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Facts and Logic About
the Middle East
P.O. Box 590359
San Francisco, CA 94159
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, 2005
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 Israel."
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,
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
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 occupied territories."
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 like
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 for
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 of Christianity?"
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
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.
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