Photo: Meir Azoulai
Arab-Israelis mark Land Day (archive photo)
Photo: Meir Azoulai

Fifth column forever?

Why is Arab criticism always labeled as conspiracy to destroy Israel?

The Arab-Israeli public recently marked "Land Day." This event originated in 1976, when thousands went on strike and protested the government's intention to expropriate land in northern Israel in order to establish Jewish communities. Six Arab citizens were killed during these protests, and since that time the Palestinian people and broad sections of the Arab people have been marking "Land Day" on March 30 every year as a symbol of the struggle against discrimination and aspiration for peace and equality.


In the psyche of the majority of the Jewish public, "Land Day" has been etched as a baseless, motiveless emotional storm. Superficial news stories on television and in the press, several photos from the march, a paragraph or two, and perhaps another sound bite all serve to reinforce the impression that Arab citizens are disconnecting from the State. Mostly there is no mention of the circumstances that gave rise to the event or their importance in the Arab narrative.


The second public platform used by the Jewish public to view the Arab public is the many declarations of politicians who present the Arabs as an existential threat. For example, Avigdor Lieberman's declaration that the Supreme Arab-Israeli Monitoring Committees "supports Israel's destruction."


This year, "Land Day" was marked against the backdrop of several documents that present harsh criticism and concrete proposals on a pact regarding relations between the State and its Arab citizens. These documents have been perceived to reflect a threat. For example, the Shin Bet security service characterized Arabs in Israel as a "strategic threat."


Rhetoric of 'extermination'

Whenever Arabs speak up and voice criticism that does not flatter Israel's policies, this criticism is labeled as an attempt to destroy and exterminate. Every time the question of the relationship between the State and its Arabs citizens is on the political and media agenda in Israel, many opinion leaders choose to consistently make use of rhetoric of "extermination."


This use is not casual: It is connected to the most painful experience in the Jewish collective memory and arouses difficult connotations. The rhetoric and myth regarding the "threat" are used to reject any criticism or proposal for change. This even shapes to a large extent the perception of the Arab public being an "enemy" and apparently legitimizes the continuation of hostile policies towards it instead of reaching a mutual understanding.


However, the constitutional proposal we raised, just like other documents published recently, did not only feature criticism but also alternatives that take Jewish citizens into consideration. The documents attempted to propose arrangements that would provide equality for all, both Jews and Arabs. The elimination and "extermination" of Jews is not what the offers care most about, but rather, possible ways for creating a common future. Moreover, those who drafted the documents constantly emphasize that we are talking about a basis for dialogue, rather than "red lines."


The exclusion of Arabs from the media and other public circles in Israel limits the possibility of the others to be exposed to new information about Arabs and prevents them from finding out, in depth, what Arabs really think.


Thus, without direct contacts and with the absence of fair reporting, the Jewish public is left with stereotypes and a one-dimensional picture that are very difficult to disprove. And this process is like the "chicken or the egg" debate – the Arab public, which is increasingly marginalized, is undergoing natural processes of alienation from its country of residence. The obstacles are only growing among both sides. In order to break through them we need work that would replace the rhetoric of "extermination" by "change" and "threat" by "cooperation."


פרסום ראשון: 04.07.07, 11:11
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