Monday, July 23, 2007

A state for all its citizens?

Despite what some would have you believe, it is a sad truth that the Israeli Arab sector of our society is often marginalized and discriminated against, whether it be the poor quality infrastructure of the Arab towns and villages (not to mention the bureaucratic obstacles involved in making improvements, receiving permits to build new homes and meet the needs of natural growth in existing areas) inferior schools, greater difficulty in finding jobs, and so on. Arab families such as the Kaadan family have had to go to court in order to fight for the right to live in a better neighborhood, simply because the town they wanted to live in was Jewish.

There are those who might say that these Arabs are simply getting what they deserve as a result of their divided loyalties, without accepting the possibility that this issue may stem from the fact that this minority in Israeli society has consistently been treated as second-class citizens. Had Israel taken the time to invest in these communities, to improve infrastructure, to ensure that Arab Israelis felt equal to their Jewish counterparts, perhaps the loyalties would not have been so divided. That's not to say, of course, that everything would be perfect, but maybe the situation would have been far less problematic than it is today had attempts at least been made at ensuring equality vis a vis quality of life issues. Instead, successive Israeli governments and quasi-governmental organizations have continued to discriminate at every turn, and have created an environment where such discrimination is the accepted norm.

In an attempt to narrow the gap between the two cultures, Education Minister Yuli Tamir announced yesterday that lessons about the Naqba (the Catastrophe) - the Palestinian narrative of the events that took place at the time of Israel's independence in 1948 will be in books used in Arab-Israeli schools, in addition to the already taught Jewish narrative. I'm only sorry that Jewish school children will not be given the same opportunity as well, to give them some insight into the Arab sector. Providing these students with a window to a fuller picture will enable them to better understand the complexities of Israeli society, and by not doing so, these students are being done a disservice. It is akin to the creationism vs. evolutionism debates going on in many American school systems, where only one theory is favored over the other, or the teaching of abstinence instead of actually educating students about sex.

Politicians on the right are predictably incensed by Tamir's move (I'm just waiting for someone to call Tamir a Nazi...) and have called for her dismissal. It is a shame that these politicians feel so threatened by an act that allows the narrative of a significant number of Israeli citizens to enter the realm of acceptable public discourse; an act that shows that the society in which they live is willing to officially accept that the independence celebrated by Israeli Jews is not necessarily celebrated by everyone who lives here. The inability of these people to even be open to the possibility of allowing Israeli Arabs to explore their roots; to force them to accept an historical narrative with which they cannot identify while negating the existence of another narrative is nothing short of a travesty, and I daresay a racist one at that.

While I suspect that neither narrative is completely accurate from a factual point of view, it is important for our future as a state, for us as members of the Jewish majority to recognize that our Arab citizens have a different historical reference, one that is just as important to them as ours is to us. By the same token, if Arab Israeli citizens wish to be treated just like Jewish Israeli citizens, then they must be prepared to help bear the burdens carried by their Jewish counterparts, such as performing some form of national service (not necessarily the military, but something), and preferably not voice outspoken opinions supporting Israel's enemies (as was the case during the war last summer, when many Israeli Arabs sided with Hezbollah, and continued to blame Israel even as their own communities sustained damage and casualties inflicted by the other side).

Israel cannot claim to be a state for all its citizens as long as it continues its discriminatory practices against the minority groups that live here, and to that end, Minister Tamir's decision is a step in the right direction.


lisoosh said...

Ooooh, well you know this is one of my favorite topics.

I agree with you wholeheartedly, and wish they would teach both narratives to Jewish kids as well, it is so fundemental to understanding. And um, yeah, would really like to see the Arab population performing National Service more regularly. I read that Tamir's pilot program in a village was a roaring success with kids lining up to sign on.

My only quibble would be comparing the two narratives to the evolution/"intelligent design" debate, which, as a scientist I can't actually call a debate 'cause one side is full of c**p, just pushing religion and fraudulently calling it a scientific theory.

Liza said...

Hi Lisoosh,

I probably should have made myself more clear regarding the "quibble". I agree with you regarding intelligent design, but I used the comparison as an example of another case where one narrative is favored over another, instead of exposing students to both options. And, because I agree about one side being full of c**p, I suppose I was mostly thinking about those schools that only teach intelligent design, while ignoring Darwin's longstanding theory of evolution.

blue and white said...

I really can't agree with you. Allowing their version in schoolbooks erases our history in the Arab's eyes and grants them the legitimacy to not recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
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Liza said...

I don't see how it erases our version, especially since they don't necessarily accept our version in the first place. How do you reckon that this grants them the legitacy not to recognize Israel as a Jewish state? If anything, taking this step will make these citizens feel more a part of Israeli society, because we've finally done something to recognize their needs instead of continuing to force ours on them.

lisoosh said...

Considering the goal of studying history is to get to the nugget of truth underlying different perspectives, as well as to study how different perspectives affect history, to not compare and discuss the two is dishonest and delusional.

Sage said...

I am not well studied on this, but after observing for the last few years it seems to me Arabs see events in a different light, sometime markedly so. Look at what Al Manar and Al Jazeera did to Lisa and Rinat RE their Lebanon excursion. I think that may have been a mix of purposeful distortion and just seeing events differently. I am not arguing against the proposed history curriculum, but I just wonder how the Jewish narrative is being received by the Arab kids (or how the Jewish kids would receive the Palestinian narrative, for that matter).

Just a thought.

Dan C.

Liza said...

Hi Dan,

I see your point, and couldn't agree with you more regarding the way that Lisa and Rinat are being treated these days, especially with regard to the purposeful distortion.

That being said, though, I think that Israel owes it to all of its citizens to allow space for both narratives to be discussed. I don't think it's fair to the Arab citizens to arbitrarily negate their narrative just because some Jewish citizens might not be comfortable with it, or might be afraid of creating a situation where the Arab narrative gains credibility.

Given that most if not all Israeli-Arabs already believe in their own narrative over the Jewish narrative, allowing the Arab narrative to be taught in Arab schools (alongside the Jewish narrative, which is already being taught there), is a step towards showing them that Jewish-Israeli society is willing to accept them for who they are, without trying to erase the history that they believe.

I believe that both narratives have their merits, their truths and their legends, and just because Jews are in the majority doesn't make it right for us to dismiss the other narrative. We'll never be able to move into the future if we can't come to grips with the past.