While a majority of Israeli Arabs have sought to integrate into Israeli society, a significant element has been set on undermining the Jewish state. During the Guardian of the Walls Operation in May 2021, Arabs in mixed cities such as Ramleh, Lod, Jaffa, Acre, and Jerusalem launched violent riots incited by Hamas, destroying synagogues, and burning Jewish homes. For the Jewish public in Israel, that constituted a shocking development questioning Arab sincerity.
It seemed that Israeli Arabs were choosing integration. A Jerusalem Post survey (September27, 2017) found that 60% of Arab Israelis have a positive view of the State of Israel. Arabs were everywhere in Israel: students on campuses, doctors and nurses in hospitals, in high-tech companies, in Israel’s parliament, in pharmacies, managers and cashiers in supermarkets, in the Israeli art world: actors, dancers, singers, and chefs. In June 2021, Israeli Arabs (Mansour Abbas and his Islamist Ra’am Party) joined the Bennet coalition government marking it as a first-time occurrence.
Ironically, the more secular-leftist Arab Joint List isn’t fighting for their Arab-Israeli constituents as much as they represent the interests of the Palestinians (both Palestinian Authority and Hamas). As a result, Israeli Arabs dropped their support for the party of Ayman Odeh and Ahmed Tibi and have increasingly voted for leftist-Zionist parties.
To understand the Israeli Arab conundrum, we need to delve into history and go back to 638 CE when the Caliph Omar conquered the Land of Israel/Palestine. The population at the time in the entire Levant was strictly Christian and Jewish, and that was the case in Palestine (a name given to the Land of Israel by the Roman conquerors seeking to obliterate all traces of Jewish sovereignty). In time, Arabia Muslims and Bedouins from throughout the region settled in as well. The Byzantine Empire was the previous ruler of Palestine, but their oppressive rule and the frequent wars with the Persian Empire to the east impoverished the land and contributed to its depopulation. The Muslim rule was less oppressive but nevertheless the Islamic poll tax or Jizya, imposed on non-Muslims drove many of the hitherto Christians and Jews to convert to Islam, especially if they wanted to serve in the administration of the land, which required one to be a Muslim. So ethnically speaking Palestine’s population was a mixture of Jews, Greeks, etc.
The Ottoman Sunni-Muslim conquest of Palestine began in 1517 and lasted 400 years. The Arabs that would become Israeli Arabs considered their identity to be Muslim. Arab nationalism didn’t exist, and the districts that constituted Palestine were administered through Damascus. At the turn of the 20th Century the Arabs that populated western Palestine viewed themselves as southern Syrians.
Prior to winning the war (WWI) against the Ottoman Turks, London made promises to the Arabs (McMahon-Sharif Hussein Ibn Ali the Hashemite Guardian of the holy places of Mecca and Medina). Britain sought to recruit the respected Hashemites (The Prophet Mohammad family members) against the Ottomans who declared Jihad on Britain. The British government feared losing the war because their French allies were exhausted, the Russians suffered great setbacks in the battlefield, and by 1917 were out of the war while the Germans were advancing in France. It was at this point that Henry McMahon, Britain’s High Commissioner to Egypt began his correspondence with Hussein in July 1915. In return for revolting against the Ottomans, Hussein asked to be given the crown of greater Syria (meaning today’s Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) as well as recognition as Caliph. The British agreed. In 1916, the wartime allies Britain and France, through their representatives Mark Sykes and Francois Georges Picot, met secretly and divided the Middle East among them. They disregarded linguistic, religious and tribal boundaries, and promises made to Hussein. Then, on November 2, 1917, Britain issued the Balfour Declaration, promising to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
Palestinian nationalism didn’t exist; the events of 1920 created it. In 1918, the British army arranged for Feisal, son of Hussein ibn Ali, the Sharif of Mecca, who commanded the Arab forces that harassed the Turks under the guidance of the British officer known as Lawrence of Arabia. They enter Damascus with great fanfare. The Arabs of Palestine were excited by the prospect of a Greater Arab Syria and saw themselves as part of that reconstructed Arab nation. Dr. Chaim Weitzman, the leader of the Zionist Movement, and Feisal met earlier in 1919 at the Paris Peace Conference. They agreed on mutual support for their respective goals: an Arab nation led by the Hashemites and a Jewish National Home in Palestine. But in July 1920, French forces landed in Lebanon and Syria, expelling Feisal and his army from Damascus. The dreams of Weitzman and Feisal were dashed by British perfidy and French aggression.
With the dream of an Arab Greater Syria thwarted by British perfidy and French aggression, Palestinian nationalism replaced pan-Arab nationalism. Hence, the clash between two national liberation movements began: Zionism, the Jewish national liberation movement, and its Palestinian counterpart.
In July 1922, the League of Nations entrusted Britain with the Mandate for Palestine. Herbert Samuel, the first British High Commissioner for Palestine, and a Jew, attempted to show even-handedness by appointing Haj Amin al-Husseini as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. It was a critical mistake in choosing a rabid antisemite and a promoter of anti-Jewish violence. Husseini later became an ally of Hitler and the Nazis. He managed to poison the future relations between Arabs and Jews in Mandatory Palestine.
Husseini’s legacy of hatred toward Jews impacted on Israeli Arabs as well. The 1948 Arabs (Arab Thamaniya Wa-Arba’in), those who didn’t flee after Israel’s War of Independence were under Marshall Law until 1966 because of their open hostility to the Jewish state. Things eased after the Six Day War but now with open contact between Israeli Arabs, and the West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, many Israeli Arabs began to view themselves as Palestinians.
In 2004, Avigdor Lieberman proposed the “Populated-Area Exchange Plan,” to move the Arab populated “triangle” to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for incorporating Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria into Israel. The Arabs refused to abandon their Israeli citizenship, and they declined the offer to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority.
The proposed Citizenship Law exacerbated tensions between the Arab community and the Israeli government. In 2021, the Bennet government allocated $9.6 billion for the Arab sector development as demanded by Mahmoud Abbas. Still, any conflict between the IDF and the Palestinians raises anti-Israel sentiments, which the Arab Knesset Members tend to inflame.
To sum it all up, the Israeli Arabs conundrum is that their heart is with their Palestinian brothers, but their mind tells them that they and their children are better off in the Jewish state.