As Prof. Robert O. Freedman indicated (in two postings down) there is an ongoing perception among many Israelis that their countrymen, Arab citizens, are “disloyal” or pose a possible security risk. But there were also some elements of a breakthrough for Arab or Palestinian Israelis toward greater equality and respect. The following is what we recently learned from Mohammad Darawshe.
Our friend from his days at the Givat Haviva Institute, Darawshe has moved on to become director of development for Israel and Europe at the Abraham Fund. A remarkable “change agent” and advocate for equal rights for Palestinian Israelis, he was relatively upbeat in his appearance on September 12, as Meretz USA’s guest at Beit Shalom.
Sharing bomb shelters with Jewish Israelis in mixed towns such as Haifa and Acco, and suffering losses where they did not have shelters and sirens (about half of all dead and wounded Israeli civilians were Arab citizens), the country’s Arab population attracted an unprecedented amount of sympathetic news media coverage. Darawshe reports that for almost the first time, Arab citizens were presented as individuals with names and faces.
He leveraged this fact to cajole and shame the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government to make unprecedented efforts to include Arab communities in relief services and reconstruction assistance – including the placement of 14,000 Arab children among 40,000 summer camp places funded by the Jewish Agency. Advances are being made for Arab towns to be designated as “frontline” communities for the first time, with the granting of special assistance, equal to that of Jewish localities, associated with that designation
Darawshe indicated that NGOs were working with each other to an unprecedented degree, with partnerships established between the Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency, the New Israel Fund, Abraham Fund and Givat Haviva. He spoke of “co-existence” organizations becoming more of a “movement” now.
He also spoke of the poltiical dimension, when nine of the twelve Arab Members of Knesset chose not to accept President Assad’s invitation to go to Syria (only the three MKs of Bashara’s Balad party visited Damascus). Arab community leaders made it clear to them that it would be especially provocative and counter-productive during wartime, for Israeli-Arab political leaders to visit a country allied with Hezbollah. (In his words, the Arab MKs were told to “shut up.”)
Mohammad Darawshe’s strategy is to use Israel’s self-image as a democracy to make it more inclusive and equitable in the treatment of all its citizens. He uses the same formulation as that of the Meretz-Yahad party, that Israel is a Jewish state that must also be the state of all its citizens.
In the Q & A after, he reflected with some bitterness on his efforts in organizing the Arab sector of the population to vote for Ehud Barak in 1999; the Arab voter turnout increased from 63 to 78 percent, with 98 percent of their votes going to Barak. Barak had promised that for the first time there would be an Arab coalition partner in the government, but he immediately reversed himself; and even Meretz, which had insisted that it would not enter into coaltion with Barak without an Arab partner, did not fulfill its pledge. So there is progress, but still a long way for Israeli Arabs to go to achieve full equality.