For Israel Arabs, 60 Years Adrift
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Many Israeli Arabs live in packed towns and villages, often next to their original lands and homes. (NY Times)
CAIRO — For Jamal Abdulhadi Mahameed, Israel's 60th birth anniversary is no reason to celebrate but to reflect on decades of discrimination and injustice. "We are prohibited from using our own land," the 69-year-old Israeli Arab told the New York Times
on Wednesday, May 7.
"This was my house. This is where I was born," he said standing next to a long-neglected home built by his grandfathers in the village of Lajoun.
The piece of land surrounding the house, now filled with overgrown scrub and pines, was planted by the family for generations.
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But since the creation of Israel on the rubble of Palestine in 1948, Mahameed has not been able to return to his family's land.
Instead, he spent six decades a few miles away in the crowded town of Um el-Fahm, watching his land farmed or built upon by outsiders.
Many Israeli Arabs, descendants of Palestinians who stayed after hundreds of thousands of compatriots fled or were driven from their homes by Zionist gangs in 1948, live in packed towns and villages, often next to their original villages.
Israel, which came to exist on the rubble of Palestine, denies them from returning to these villages.
Mahameed and 200 fellow villagers have gone to court to retrieve their lands and properties.
Their case was rejected by the district court, which supported the government's claim that the land of Lajoun constitutes a settlement.
"Land is presence," says Israeli academic Clinton Bailey.
"If you want to be present here, you have to have land. What you cede to Arabs can no longer be used for Jews who may still want to come."
According to statistics released by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday, May 6, Arabs in Israel are estimated at 1.5 million or 20 percent of the 7.3 million population.
Israeli Arabs are much troubled by attempts to obliterate their identity.
"I am not a Jew," Eman Kassem-Sliman, an Arab radio journalist, told the Times
"How can I belong to a Jewish state?"
Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state will be the coup de grace to the Palestinian struggle for a statehood on the historical land, including millions of refugees.
For Israeli Arabs, a pure Jewish state would mean no room for them.
"If they define this as a Jewish state, they deny that I am here," fumes Sliman.
Israelis increasingly see Arabs as one of the central challenges for the future of their state.
Though legally considered Israeli citizens, many Arabs face discrimination in all walks of life.
Poverty rate among them is almost twice that of Israeli Jews.
According to a June 2007 Democracy Index of the Israel Democracy Institute, only half Israelis believe Jews and Arabs must have full equal rights, and 78 percent oppose the inclusion of Arab political parties in the government.
The majority of Jews, as polls also show, want Arabs to be surgically removed to preserve the Jewish, Zionist character of Israel.
But Arabs are determine to fight off discrimination.
"No matter what happens, we will not leave here again," says Abdulwahab Darawshe, the head of the Arab Democratic Party and a former Knesset member.
"That was a big mistake in 1948."