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 Guest Blog

We deserve dialogue, not discrimination

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Wednesday, 1 December, 2010

Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel represent 20 per cent of the country's population, but have long been sidelined from the peace process. In this blog, the Mossawa Center - the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel - argues that giving them a place at the table would benefit Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin’s accusation that former president Jimmy Carter is a “Hamas supporter” is just another example of the current Israeli government’s willingness to label and divide, and its reluctance to engage in real dialogue with different sectors of society that have a stake in the peace process.

Our work at the Mossawa Center is to advocate for the rights of one of those sectors: the Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel. Though we represent 20 per cent of the population in Israel, our voice is absent from the current peace talks, an omission which is both detrimental and potentially dangerous.

As Arab citizens of Israel we are in a unique position of accessibility to both Israeli and Arab society. We speak Arabic and Hebrew, have been educated in Israeli schools and understand the complexities of the political situation. Yet rather than give us a seat at the table, the current government is pursuing policies that deepen the discrimination against us.

If the Israeli government can’t find a way to for the 6 million Jewish citizens of Israel to coexist peacefully with the 1.5 million Arab citizens within its own borders, how can we expect it to do so with the 400 million people of the neighbouring Arab nations?

It is in the best interest of everyone involved for the government to change its tone from racism and discrimination to promote coexistence and equality. For any sustainable peace, we must move from a mindset of walls and separation to one of openness to living peacefully in the greater Middle East.

Unfortunately, many government policies are taking things in the opposite direction. Currently, though we are 20 per cent of the population, only 5 per cent of the state budget is allocated for development in Arab municipalities. Arab lands are being confiscated and no new Arab towns have been created since 1948.

Our elected leaders are under constant attack in the Knesset while Israeli ministers make racist and violent remarks against us and face no consequences. Justice remains far off in several cases of murder of Arab citizens. And, in the Negev desert, Bedouin Arab villages declared “unrecognised” by the government are being bulldozed to the ground.

Add to all this the recent passage in the Israeli cabinet of the “loyalty oath” amendment to the citizenship law. Asking future citizens to pledge allegiance to a religious ideology would be like requiring immigrants to the United States to swear loyalty to a Christian state; such a demand is at odds with the basic principles of democracy.

Another example of an attempt to alienate the Arab community is Foreign Minister Lieberman’s recent talk of population exchange. As part of a future two-state solution, the Foreign Minister has proposed moving part of Israel’s Arab population to a newly created Palestinian state in exchange for Israel’s evacuation of the settlements in the West Bank. His proposals were accompanied by a large-scale military drill in which security forces prepared for violent demonstrations by Arabs following an agreement to exchange populations. These words and actions are not productive; they serve only to provoke fear and violence.

We, the Palestinian citizens of Israel, are asking for equal rights as citizens of this state. We ask that the government codify these rights in Israel’s constitution. We say: don’t take our land or destroy our homes; give our municipal councils a fair share of state development funds; allow us to preserve our culture and traditions; and give us a seat at the table in the peacebuilding process. We are in a unique position to communicate between the Israeli and Palestinian people, and we don’t want to be ignored.

The Mossawa Center, the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to promote equality for the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel. More at http://www.mossawacenter.org.

Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Elders or The Elders Foundation.

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