This is J. Zel Lurie’s column written on Oct. 4:
You can learn a lot from overheard conversations.
Forty years ago, in a restaurant somewhere in Israel, I overheard an Arab waiter protesting to a visiting American Jew that his village had no electricity, while the new Jewish settlement which had been built on the ruins of a neighboring Arab village, abandoned during the War of Independence, “had everything.”
The American replied: “Jews in the United States raise money to help other Jews. If you need help, apply to King Saud.”
“I’m an Israeli not a Saudi,” muttered the Arab waiter as he turned toward our table.
Still angry, he told us that his grandfather had sheltered a pioneer Jewish settler in 1917 who was wanted by the Turks. Unlike his neighbors who in 1948 had fled to Lebanon, his village had chosen to live in Israel. “We deserve better treatment,” he said.
Another conversation took place in Dir el Assad 25 years ago. Dir el Assad lies across the highway from Carmiel, a large and bustling Jewish city, which had been built partly on Dir el Assad’s farm land. I was doing a story on the lack of sewage in Arab villages in the Galilee.
As milky waste water ran down the steps in front of his home, I talked to an Arab teacher who was leading his neighbors in an effort to get a budget from the government to build a sewer. But he didn’t talk much about the need for a sewer, which has since been built with a combination of local money and that of the Israeli authorities. His major complaint was that he had to pay tuition for his daughters music lessons at the Carmiel conservatory, which was free to residents of Carmiel.
I tried to soothe him. “Residents of Carmiel pay taxes to support their schools,” I said. But he would not be soothed.
Fast forward to last summer’s war in Lebanon. Yossi Klein Halevi reported in The New Republic a conversation he overheard while standing outside an Arab home in Haifa, which had been hit by a Katyusha killing two Arabs.
“A Muslim neighbor,” Yossi writes, “remarks that he had sent his family out of Haifa after Nasrallah had urged Haifa’s Arabs to flee the city to allow him to attack without harming his fellow Arabs,.‘Nasrallah said that he didn’t want to shed the blood of his own,’ he explained.
“’And are we not the same blood?’” demands a Jewish security guard dispatched to watch over the site. ‘We all share the blood of our father Abraham. Like it or not, we’re stuck with each other.’”
Unlike in 1948, not many Israeli Arabs listened to Nasrallah’s admonitions to flee. They know that they are far better off than their relatives who are sitting in Lebanon’s refugee camps.
Over 40 percent – 18 out of 43 – of the Israelis killed by almost 4,000 Katyushas were Israeli Arabs. Arabs make up 20 percent of the almost 7 million Israelis but they are half of the population of northern Israel where the Katyushas fell. The Arabs are now demanding their fair share of the billion dollars being raised to compensate and repair the damage in northern Israel.
“Stuck with each other” has finally entered the consciousness of American Jewish organizations which will raise a third of the billion dollars. They recently got together and decided to devote funds to helping Israeli Arabs.
Shalom Dichter, co-director of Sikkuy, which monitors government treatment of the Arab minority, is still worried about it, “because of the record of the State of Israel for unequal division of resources between Jewish and Arab citizens. Patterns of discrimination in government actions are deeply rooted in government services.”
For instance a small business development arm of the ministry of trade and industry accepted without question a donation from a Jew, who still thought like the Jewish makher, who told the Arab 40 years ago that he didn’t raise money to help Arabs. The donor specified that his money be used only to help Jews and military veterans.
While Sikkuy has published evidence year after year of government discrimination against Arabs it is still against the law and never admitted publicly. After an Israeli Arab entrepreneur had been refused a loan, the government’s legal counsel instructed the ministry to return the donation.
Jeff Kaye, public affairs director of the Jewish Agency, which, as of last week, had already dispensed $70 million, claimed that aid would be spent “absolutely proportionally” between Jews and Arabs. He estimated that 25 percent would go to Arabs, who make up half the population in the Galilee. Still that is a big advance for the Jewish Agency.
Four Israeli Arab villages on the Lebanese border, which hosted artillery batteries during the war, are going to court to demand that they be treated as well as their Jewish neighbors. The Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing on October 30.
And here is some good news from the Galilee. The two Galilean Jewish-Arab bilingual schools run by Hand in Hand opened the school year last month with 10 to 20 percent more pupils than the previous year.
But it’s time for minister of education Yuli Tamir to pay some attention to the Dovrat Commission report which recommended that the ministry foster Jewish-Arab education. As a first step, she should set up a department for Jewish-Arab education,
One of the Hand in Hand schools comes under the supervision of the department for Jewish schools. The other is supervised by the department for Arab schools. Both schools are run more or less the same way with identical curriculum.
There is a third Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem and a fourth bilingual school in the Jewish-Arab village of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam (the Oasis of Peace) in the Judean Hills.
Plans are under way for three more bilingual binational schools in Haifa, Beersheba and Tel Aviv. Pay attention, Yuli Tamir.