Amid the struggle for recognition, acceptance, respect and the conflict with their own identities, Palestinian citizens of Israel need to find the middle ground.
The middle ground is a place where Palestinian Israeli citizens live with a balance between their heritage and history, and the need and want to integrate and flourish within Israeli society.
Despite the fact that Palestinian Arabs make up to 21% of the Israeli population, we still battle with defining ourselves and our position in this country. This has led to a rise of two extremes within the Arab Israeli population which try to legitimize their presence and causes in Israel. However, both have failed miserably.
Initially, Palestinians within Israel were mostly tied to their national identity and the Palestinian cause. However, as generations grow this is not the case anymore. “To hell with Palestine and Palestinians…who gives a damn?” My Arab classmate said to me in Hebrew. His words were definitely not shocking.
He is an example of the first extreme: Arabs who have given up, ignore or deny their history, culture, language and heritage in order to integrate into Israeli society. These people will disguise themselves and try to eliminate anything that gives away the fact that they are Palestinians and Arabs.
We can’t deny that it is only natural that after years of Arab and Jewish mixing we will catch onto each other’s traits. Furthermore, we can’t deny that there is a racist rhetoric against Arabs in Israel which drives some to hide their true selves. However, we Arabs, need to understand that eradicating who we are will bring us nowhere!
The problem with this extreme is that their actions and lack of confidence legitimize the idea and perhaps the reality that Arabs are second class citizens. It gives the impression that the only way to be accepted and respected by society and government is by not being Arabs. Counter productivity at its best.
On the other extreme, are the Palestinian nationalists who refuse to integrate. They claim that laws such as “the nation-state law” show that Israel is only a Jewish state, and are evidence to the fact that they simply can’t be part of Israeli society, even if they had the will to do so. These people blame Israel for rights violations of Arab citizens (which is not false) and all the wrongs that have occurred to Palestinians pre-1948 and to this day (which is an unrealistic claim).
The issue with such attitudes is that many on this extreme play the role of victim, yet refuse to cooperate with those who have influence and power over change in Israeli society and government. Many complain that their voices are suppressed, but still refuse to vote. Furthermore, they fail to recognize that the right to criticize the government is one many of their Palestinian fellows elsewhere lack. By doing so, their image amongst Israelis is of ungrateful complainers.
Indeed, there are clear social and economic differences between Jews and Arabs which make integration difficult. Furthermore, it is a reality that Arabs in Israel are viewed as “the other” or “the enemy” by many. However, alienating ourselves from society, politics and culture will legitimize and justify such claims and this situation as a whole. Once again, counterproductive.
Palestinian Arab Israelis will flourish only once they find the middle ground! When we recognize the history that runs in our blood, yet at the same time acknowledge the reality that we live in. We must never shy away from who we are, and stand for our rights and causes. However, we must do so while acknowledging the fact that we live in Israel. This means that we must not make ourselves alien to Israeli society, and work to find partners within it by changing our victim mentality into one of taking responsibility.
Most of us want to integrate, influence and grow within this country and many of us do so. An example of that are Arab doctors and nurses on the frontline fighting COVID-19 —evidence of how integral Arabs are to this country. Further, evidence of this is the last election (2/3/2020) where there was almost 70% voter turnout by the Arabs in Israel. It is true that 90% voted for the Arab Joint List, which shows that we are of course still not fully integrated. However, many more were encouraged to vote due to the party announcing its readiness to sit in the Israeli coalition for the first time—despite the Arab and Palestinian pride showing a willingness to find partners in the Israeli government to bring change. This is the only way forward.
Minorities over the world have succeeded in doing so, such as the Jewish orthodox community in the USA. Who despite antisemitism have been able to influence and grow in US society and politics.
Anyone who might think this is an easy task, will be naive. In our case, it seems much more difficult due to religious sensitivities, political conflicts and war. However, we must at least begin to make this our goal.