Friday, May 12, 2006

Israeli Arabs

I met an Israeli Arab named Samir while shopping for a necklace and a pair of earrings for my wife. He asked for a ridiculous amount of money for the jewelry and, without really meaning to, I actually laughed at him.

“Come on,” I said. “I can pay far less for this stuff in Beirut where I’ve been living. And Lebanon is expensive.”

I offered him one-eighth his asking amount, though I knew I would end up paying a lot more than that.

“Please sit down,” he said. Perfect, I thought. The Arab social ritual was about to begin. He knew we would both be there for a while. And it was only polite - and also more pleasant - to talk about something other than money. “Would you like some tea?” he said.

“Please,” I said. “Of course. Thank you so much.”

As long as you aren’t dealing with Hezbollah psychopaths, Semtex-strapped “martyrs,” or Al Qaeda head-choppers, Arabs really are the most pleasant people you can find anywhere. There’s nothing quite like going to a place where you can regularly and reliably pull up a chair (or a space on a carpet) with total strangers and share coffee, tea, cigarettes, and conversation while basking in the glow of instant warm friendship. Arab hospitality alone is reason enough to visit the Middle East instead of Europe on your next holiday.

I end up quoting that from Michael J. Totten's latest dispatch even though it's not really in the main stream of the post; simply because it's a sweet little piece of prose.

The topic is the Arabs who live in Israel -- and there are plenty of them, and as Michael points out, they tend to be invisible in mainstream media reporting. He wants to discover if they are persecuted, in any way that justifies the charge Israel is an "apartheid state." He finds general agreement that there is social discrimination and individual prejudice on a wide scale. But not officially, and not on a level that justifies accusations of institutional national racism. He talks to a man "who moved to Israel from South Africa because he could not stomach the wretched apartheid regime."

“There is discrimination here,” he said. “You’d have to be a fool to say there wasn’t. But it’s not entrenched in law or ideology. There is no law that says the Israeli Arab or Muslim is a second-class citizen. It’s true that they suffer social discrimination. But it isn’t legal.”

I couldn’t resist the following question: “What do you think about the accusation in the West that Israel is an apartheid state?” I said.

“It makes smoke come out of my ears!” he said. “The only way the analogy holds truth is within the context of a one-state Israeli solution. But the Israeli mainstream has reconciled itself to a Palestinian state…The Israeli government recently voted for an Affirmative Action program for Israeli Arabs in the civil service. This would have been unthinkable in South Africa.”

One of the things I plan to do with the next chunk of free time I find is search for an objective source on the creation of Israel that will sort out for me the question of the Arab exodus from the Jewish state in 1948. One side suggests there were some acts of ethnic cleansing, but also pleas to the Arabs to stay, and it was the neighboring Arab states that urged the Palestinians to abandon their homes -- temporarily, until the Jews were exterminated in war. The other side denies all this and says all the exodus was forced expulsions or flights in fear of Israeli terrorism. I'd like to know the truth.

P.S.: Michael writes it for free, but he doesn't have to. It's up to you whether he gets paid or not.