Mohammad Darawshe of The Abraham Fund speaks on co-existence at St Ethelburga

St Ethelburga, Bishopsgate

I love the way plucky little St Ethelburga – Centre for Reconciliation and Peace and venue for this event – looks against The Gherkin.

Mohammad Darawshe, peace activist and political analyst, is the Director of External Relations at the Abraham Fund. A summary of his presentation is follows the introduction to The Abraham Fund, below.

In 2001 The Abraham Fund Initiatives and the Citizen’s Accord Forum co-initiated and sponsored The Co-existence Network – a multi-year project that unites, supports and professionalises coexistence practitioners and organisations across Israel. In its early days, it focussed on what Darawshe calls the “classical co-existence work” of funding projects. However, these only worked on the small scale. In 2003 a strand of policy-oriented programmes began in parallel, resulting in a network of over 170 member organisations dedicated to co-existence activites. In 2005, the Mirkam (“tapestry”) project in the Galilee initiated the study of Arab language and culture in 15 schools. The project was a success, and with funding from the Jewish Agency will be extended to 130 schools in September 2007. Additional to this work are the forums – for town planning, for women and, an area of focus, for youth encounters. Many Arab Israeli and Jewish Israeli young people grow up entirely insulated from each other, the first time they meet being at university as radicalised students. The youth encounters forum exists to provide sustained opportunities for structured encounters and pairings which can move beyond ephemeral experiences which “wash away with the next bomb or the next election campaign” and provide a chance for young people to develop relationships and to discuss “issues which have friction”.

A police forum has brought about policy which requires all police in Arab Israeli towns to have undergone Arab language and culture training. There is now a strong demand for more police stations in Arab Israeli areas, and the Forum continues to seek models for training a diverse, multi-cultural training of police as a service rather than a controlling arm of the government.

There is also a government training programme for the policy makers, the smaller decision makers many of whom have never visited an Arab town. Darawshe observes that the power to irradicate the “de facto” discrimination against Arab Israelis resides in these people, rather than the Israeli legal system which is, he says, “one of the best in the world” with 120 laws protecting the equal rights of Arab Israelis. All that remains between Arab Israelis and their equality is the implementation of these 120 laws.

It’s late and I’m tired, so below is a simple regurge, a little bit unconnected, of his history of Arab Israelis and . To summarise, Arab Israelis have experienced deplorable discrimination and latterly a steady, accelerating, though still slow, trend towards equality in law and opportunity.

Mohammad Darawshe’s brief history of Arab Israelis

On 14th May 1948, 164,000 Mandate Palestinians, the majority of whom were rural farmers and unclear about the implications, “stayed home”. The next day, they found themselves “behind enemy lines” and Israeli citizens.

From that time until 1963, the Jewish Israeli establishment regarded their Arab minority through “security spectacles” and subjected them to military control, a state of affairs which was only fully lifted in 1966 when their citizenship became “kosher”. During this period, Arab Israelis (A.I.s) experienced what Darawshe termed their “political orphanage”, a function of their disinheritance in Israel and rejection by Palestinians who regarded them as having “sold out to the zionist entity”.

After a short period of calm and optimism, the 30th of March 1976 saw the first clash with Israeli police over A.I. land which was being confiscated by the Israeli government “in the national interest”. This clash, in which 6 A.I. killed and 56 injured, was subsequently referred to as Land Day. A.I.s protested that they did not have equal rights, that their citizenship was not kosher, that “we live in our homeland but not in our country”. At this time began an exodus of Arab Israeli intellectuals seeking reconnection and aspects of commonality with the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza (by this time under occupation) a reaching out that was not reciprocated by P.L.O., which determined to concentrate on the Palestinian territories and avoid taking on the additional issue of Israeli citizenship. “Your problem is civil rights”, said Arafat to Darawshe, “so go and seek your future in Israel.” Many Palestinians regard A.I.s as traitors. “If staying home is treason, then we’re traitors”, responded Darawshe.

In 1992, for every $6 spent on an Israeli child, $1 was spent on a Palestinian child. Between 1992 and 1995, Rabin made adjustments in the A.I. favour, paid for in A.I. Knesset votes. In Rabin’s administration, the A.I. political parties were not part of a coalition (the Israeli Right would have resisted this, he said) but constituted a “preventive block” which voted with Rabin.

Netanyahu gained power for three difficult years, followed by an election campaign in 1999. During this campaign Barak bargained with the A.I. political parties, promising to grant their request for a legitimate place in government and, crucially, a redefinition of Israel as a state for Jews and its citizens. Barak was elected to power with 99% of Arab Israeli vote, but on 17th May reneged on the latter promise, precipitating an Arab Israeli boycott of the Left Wing government and a lasting loss of confidence. The boycott spread after violence clashes within Israel, which coincided with the initiation of the 2nd Intifada. Israeli Jews perceived a connection and coordination of unrest between A.I.s and the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. However, the subsequent report into the unrest by Israel’s Orr Commission identified the root causes as systematic discrimination against Arab citizens, ongoing since 1948. For Darawshe, the Orr Report constituted a “glatt kosher stamp”- the mainstreaming and legitimisation of a topic which used to be sidelined.

Since the Orr report Arab Israelis have begun to participate in all expressions of public life, including the first Muslim Cabinet member, Raleb Majadele, responsible for Science, Sport and Culture, to involvement in sensitive activities such as Finance, Foreign Affairs and Defence. The current proportion of civil servants, 4.6%, is to be increased to 8% – Darawshe has an argument about the speed of change and the discrepancy between the targets and the 17% of the population which is Arab Israeli – however he noted a clear trend towards equality.

In 1992 the Oslo Accord promoted the rights of Arab Israelis to “cash their citizenship” in the form of health care, education, funding for municipality – equal rights. These rights are ratified in the form of 120 laws. All that remains is to implement these fully and, he emphasises, it is in Israel’s interest to accomplish this so that they can “export the story of co-existence” which refutes the current narrative of oppression and armed resistance which generates a negative energy and more de facto, or unconscious, anti-Arab Israeli discrimination. Some argue that before equality must come peaceful co-existence – Darawshe feels that they must be parallel priorities – priorities which are not based on pity or rhetoric, but on the more sustainable quality of common and interrelated self-interest.

Among the questions was one about military service. Darawshe observed that it was premature to expect Arab Israelis to serve in the military, when this would involve exercising occupation. Yet this non-service does not forestall equality. Alternatives such as equivalent community service are under consideration.  Moreover, he felt that much military activity was liable to be more of a “security excuse” than a “security argument”, and Israel should shoulder the burden of proving that it was necessary.

Regarding the right of return for Palestinians, he described the negotiated 2001 Tabah formula through which 180,000 Palestinians would be able to return to Israel, within a family reunification framework acceptable to Israel, whereas other refugees would have the right to return to Palestine. He perceived the demographic concerns – the idea that Jews should be guaranteed to remain as a majority in Israel, as racist. “If you want to remain a majority, enjoy life in your bedroom. And send Arab women to university, because then they’ll be too busy”. The A.I. and Palestinian birthrate is falling, he said, in line with the rest of the developing world to half of what it was twelve years ago.

He perceived the threat from Islamists as more bombast than substance, something that “if you rub it a little is far more pragmatic than it seems”. He points to a more pressing but less recognised threat from A.I. secular separatists who demand their own state within Israel with such force that, he said, Hamas has had to urge them to “calm down” or risk jeopardising the movement for a Palestinian state.

Lastly he told an anecdote about Sharon, who said in 2001 that Israel must learnt to change its relationship to – not its Arab, but Palestinian citizens of Israel, a significant boost to Palestinian national aspirations. For Darawshe, Palestinians and Arab Israelis are the same, but their future is different. 80% of Arab Israelis would choose to remain in Israel in the event of the establishment of a Palestinian state, and 88% of those believe that this state can best be brought about through peaceful co-existence with Israel as a state for the Jews and its citizens.

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