually dangerous, to suggest that there is a “…dire need” (as suggested in the sixth paragraph) “to integrate [them] into Israel society”. Considering that they already have substantial land in the form of their territories, this commenter would suggest that there is, instead, a dire need to deport them thereto, one and all and permanently, and out of Israeli society, which they detest.

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