Prior to the publication of its proposal for a "constitution by consensus,"
the Israel Democracy Institute decided to address the Arabs of Israel and
ask them their opinion on the matter. In the survey, conducted on behalf of
the IDI by the Arab Yafa Institute, it emerged that about three out of
every four Arab citizens of this country agree with the definition of
Israel as "a Jewish and democratic state." This, on condition that the
definition also ensures full equal rights for Arabs.
The very few people in Israel who knew about the findings of this survey,
which was conducted in September, were quite surprised. Some of them
perhaps doubted its reliability. After all, for many years now the Jewish
public in Israel has been fed a diet of sensational newspaper headlines and
incendiary declarations by political leaders and heads of the various
military establishments warning of the increasing extremism among the Arabs
They cast doubt on the Arab citizens' loyalty to the state and, in the best
case, they explained that the Arab citizens were suffering from identity
problems and were torn between loyalty to their people and loyalty to their
country. And when a group of Arabs appeared who said they didn't feel this
double belonging involved any paradox and that they were getting along very
well with the fact that it is an integral part of both the State of Israel
and the Palestinian people, and that it even sees belonging to both groups
as a privilege, so that it can bridge between them - at that point they
said: This is good, but this is a marginal and unrepresentative group.
And now, out of the blue, a survey has cropped up in which more than 77
percent of those questioned said they would "support" or "definitely
support" the establishment of a constitution that defines Israel as a
Jewish and democratic state that ensures full equality to Arabs. This is
contrary to the stereotype of Arabs that prevails in this country. This is
not congruent with the wind that is blowing from the direction of the
security establishment. Therefore the publicity given to the survey has
been modest. Modest? An understatement - it has been meager in the extreme.
Imagine the headlines that would have blared in the media had the result
been the other way around and 77 percent of the Arab citizens had said they
opposed the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, and what reactions
would have been heard from the politicians. And if in a Haifa University
survey, which was published six months ago, about two-thirds of the Jews
said the Arabs should be encouraged to leave the country - imagine how many
would have said this had that been the case.
The results of the survey conducted by Yafa are a direct message from the
Arab population to the Jewish population. A message of conciliation, peace
and partnership of paramount importance. The Arabs are saying, in effect,
that not only do they accept the State of Israel as an existing fact, and
as part of the resolution of the conflict, but also, and most importantly,
they recognize it as an expression of the self-definition of the Jewish
people and recognize the right of this people to a state of its own that is
defined as a Jewish state.
There is no better proof that the Arabs of Israel aspire to contribute
their share to a peaceful solution to the conflict between their people and
their country. And incidentally, this definite opinion does not clash at
all with the fact that the Arabs of Israel belong to the Palestinian people
and the Arab nation. On the contrary. They are taking this position from
within the full understanding that the solution to the conflict must be on
the basis of two states. That is, they want their people to have a state of
their own alongside the Jewish State of Israel.
It is unnecessary to mention that their condition - a democratic state in
which Arabs enjoy full equality - is above all a condition that serves the
interest of the State of Israel and its Arab and Jewish citizens equally.
And this position merits a suitable response by Jewish society and the
state as a whole.
Nazir Majali is a commentator on Israeli affairs for Arab television
stations and in the newspaper Al Sharq al Awsat.
Source: Ha'aretz, October 21, 2004
Visit the Ha'aretz website at http://www.haaretzdaily.com/
Distributed by the Common Ground News Service.
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.
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