dinsdag 13 maart 2007

Equality of obligations (by Moshe Arens)


Haaretz, March 13, 2007
Equality of obligations
By Moshe Arens

The recent proposals for radical changes to Israel's government
structure presented by some of Israel's Arab intellectuals in an
effort to accommodate the Arab minority, have sparked a renewed
debate about the place of Israel's Arab citizens in Israeli
society and its political scene. The fact that the authors of
these proposals insist on referring to Israel's Arab citizens as
"Arab Palestinians" serves as a reminder that they see themselves
as Palestinians who, by force of circumstance - in their
parlance, as a result of the "disaster" of 1948 - are now
citizens of Israel in "their own land," who have the right to
claim a far greater role in making the decisions that shape
Israel's future and governance than they currently have in the
existing Israeli system of parliamentary democracy.

As some of Israel's Jewish citizens see it, the tensions that
characterize the relations between the State of Israel and some
of its Arab citizens will not and cannot be resolved until the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved, or possibly until
hostility in the Arab world or even the Islamic world toward
Israel has ceased to be a significant factor in the Middle East.
If this were the case, then such tension is likely to continue
for a very long time. A future where possibly a quarter of
Israel's citizens feel alienated from the state, hostile to it,
and supportive of its enemies is a bleak and even dangerous one.
Creating an alternate future in which many or most of Israel's
Arab citizens identify with the state and feel a sense of loyalty
to it is probably the most important challenge facing Israel.
This subject, neglected by successive governments, is crying out
for attention.

Are we destined to live with a large minority in our midst that
feels dissatisfied with its lot and identifies with Israel's
enemies rather than with Israel itself, whose citizenship they
share with the country's Jewish citizens? This question led me to
accept the position of the minister for Arab affairs 20 years
ago, in the first national unity government, led by Yitzhak
Shamir. It was, at the time, a position without a ministry and
without a budget, of little influence, that hardly any senior
politician wanted. The position has since ceased to exist - an
indication of the lack of importance ascribed to it on Israel's
political agenda.

I had encountered the problems that some of Israel's minorities
had to deal with during my first tenure as defense minister in
1983-84. I discovered then that Druze youngsters - obligated to
serve in the IDF like their Jewish counterparts - did not enjoy
equal opportunity in the army, as many positions and branches of
the service were not open to them. The military bureaucracy was
slow to follow my orders to correct this situation, and it was
only during my second tenure as defense minister (1990-92) that
full equality was institutionalized in the IDF. Today all
branches of the IDF are open to Druze soldiers, a Druze major
general sits on the IDF General Staff, and a significant number
of IDF senior officers are Druze.

The year I spent as minister in charge of Arab affairs encouraged
me to believe that it was possible to bring many of Israel's Arab
citizens to a greater identification with Israel and to an
acceptance that with equality of rights should come equality of
obligations toward the state and eventually equality of
opportunity. That living in a democracy, in a country in which
the rule of law prevails, in an economy that was making great
progress to the benefit of all, could be a source of pride and
satisfaction to Arabs as well as Jews, that might well overcome
the tribal sense of association with Israel's enemies. Whatever
sympathy I got from Israeli Arabs for this idea came from a
recognition that I was serious about incorporating them into
Israeli society as equals. Whether my views were shared by the
Israeli government remains unclear; it is a question that haunts
Israel's relationship with its Arab citizens to this day.

Many of those who believed that the tensions between Israel and
its Arab citizens were inextricably linked to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, expecting that the Oslo Accords and
Israel's recognition of Yasser Arafat and the PLO as its partners
in a peace process would assuage these tensions, were to be
disappointed. The tensions have only increased over the years.
There is little reason to expect that even if and when an
agreement to establish a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria
and Gaza is signed, such an agreement would spell the end of the
difficulties that characterize the relations between Israel and
its Arab citizens. On the contrary, it may very well exacerbate them.

Israel must, therefore, find means of normalizing this
relationship regardless of whether any progress is made on the
Palestinian front or on Israel's relations with the Arab and
Islamic world. The fact that this issue had been neglected may
have left the impression that Israel's Arab citizens are
patiently waiting for Israel's government to awake from its
slumber. But this is not the case. A constant and fierce struggle
for the hearts and minds of the Arab citizens has been ongoing
for years now. Arrayed on one side is the Islamic Movement and
the radical secular Arab wing, both attempting to cast their net
over all of Israel's Arab citizens - Muslim, Christian, Druze and
Bedouin - claiming to speak for them all, and preaching hostility
to Israel. On the other side, meanwhile, successive Israeli
governments have been soundly asleep.

Particularly significant are the inroads the Islamic Movement has
made among the Bedouin of the Negev, who in the past had not been
particularly religious and had not seen themselves as
Palestinians. Day by day more and more Bedouin are being moved
from essentially friendly positions to hostility toward Israel,
while Bedouin youngsters are being discouraged from volunteering
for army service.

During my second tenure as defense minister I encouraged the
formation of an infantry battalion made up largely of Bedouin
youngsters who had volunteered for a three-year service in the
IDF. This battalion has given exemplary service and even
attracted some Muslim and Christian volunteers from Arab villages
in the North. Unfortunately, defense ministers who succeeded me
have not shown the same enthusiasm for this project, which I had
hoped would lead in time to obligatory military service for all
Arab youth.

The importance of IDF service in ushering youngsters toward
greater integration in Israeli society cannot be overestimated.
The degree of Israelization of the Druze community, the drastic
decline in its birthrate over the years, and the loyalty to
Israel demonstrated again and again by this community, is the
direct result of its youngsters' service in the IDF. In fact, it
is difficult to foresee the integration of Israel's Arab citizens
into society without them sharing equally in the obligations of
citizenship. Without it, divisions will remain, and possibly
widen, between those Israelis who are prepared to defend Israel
and those who are not.

In any case, unless the government takes the initiative and
contests the attempts by elements hostile to Israel to draw Arab
citizens of Israel to their cause, Israel will be facing
tremendous difficulties in the years to come. The problem goes
way beyond budgetary allocations and a symbolic Arab minister in
the government. But it is by no means a lost cause.



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