Ever since its inception, Israel has tried to create a buffer between its Palestinian citizens and Palestinian non-citizens. Within its borders, the State has been cultivating Palestinians with an Israeli psyche. Some argue that given our realities this is an impossible mission and that Palestinians Israelis shall forever remain more Arab than Israeli – as long as a conflict persists, they cannot feel Israeli and their hearts shall lie with our enemies.
However, others claim that the close ties forged between the two communities, coupled with the process of secularization and modernization, push Palestinian Israelis closer to the general public. Jewish optimists, and quite a few Arabs, hope that the integration between the two population groups will be so deep that Palestinian Israelis would feel that their identity is first and foremost Israeli.
Equality before the law is the most important means in securing the above objective. Verdicts that grant equal status to Palestinian Israelis in leasing state-owned land, or the fact that an Arab judge headed the panel that tried President Moshe Katsav are prominent examples of reinforcing equality through the law.
The equality of the law in respect to the breaching of national security directly pertains to the shaping of our Palestinian citizens’ Israeli identity. Had we clung to this position, we would not be releasing Palestinian Israelis in the framework of prisoner swaps. An Israeli criminal who committed a crime in Israel should serve his sentence in an Israeli prison. Equality under the law also includes the deprivation of freedom under equal terms.
‘Your victory is our victory’
Israel clung to this position almost to the end of the Gilad Shalit negotiations and withdrew from it only their final stages. Shin Bet Director Yoram Cohen said that it’s better to release a few Israelis, most of them elderly who will not go back to their old ways, than to free several young Palestinian terrorists with great desire to act against us.
This is a bad argument, because releasing six more terrorists would have been insignificant as we’re releasing hundreds of others. It would have been a good argument only if we were convinced that there was no other choice and that the fate of the deal hinged on this release. Yet I do not believe this was the case.
When the State included Israeli prisoners in the list of detainees to be released, it told Palestinian Israelis that they are not like other Israelis. They are subjected to different kind of laws and are removed from the general public; they are a “special case.”
There is no telling how this declaration will be affecting a few or many Palestinian Israelis, yet I assume that it will be entrenched in their consciousness, pushing them further away from us and vice versa.
The festive celebrations being prepared in the communities of Arab Israelis to be freed in the Shalit swap and the words uttered on the issue by Islamic Movement spokesmen reinforce my estimate. They are saying almost explicitly: Your victory is also our victory in the struggle against the State of Israel, where we constitute one-fifth of the population.
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