Thursday, June 12, 2008

New Book May Further the Rift Between Israeli Arabs And Jews

Jerusalem ( - An Israeli Arab organization distributed at Arab schools throughout northern Israel on Wednesday 20,000 copies of a booklet aimed at promoting Arab unity around the popular idea that the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948 was a catastrophe, or what is widely referred to in Arabic as the "nakba."

The booklet contains stories written by 150 Arab children in Israel, the Palestinian Authority-controlled territories, Syria and Lebanon that are harshly critical of and even hostile toward Israel.

It was produced by the Ibn Khaldun Association in northern Israel, whose director Asad Ghanem told Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper that he hoped the booklet would "reaffirm Palestinian consciousness, and maintain and reinforce it among future generations" of Israeli Arabs. Ghanem is also head of the political science department at Israel's Haifa University.

In remarks to Cybercast News Service, Israeli Arab affairs expert Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a research associate with the Begin-Sadat Center, stressed his view that Ghanem and other Israeli Arabs like him do not view the booklet as a threat to Israel.

"They see this book as designed to strengthen national awareness and to promote a connection between Palestinians who are Israeli and those living in other Arab countries in order to consolidate the Palestinian spirit," said Kedar.

That national awareness and struggle is more commonly known as the "Palestinian cause," which today is largely taken to mean the effort to establish a sovereign Palestinian Arab state in the Gaza Strip and the areas known collectively around the world as the "West Bank," but which many Israelis refer to by their biblical names of Judea and Samaria.

The problem for most Israelis is that the Palestinian cause as formulated by late PLO founder Yasser Arafat does not stop with Judea and Samaria. Even after signing the so-called "Oslo Accords" with Israel, Arafat repeatedly told Arab media that the PLO's "phased plan" remained in effect, and that the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria would be only the first step toward the destruction of Israel.

Despite the threat inherent in the Palestinian cause and the "nakba" narrative that fuels it, Kedar said he remains convinced most Israeli Arabs and Jews want to "live together instead of fight each other." Unfortunately, Ghanem's booklet is poised to widen the rift between the two communities by further antagonizing the more hardened elements in Israeli society, whose reaction will be used by Islamists to further radicalize Israeli Arab youth.

This book "will definitely pour more oil on the fire against the Arabs within certain Israeli circles, which will in turn pour even more oil on the fire created by extremist elements on the Arab side," said Kedar.

The publication of Ghanem's booklet comes at a time of already markedly increased tension between Israeli Arabs and Jews, a phenomenon that was highlighted last month as Israeli Jews and a slew of visiting foreign dignitaries celebrated Israel's 60th Independence Day while most of the nation's Arabs spoke out against the state or were cowed into silence by extremists.

Israeli media commentators have asserted that national ethnic divisions can be at least partially blamed on an Israeli government establishment that has beholden itself to the principles of political correctness and now refuses to be seen as interfering with its Arab minority by countering negative trends in that community.

Jerusalem Post columnist Carolyn Glick wrote earlier this year that "the natural pull of Israeli Arabs is toward the Palestinians," and that Israel has to make a concerted effort to win the hearts and minds of its Arab citizens, or risk facing an internal explosion in addition to numerous regional threats.

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