The Palestinian citizens of Israel have, during the war in Lebanon, been in the worst position of all the parties involved. This is no new development because in most previous major conflicts involving Israel they were always at a disadvantage.
Palestinian citizens of Israel are an odd part of a state that defines itself as “Jewish”, and their political leanings and opinions often contradict the official behavior of the country. Politically, they support and understand the cause Hizballah is fighting for, something that has reflected negatively on their relations with the rest of Israeli society and increased the negative attitude of most Jewish Israelis toward them.
As a result, the war in Lebanon will probably increase the different problems Palestinians in Israel already face vis-a-vis the state and Israeli public opinion. They have always been accused of lacking loyalty, and it is something they have not necessarily denied because most of them hold positions that contradict the state’s.
The Palestinian community in Israel has always complained of Israeli discrimination against them based on race. This war has exposed one aspect of this discrimination, with the casualties from that community proportionally higher than among the non-Palestinians of Israel.
A recent report explained that phenomenon as a result of a lack of shelters and safety provisions for the Palestinian community. This invited much criticism from the spokespeople of the community who accused Israel of leaving its own citizens without adequate protection.
The Israeli government did not deny the accusation. Official spokespeople instead explained the phenomenon away by saying this was the situation for all lower strata of Israeli society. It is important here to point out that systematic Israeli policies since the establishment of the State of Israel are responsible for leaving the Palestinian community at the lowest rung of society.
Yet, in spite of their difficult circumstances during the war, and in spite of many Israeli media invitations for them to translate these difficulties into political frustration against Hizballah, Palestinian citizens of Israel, almost to a man, maintained their principled positions against Israeli aggression and occupation of neighboring Arab land, including in Lebanon.
That added strain to the already tense relations on political and non-political levels between them and many Israeli right-wingers who again took the opportunity to criticize their “lack of loyalty”.
The Palestinian community in Israel always did and always will suffer when tensions between Israel and its neighbors, especially the Palestinians of the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza, are high. But at the same time, they can potentially play a crucial and constructive role when there is space for peace and negotiations and reconciliation between Israel and the Arabs.
One example was during the early 1990s when the contacts between Israel and the Palestinian leadership and Israel and some Arab states were still in their infancy. Many Palestinian citizens of Israel played an important role in facilitating such contacts and sometimes in mediating between the sides.
The war in Lebanon has again exposed the disadvantaged position of Palestinians in Israel, and the biases of official Israeli government policy regarding this community. The near total consensus among Palestinians in Israel regarding the war in Lebanon is evidence of this. The only incident in which Palestinian citizens of Israel exhibited any doubt was regarding Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah’s call for them to leave Haifa in particular, perhaps the north of Israel in general.
That was difficult to accept and understand for the community because it struck at an integral part of the identity of these Palestinians who suffered so much because they insisted on remaining in their homes and homeland in spite of the suffering inflicted upon Palestinians during and since the creation of Israel.
The community always believed its steadfastness and refusal to leave was perceived positively by all Palestinians and Arabs. Asking them to leave thus contradicted their traditional position and role.
The Palestinian community in Israel will continue to suffer politically and otherwise as long as there is no peace between Israel and its neighbors. But when such a peace prevails, they will be in a relatively advantageous position. Until then, they will continue to play a leading role in trying to make Israelis understand how dangerous and self-destructive their policies and practices regarding their neighbors are, and will also provide insight for other Arabs to understand the dynamics of the Israeli polity and society.