April 20, 2005
Friend of FLAME:
One of the persistent myths of the Arab/Israel conflict, a myth that
has been repeated so long and so often that it has become accepted
as a fact by most people, even in the United States, is that the Arabs
of Israel---over a million, more than 20% of the country's population---
suffer cruel pain and humiliation under the "Israeli yoke."
The reality, of course, is quite different. Indeed, the exact opposite
of this generally held perception is true. The great majority of Israeli
Arabs much prefer living in Israel and having Israeli citizenship,
rather than being citizens (or whatever) under the Palestinian Authority
or citizens of any other Arab country.
We ourselves dealt with this topic at some length quite a few years
ago in our hasbarah message (#8) "The Arabs of Israel,"
which you may find elucidating (http://www.factsandlogic.org/ad_08.html).
The article below, by Daniel Pipes, offers an up-to-date look at the
question of what Arab Israelis really want. Mr. Pipes is a distinguished
commentator on affairs of Israel and the Middle East and publisher
of the Middle East Quarterly, which we highly recommend. In
addition, for some time Pipes was one of FLAME's directors.
by Daniel Pipes, Middle East Quarterly, Spring,
If you have not yet done so, I recommend that you review FLAME's
latest hasbarah (public relations) message, "A Homeland for
the Palestinians? Why they? How about all those others?"
This piece, which is now appearing in publications nationwide,
examines the historically unprecedented claim of the Palestinians
to the land of Israel and to their own state. Of course, if you
would like to support the publication of this perspective, we
welcome your tax-deductible donation. Simply go to http://www.factsandlogic.org/make_a_donation.html
to make your contribution online.
In the Palestinian Authority's (PA) elections that took
place in January 2005, a significant percentage of Arab Jerusalemites
stayed away from the polls out of concern that voting in them might
jeopardize their status as residents of Israel. For example, the Associated
Press quoted one Rabi Mimi, a 28-year-old truck driver, who expressed
strong support for Mahmoud Abbas but said he had no plans to vote:
"I can't vote. I'm afraid I'll get into trouble. I don't want
to take any chances." Asked if he would vote, a taxi driver responded
with indignation, "Are you kidding? To bring a corrupt [Palestinian]
Authority here. This is just what we are missing."
This reluctanceas well as administrative incompetencehelped
explain why, in the words of the Jerusalem Post, "at several
balloting locations in the city [of Jerusalem], there were more foreign
election observers, journalists, and police forces out than voters."
It also explains why, in the previous PA election in 1996, a mere
10 percent of Jerusalem's eligible population voted, far lower than
the proportions elsewhere.
At first blush surprising, the worry about jeopardizing Israeli
residency turns out to be widespread among the Palestinians in Israel.
When given a choice of living under Zionist or Palestinian rule, they
decidedly prefer the former. More than that, there is a body of pro-Israel
sentiments from which to draw. No opinion surveys cover this delicate
subject, but a substantial record of statements and actions suggest
that, despite their anti-Zionist swagger, Israel's most fervid enemies
do perceive its political virtues. Even Palestinian leaders, between
their fulminations, sometimes let down their guard and acknowledge
Israel's virtues. This undercurrent of Palestinian love of Zion has
hopeful and potentially significant implications.
Pro-Israel expressions fall into two main categories: preferring to
remain under Israel rule and praising Israel as better than Arab regimes.
No Thank You, Palestinian Authority
Palestinians already living in Israel, especially in Jerusalem and
the "Galilee Triangle" area, tell, sometimes volubly, how
they prefer to remain in Israel.
Jerusalem. In mid-2000, when it appeared that some Arab-majority
parts of Jerusalem would be transferred to Palestinian Authority control,
Muslim Jerusalemites expressed less than delight at the prospect.
Peering over at Arafat's PA, they saw power monopolized by domineering
and corrupt autocrats, a thug-like police force, and a stagnant economy.
Arafat's bloated, nonsensical claims ("We are the one true democratic
oasis in the Arab region") only exacerbated their apprehensions.
Abd ar-Razzaq Abid of Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood
pointed dubiously to "what's happening in Ramallah, Hebron, and
the Gaza Strip" and asked if the residents there were well off.
A doctor applying for Israeli papers explained:
The whole world seems to be talking about the future of the Arabs
of Jerusalem, but no one has bothered asking us. The international
community and the Israeli Left seem to take it for granted that we
want to live under Mr. Arafat's control. We don't. Most of us despise
Mr. Arafat and the cronies around him, and we want to stay in Israel.
At least here I can speak my mind freely without being dumped in prison,
as well as having a chance to earn an honest day's wage.
In the colorful words of one Jerusalem resident, "The hell of
Israel is better than the paradise of Arafat. We know Israeli rule
stinks, but sometimes we feel like Palestinian rule would be worse."
The director of the Bayt Hanina community council in northern Jerusalem,
Husam Watad, found that the prospect of finding themselves living
under Arafat's control had people "in a panic. More than 50 percent
of east Jerusalem residents live below the poverty line, and you can
imagine how the situation would look if residents did not receive
[Israeli] National Insurance Institute payments." In the view
of Fadal Tahabub, a member of the Palestinian National Council, an
estimated 70 percent of the 200,000 Arab residents of Jerusalem preferred
to remain under Israeli sovereignty. A social worker living in Ras
al-Amud, one of the areas possibly falling under PA control,
said: "If a secret poll was conducted, I am sure an overwhelming
majority of Jerusalem Arabs would say they would prefer to stay in
Indeed, precisely when Palestinian rule seemed most likely in 2000,
the Israeli Interior Ministry reported a substantial increase in citizenship
applications from Arabs in eastern Jerusalem. A Jerusalem city councilor,
Roni Aloni, heard from many Arab residents about their not wanting
to live under PA control. "They tell mewe are not like
Gaza or the West Bank. We hold Israeli IDs. We are used to a higher
standard of living. Even if Israeli rule is not so good, it is still
better than that of the PA." Shalom Goldstein, an adviser on
Arab affairs to the Jerusalem mayor, found likewise: "People
look at what is happening inside the Palestinian-controlled areas
today and say to themselves, Thank God we have Israeli ID cards.'
In fact, most of the Arabs in the city prefer to live under Israeli
rule than under a corrupt and tyrannical regime like Yasser Arafat's."
So many Jerusalem Arabs considered taking out Israeli papers in 2000
that the ranking Islamic official in Jerusalem issued an edict prohibiting
his flock from holding Israeli citizenship (because this implies recognizing
Israeli sovereignty over the holy city). Faysal al-Husayni, the Palestine
Liberation Organization's man in charge of Jerusalem affairs, went
further: "Taking Israeli citizenship is something that can only
be defined as treason," and he threatened such people with exclusion
from the Palestinian state. Finding his threat ineffective, Husayni
upped the ante, announcing that Jerusalem Arabs who take Israeli citizenship
would have their homes confiscated. The PA's radio station confirmed
this, calling such persons "traitors" and threatening that
they would be "tracked down." Many Palestinians were duly
intimidated, fearing the authority's security forces.
But some spoke out. Hisham Gol of the Mount of Olives community council
put it simply: "I prefer Israeli control." An affluent West
Bank woman called a friend in Gaza to ask about life under the PA.
She heard an ear-full: "I can only tell you to pray that the
Israelis don't leave your town," because "the Jews are more
human" than Palestinians. One individual willing publicly to
oppose Arafat was Zohair Hamdan of Sur Bahir, a village in the south
of metropolitan Jerusalem; he organized a petition of Jerusalem Arabs
demanding that a referendum be held before Israel lets the Palestinian
Authority take power in Jerusalem. "For 33 years, we have been
part of the State of Israel. But now our rights have been forgotten."
Over a year and a half, he collected more than 12,000 signatures (out
of a total Jerusalem Arab population of 165,000). "We won't accept
a situation where we are led like sheep to the slaughterhouse."
Hamdan also expressed a personal preference that Sur Bahir remain
part of Israel and estimated that the majority of Palestinians reject
"Arafat's corrupt and tyrannical rule. Look what he's done in
Lebanon, Jordan, and now in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He has brought
one disaster after another on his people."
The Galilee Triangle. Nor are such pro-Israeli sentiments
limited to residents of Jerusalem. When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's
government released a trial balloon in February 2004 about giving
the Palestinian Authority control over the Galilee Triangle, a predominantly
Arab part of Israel, the response came strong and hard. As Mahmoud
Mahajnah, 25, told Agence France-Presse, "Yasir Arafat runs a
dictatorship, not a democracy. No one here would accept to live under
that regime. I've done my [Israeli] national service; I am a student
here and a member of the Israeli Football Association. Why would they
transfer me? Is that logical or legitimate?" One resident quoted
what he called a local saying, that "the evil' of Israel
is better than the heaven' of the West Bank." Shua
Sad, 22, explained why: "Here you can say whatever you
like and do whatever you wantso long as you don't touch the
security of Israel. Over there, if you talk about Arafat, they can
arrest you and beat you up." Another young man, Isam Abu
Alu, 29, put it differently: "Mr. Sharon seems to want
us to join an unknown state that doesn't have a parliament, or a democracy,
or even decent universities. We have close family ties in the West
Bank, but we prefer to demand our full rights inside Israel."
The entrance to Umm al-Fahm, the largest Muslim town in Israel, sports
the green flags of the Islamic Movement Party that rules the town,
along with a billboard denouncing Israel's rule over Jerusalem. That
said, Hashim Abd ar-Rahman, mayor and local leader of the Islamic
Movement, has no time for Sharon's suggestion: "Despite the discrimination
and injustice faced by Arab citizens, the democracy and justice in
Israel is better than the democracy and justice in Arab and Islamic
countries." Nor does Ahmed Tibi, an Israeli Arab member of parliament
and advisor to Arafat, care for the idea of PA control, which he calls
"a dangerous, antidemocratic suggestion."
Just 30 percent of Israel's Arab population, a May 2001 survey found,
agree to the Galilee Triangle being annexed to a future Palestinian
state, meaning that a large majority prefers to remain in Israel.
By February 2004, according to the Haifa-based Arab Center for Applied
Social Research, that number had jumped to 90 percent preferring to
remain in Israel. No less startling, 73 percent of Triangle Arabs
said they would resort to violence to prevent changes in the border.
Their reasons divided fairly evenly between those claiming Israel
as their homeland (43 percent) and those cherishing Israel's higher
standard of living (33 percent). So intense was the Arab opposition
to ceding the Galilee Triangle to the Palestinian Authority that Sharon
quickly gave the idea up.
The issue arose a bit later in 2004 as Israel built its security
fence. Some Palestinians, like Umm al-Fahm's Ahmed Jabrin, 67, faced
a choice on which side of the fence to live. He had no doubts. "We
fought [the Israeli authorities so as] to be inside of the fence,
and they moved it so we are still in Israel. We have many links to
Israel. What have we to do with the Palestinian Authority?" His
relative, Hisham Jabrin, 31, added: "We are an integral part
of Israel and will never be part of a Palestinian state. We have always
lived in Israel and there is absolutely no chance that that will change."
Preferring Israel to the Arab Regimes Palestiniansfrom the lowest
level to the highest rankingsometimes acknowledge how they prefer
Israel to Arab countries. As one PLO official observed, "We no
longer fear the Israelis or the Americans, regardless of their hostility,
but we now fear our Arab brothers.'" Or, in the general
observation of a Gazan, "The Arabs say they're our friends, and
treat us worse than the Israelis do." Here are examples of attitudes
toward three states:
Syria. Salah Khalaf (a.k.a. Abu Iyad), one of the PLO's
top figures, declared in 1983 that crimes committed by the Hafiz al-Assad
regime against the Palestinian people "surpassed those of the
Israeli enemy." In like spirit, Yasir Arafat addressed a PLO
figure murdered at Syrian instigation at his funeral: "The Zionists
in the occupied territories tried to kill you, and when they failed,
they deported you. However, the Arab Zionists represented by the rulers
of Damascus thought this was insufficient, so you fell as a martyr."
Jordan. Victor, a Jordanian who once worked as advance
man for a senior Saudi government minister, observed in 1994 that
Israel was the only Middle Eastern country he admires. "I wish
Israel would just take over Jordan," he said, his brother nodding
in vigorous agreement. "The Israelis are the only people around
here who are organized, who know how to get things done. And they're
not bad people. They're straight. They keep their word. The Arabs
can't do anything right. Look at this so-called democracy in Jordan.
It's a complete joke."
Kuwait. Palestinians collaborated with Iraqi forces
occupying Kuwait in 1990, so when the country was liberated, they
came in for some rough treatment. One Palestinian newspaper found
that in Kuwait, "Palestinians are receiving treatment even worse
than they have had at the hands of their enemies, the Israelis."
After surviving the Kuwaiti experience, another Palestinian minced
no words: "Now I feel Israel is paradise. I love the Israelis
now. I know they treat us like humans. The West Bank [still then under
Israeli control] is better [than Kuwait]. At least before the Israelis
arrest you, they bring you a paper." With less exuberance, Arafat
himself concurred: "What Kuwait did to the Palestinian people
is worse than what has been done by Israel to Palestinians in the
Many Palestinians already understood the virtues of Israeli political
life decades ago. As one man from Ramallah explained, "I'll never
forget that day during the Lebanon war [of 1982], when an Arab Knesset
member got up and called [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin a murderer.
Begin didn't do a thing [in response]. If you did that to Arafat,
I don't think you'd make it home that night." Before the Palestinian
Authority came into existence in 1994, most Palestinians dreamt of
autonomy without worrying much about the details. After Arafat's return
to Gaza, they could make a direct comparison between his rule and
Israel's, something they frequently do. They have many reasons for
preferring life in Israel:
Restraints on violence. After the PA police raided the
house of a Hamas supporter in an after-midnight operation and roughed
up both him and his 70-year-old father, the father yelled at the police,
"Even the Jews did not behave like you cowards." And the
son, when he came out of the PA prison, declared his experience there
much worse than in the Israeli jails. An opponent of Arafat's pointed
out how Israeli soldiers "would first fire tear gas, and then
fire rubber bullets, and only then shoot live ammunition. They never
shot at us without a direct order to shoot, and then they only shot
a few bullets. But these Palestinian police started shooting immediately,
and they shot everywhere."
Freedom of expression. Adnan Khatib, owner and editor
of Al-Umma, a Jerusalem weekly whose printing plant was burned down
by PA police in 1995, bemoaned the troubles he'd had since the Palestinian
Authority's heavy-handed leaders got power over him: "The measures
they are taking against the Palestinian media, including the arrest
of journalists and the closure of newspapers, are much worse than
those taken by the Israelis against the Palestinian press." In
an ironic turn of events, Naim Salama, a lawyer living in Gaza,
was arrested by the PA on charges he slandered it by writing that
Palestinians should adopt Israeli standards of democracy. Specifically,
he referred to charges of fraud and breach of trust against then-prime
minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Salama noted how the system in Israel
allowed police to investigate a sitting prime minister and wondered
when the same might apply to the PA chieftain. For this audacity,
he spent time in jail. Hanan Ashrawi, an obsessive anti-Israel critic,
acknowledged (reluctantly) that the Jewish state has something to
teach the nascent Palestinian polity: "freedom would have to
be mentioned although it has only been implemented in a selective
way, for example, the freedom of speech." Iyad as-Sarraj,
a prominent psychiatrist and director of the Gaza Community Mental
Health Program, confesses that "during the Israeli occupation,
I was 100 times freer [than under the Palestinian Authority]."
Democracy. Israel's May 1999 elections, which Netanyahu
lost, impressed many Palestinian observers. Columnists cited in a
Middle East Media and Research Institute (MEMRI) study remarked on
the smooth transition in Israel and wanted the same for themselves;
as one put it, he envies the Israelis and wants "a similar regime
in my future state." Even one of Arafat's employees, Hasan al-Kashif,
director-general of the PA's Information Ministry, contrasted Netanyahu's
immediate and graceful exit from office with the perpetual power of
"several names in our leadership" who go on ruling in perpetuity.
Nayif Hawatma, leader of the terrorist Democratic Front for the Liberation
of Palestine, wished the Palestinian Authority made decisions more
We want the PNC [Palestine National Council] to discuss the developments
since 1991, particularly the Oslo accords, which were concluded behind
the back of the PNC contrary to what happened in Israel, for example,
where the accords were presented to the Knesset and public opinion
His facts might not be completely accurate, but they do make his point.
Rule of law. As the intifada of 1987 degenerated into
fratricidal murder and became known as the "intrafada,"
PLO leaders increasingly appreciated Israeli fairness. Haydar Abd
ash-Shafi, head of the Palestinian delegation to the Washington
peace talks, made a remarkable observation in 1992 according to a
transcript published in a Beirut newspaper: "Can anyone imagine
that a family would be happy to hear a knock at the door in the middle
of the night from the Israeli army?" He continued: "When
the infighting began in Gaza, the people were happy because the Israeli
army imposed a curfew." Likewise, Musa Abu Marzouk, a high-ranking
Hamas official, scored points against Arafat in 2000 by comparing
him unfavorably with the Jewish state: "We saw representatives
of the Israeli opposition criticize [Israeli prime minister Ehud]
Barak and they were not arrested
but in our case, the Palestinian
Authority arrests people as the first order of business."
Protection of minorities. Christians and secular Muslims
particularly appreciate Israel's protection at a time when Palestinian
politics has taken an increasingly Islamist cast. The French weekly
L'Express quotes a Christian Palestinian to the effect that when the
Palestinian state comes into existence, "the sacred union against
the Zionist enemy will die. It will be time to settle accounts. We
will undergo the same as our Lebanese brothers or the Copts in Egypt.
It saddens me to say so, but Israeli laws protect us." His fear
is in many ways too late, as the Palestinian Christian population
has precipitously declined in recent decades, to the point that one
analyst asks if Christian life is "to be reduced to empty church
buildings and a congregation-less hierarchy with no flock in the birthplace
Economic benefits. Palestinians who live in Israel (including
Jerusalem) appreciate Israel's economic success, social services,
and many benefits. Salaries in Israel are about five times higher
than in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Israel's social security
system has no parallel on the Palestinian side. Palestinians living
outside of Israel want economically in; when the Israeli government
announced the completion of an 85-mile-long section of a security
fence to protect the country from Palestinian terrorists, one resident
of Qalqiliya, a West Bank border town, reacted with a revealing outrage:
"We are living in a big prison."
Tolerance of homosexuals. In the West Bank and Gaza,
conviction for sodomy brings a three- to ten-year jail term, and gay
men tell of being tortured by the PA police. Some of them head for
Israel where one estimate finds 300 mostly male gay Palestinians living.
Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International comments, "Going to
Israel is a one-way ticket, and once there their biggest problem is
possibly being sent back."
Palestinians living in the West who visit the Palestinian Authority
are vividly aware of its drawbacks compared to Israel. "There
is a difference between the Israeli and the PA occupation," wrote
Daoud Abu Naim, a medical researcher in Philadelphia, while visiting
family in Shuafat:
The Israelis whom I met with over the years have been diverse.
Some have been insensitive to our needs, and some have not been. On
the other hand, the Arafat/Rajoub regime is more than simply "corrupt."
It is exclusively interested in setting up a dictatorship in which
Palestinian citizens will have no civil liberties whatsoever.
Rewadah Edais, a high school student who lives most of the year in
San Francisco and visits Jerusalem regularly, added, "The Israelis
took our land, but when it comes to governing, they know what they're
Several themes emerge from this history. First, for all the overheated
rhetoric about Israel's "vicious" and "brutal"
occupation, Palestinians are alive to the benefits of its liberal
democracy. They appreciate the elections, rule of law, freedom of
speech and religion, minority rights, orderly political structures,
and the other benefits of a decent polity. There is, in short, a constituency
for normality among the Palestinians, difficult as that may be to
perceive in the hate-filled crowds that so dominate news coverage.
Second, many of those who have tasted Israel's economic benefits are
loathe to forego them; however impervious Palestinians may seem to
economics, they know a good deal when they have one. Third, the percentage
of Palestinians who would prefer to live under Israeli control cited
in the estimates noted abovean overwhelming majority of 70 to
90 percentpoint to this being more than a rarity among Palestinians.
This has obvious implications for Israeli concessions on the "right
to return," suggesting that Palestinians will move to Israel
in large numbers. Fourth, it implies that some of the more imaginative
final status solutions that involve the redrawing of borders will
be hard to implement; Palestinians appear no more eager to live under
Palestinian Authority rule than are Israelis.
In word and deed, then, even Palestinians acknowledge Israel as the
most civilized state in the Middle East. Amid the gloom of today's
political extremism and terrorism, this fact offers wisps of hope.