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Cablegate: Mounting Tensions Between Israel's Arab and Jewish Citizens

VZCZCXRO0649
OO RUEHROV
DE RUEHTV #1081/01 1430858
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 220858Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6783
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 05 TEL AVIV 001081

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA/IPA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINR PHUM SOCI IS
SUBJECT: MOUNTING TENSIONS BETWEEN ISRAEL'S ARAB AND JEWISH CITIZENS

REF: A) TEL AVIV 1080
B) 07 STATE 123763 (C-NE7-01407)

1. (SBU) Summary and Comment: Over the past few years, Israel has
witnessed a slow but steady worsening of relations between its
Jewish and Arab citizens. Populist and in some cases extremist
rhetoric from leaders in both communities has inflamed passions and
become an increasingly acceptable discourse among both groups, with
some Jews calling for population transfer and some Arabs calling
Jews "fascist" perpetrators of a new Holocaust. Incidents of
stone-throwing by Arab youth are on the rise, and in mid-March
Israel Security Agency (ISA) Director Yuval Diskin reported an
increase of Israeli-Arab involvement in terrorism. Since the
violent demonstrations of October 2000, during which police killed
12 Israeli Arabs, unfulfilled GOI promises to undertake projects to
improve the status of Israel's Arabs have left wide socio-economic
gaps between the two societies and a growing sense of frustration,
particularly among Arab youth. The Israeli-Arab leadership's
publication in late 2006 of a series of documents calling for the
establishment of equality between Jews and Arabs and largely
rejecting the legitimacy of the state's Jewish character contributed
to the Jewish sense that Israeli Arabs are a fifth column in the
country. Israeli journalists and academics have begun writing about
the possibility of a third intifada, and despite occasional positive
signs for the troubled Jewish-Arab relationship, there is a real
risk that the current environment could become explosive with
negative repercussions for the Palestinian negotiating track and
Israel's internal stability. To prevent current tensions from
escalating over time, the GOI needs to begin delivering on the many
unfilled promises of full equality and equal opportunity for
Israel's 1.3 million Arab citizens, especially the disgruntled youth
-- 75 percent of whom defy popular wisdom by expressing support for
the idea of voluntary civilian service in exchange for benefits
similar to military veterans. For its part, the Israeli Arab
leadership -- Knesset members and mayors, activists and clerics --
needs to recognize that they cannot have it both ways, and that if
they value their Israeli citizenship, they need to end incitement
against the state. A government-sponsored conference on the
situation of the Arab-Israeli population is being organized by the
Prime Minister's Office for June. It could be the start of a
dialogue to help promote reconciliation. End summary and comment.

--------------------------------------------- ---------
The Tension Builds: October 2000 and the Second Lebanon War
--------------------------------------------- ---------

2. (SBU) Though far from new, current tensions between Israel's Jews
and Arabs faced a sharp turn for the worse following the events of
October 2000, when police killed 12 Israeli Arab citizens in the
Galilee during riots expressing solidarity with Palestinians in the
early days of the "Al Aqsa Intifada." Following the deaths, the GOI
appointed a commission of inquiry, the Or Commission, to investigate
the circumstances surrounding these events. Noting that the
government's handling of the Arab sector had been "primarily
neglectful and discriminatory," the Or Commission made a series of
recommendations to improve the status of Israeli Arabs. It
determined that "action must be focused on giving true equality to
the country's Arab citizens" and said that the state must initiate,
develop, and operate programs to close gaps in education, housing,
industrial development, employment, and services. However, the
conclusions and recommendations of the Or Commission have remained
largely unimplemented since the report's publication in 2003.

3. (SBU) The Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006 served as an
ominous reminder of the lack of progress in improving the lives of
Israeli Arabs and the potentially dangerous consequences of the
radicalization of this minority population. During the war, with
Hizballah rockets bombarding communities in northern Israel, Arab
citizens complained that most of their towns and villages had no
bomb shelters and said they lacked basic emergency information in
Arabic. The Mossawa Center, an advocacy center for Arab citizens of
Israel, confirmed there was not "a single public bomb shelter in
Nazareth, while there are 523 bomb shelters in the neighboring
Jewish city of Upper Nazareth." The Center also reported that many
of the Arab villages lacked alarm systems to warn them of incoming
rockets.

4. (SBU) In addition to highlighting Israeli Arab resentment at the
lack of resources devoted to protecting Arab communities, the Second
Lebanon War also demonstrated the identification of part of the Arab
population with Hizballah. During the war, a small minority of Arab
citizens directly affected by rocket attacks spoke out against
Hizballah, while the majority condemned the Israeli war effort even
as Hizballah fired rockets at northern Israel (killing Arab
citizens). Arab students at Haifa University even raised the
Hizballah flag. In the Knesset, the ten representatives of Arab
parties spoke out against Israel's actions in the war, drawing angry
responses from Jewish politicians and the press, and prompting some

TEL AVIV 00001081 002 OF 005


Jewish leaders to advocate depriving them of their citizenship.
Although some members of Israel's Jewish population have long
questioned the loyalty of Arab citizens in the abstract, the events
of the Second Lebanon War contributed to a deeper foreboding that
Arab citizens were capable of actively betraying the state. Many
Israelis' worst fears were confirmed when former MK Azmi Bishara
(Balad) resigned from the Knesset while abroad in April 2007
following a police investigation into his foreign contacts and
accusations that he aided Hizballah during the war. Bishara is
widely believed to have provided Hizballah with information
regarding strategic targets in Israel during the war in exchange for
money.

-------------------------------------------
Jews Reject a New Vision for Israel's Arabs
-------------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Since 2000, with the gaps between Israel's Arab and Jewish
sectors showing no sign of closing, many Arab citizens of Israel
have begun to lose hope in the possibility of achieving equality
through the existing legal and political frameworks. Following the
Second Lebanon War, in late 2006, a series of documents drafted by
some 40 Israeli Arab academics entitled "The Future Vision of the
Palestinian Arabs in Israel" was published by the National Committee
of the Heads of Arab Local Councils and endorsed by the Arab Higher
Monitoring Committee of the Arabs in Israel. This document, plus
three others that quickly followed, express Arab alienation from
the State and attempt to redefine the status of the Arab minority
vis-`-vis the Jewish majority. In addition to calling for equality
and the abolishment of discrimination, the Vision document and its
successors reject the legitimacy of Zionism and the notion of a
democratic Jewish state, calling instead for alternative models such
as "consociational" democracy (which involves guaranteed group
representation, as in Lebanon), a bi-national state, or a democratic
bilingual state. They define the Arab sector in Israel as a part of
the broader Palestinian national community and refer to its members
as "Palestinian Arabs in Israel," (rather than "Israeli Arabs")
contributing to Jewish fears of a fifth column. Most of the Jewish
commentators in Israel, including longtime advocates of greater
equality for Arab Israelis, found the vision documents profoundly
disturbing. Although large segments of the Jewish public support
equal rights and greater opportunity for Arab citizens on an
individual basis, the call for equal "collective" rights and the
adoption of the Palestinian narrative, together with the rejection
of the Jewish character of the state, was considered a negative
watershed in relations by most Israeli Jews.

--------------------------------------------- ---------
A More Complex Picture: The National Service Debate and Israel's
60th Anniversary
--------------------------------------------- ---------

6. (SBU) If the Vision documents indicate a growing rift between
Jews and Arabs on national issues, the current debate over national
service offers a more complex picture. The Arab leadership,
including Arab journalists and most (but not all) Arab mayors and
members of Knesset, has largely come out against the idea of Arab
citizens performing civilian national service in lieu of military
service. They tout rhyming Arabic slogans such as "I volunteer for
my country, not for my hangman," and argue that in light of the
historic injustices inflicted on Arabs in Israel, the state has no
right to demand national service from them. This influential group
views national service as part of a policy to destroy the
Palestinian national identity of Israel's Arabs and strongly
discourages Arab youth from participating. Arab MK Jamal Zahalka
(Balad) went so far as to say that "anyone who volunteers for
national service will be treated like a leper, and will be vomited
out of Arab society." However, surveys show a rift between the
leadership's position and that of Arab youth: 75% of Arab youth
between the ages of 16 and 22 support voluntary civilian service and
see it as an opportunity for personal growth and economic
advancement. In contrast, over 90% of their elected leaders oppose
it. Labor MK Nadia Helou is one of the only prominent Arabs to
support national service. In addition to the rift between the
leadership and the general public, there are also significant
divisions within the Arab community at large on this issue as
evidenced by the burning of a store owned by an Arab Israeli in
Haifa days after he spoke out publicly in favor of national service.


7. (SBU) In the same vein, among the Bedouin, an Arab minority whose
members have traditionally volunteered for service in the Israel
Defense Forces (IDF), military service has recently become a point
of contention revealing conflicted attitudes within the Bedouin
community. On more than one occasion in the past year, the families
of Bedouin soldiers killed in combat in Gaza have requested that
their names be withheld from the media so as to avoid reprisals from
other members of the community who have begun to consider service in
the IDF as a treacherous betrayal of Arab unity. In the wake of the

TEL AVIV 00001081 003 OF 005


April 16 death of Sgt. Manahash Baniyat in the Gaza Strip, Faisal
Abu Nadi, chairman of the Bedouin Forum of Discharged Soldiers, told
Israel Radio that Bedouin enlistment in the IDF had dropped by as
much as 50 percent - not due to discrimination within the army, but
due to the State's treatment of the Bedouin, many of whom -
including Sgt. Baniyat - live in unrecognized villages in homes that
are often demolished by the State. These examples, together with
the national service debate, indicate that segments of Israel's Arab
population are adopting more extreme, less integrationist positions
over time, contributing to growing tensions and Jewish fears of the
Arab minority becoming an enemy from within.

8. (SBU) A similar divide exists within the Israeli Arab community
regarding participation in Israel's 60th anniversary this month.
Although the collective Arab leadership decided to boycott Israel's
60th anniversary celebrations, individual Arab citizens, some in
leadership positions, have expressed different opinions. Sana Elbaz,
the daughter of a Bedouin family from Tel Sheva who lit a
celebratory torch at Israel's 60th anniversary ceremony in
Jerusalem, saw her car set ablaze by unknown persons outside of her
house. Ursan Yassin, the Mayor of Shfaram, for example, stated
publicly in January 2008 that he would like to celebrate
Independence Day in his city much like Jews in the U.S. celebrate
the Fourth of July. He said that "the 40,000 residents of Shfaram
feel that they are a part of the State of Israel. The desire to
participate in the festivities is shared by most of the residents."
The Arab Higher Monitoring Committee subsequently attacked Yassin,
stating that he does not represent all of Israel's Arabs. The
Committee chairman argued that for Arab citizens of Israel, "Jewish
Independence Day is our Nakba Day." (Nakba translates literally as
"catastrophe" or "blow.")

9. (SBU) In contrast to Shfaram, other Arab communities in the
Galilee are conducting a series of "Nakba activities" to coiQde
with Israeli Independence Day, including visits to the sites of
villages destroyed during and after Israel's 1948 War of
Independence. Many Arab citizens of Israel have pointed out that
although their communities celebrated Israeli Independence Day in
the past by singing Israeli songs and flying Israeli flags, today
many Arabs feel that doing so is shameful. Provocative rhetoric
surrounding Israel's 60th anniversary is also a source of rising
tensions between Jews and Arabs. In December 2007, Internal
Security Minister Avi Dichter warned Israeli Arabs that "people who,
year after year, lament the Nakba, should not be surprised when in
the end, they have a Nakba." Fortunately, none of these Nakba
commemorations have resulted in significant violence, although
tensions will remain throughout the month as both Jews and Arabs
continue to mark their respective national milestones.

-------------------------------
Incendiary Rhetoric on the Rise
-------------------------------

10. (SBU) Israel's 60th anniversary is not the only source of fiery
rhetoric between Jews and Arabs. In recent months both Jewish and
Arab Israelis have been exposed to a vicious public debate where
radical statements are gaining legitimacy in their respective
communities. In the Arab sector, anger over the plight of the
Palestinians has led to demonstrations in which Arab citizens have
alleged that Israel is perpetrating a "Holocaust" in Gaza -
reprising and amplifying the words of Deputy Defense Minister Matan
Vilnai who threatened that a "Shoah" would be inflicted on the
people of Gaza in response to rocket attacks. During one such
demonstration in Umm el-Fahm in March 2008, Arabs called Jews
"children of Hitler" and held signs that read "Stop the Zionazi
massacre" -- particularly inflammatory rhetoric in a country founded
in the wake of the Holocaust.

11. (SBU) In another strong public statement this March, members of
the Arab public at soccer matches in Sakhnin and Nazareth refused to
stand in mourning over Jews killed in the recent terrorist attack in
a Jerusalem yeshiva. In the Jewish sector, MK Avigdor Lieberman's
(Yisrael Beiteynu) ideas about swapping land and people -- Jewish
settlements in the West Bank for Arab villages near the Green Line
-- are frequently heard in the Knesset and the media. The Knesset
itself has been the battleground for much vitriol in 2008, with Arab
and Jewish MKs leveling curses and insults at each other. After the
attack in the yeshiva, Lieberman told Arab MKs that the current
government is full of "weaklings," saying, "Believe you me, it's
temporary, and you're temporary." Lieberman is not the only MK to
express these opinions. Following the Umm el-Fahm demonstration, MK
Effie Eitam (NU-NRP) told Arab lawmakers, "A day will come when we
will drive you out of this house [the Knesset] and from the national
home of the Jewish people." Arab MK Taleb El-Sana (Ra'am-Ta'al)
called a proposed amendment to the Basic Law that would bar
candidates who have visited enemy states without permission from
running for office "worse than the Nuremberg Laws." In mid-April
Arab MK Ahmed Tibi spoke out against Israel at the Doha Forum,
labeling the country "an apartheid state" while FM Livni was

TEL AVIV 00001081 004 OF 005


present.

12. (SBU) Though inflammatory rhetoric itself may be worrying to
many Israelis, the real concern among mainstream Israeli Jews is
that the heated words may one day lead to violent insurrection among
Israel's Arab citizens. This year's Land Day commemorations inside
the Green Line (when Arab Israelis memorialize the 1976 killing by
security forces of six Arabs during protests against land
expropriations) may have come and gone without violence, but they
were marked by harsh diatribes against Israel calling for action.
Arab citizens waved Palestinian Authority and Islamic Movement
flags, and MK Jamal Zahalka told the crowd gathered at the central
rally in Arabe that "it remains for the Arabs only to launch a mass
struggle for their lands and homes." Many of the demonstrators
called for Arab autonomy in the Galilee, stating that "the time has
come for us to stand up for our rights even at the price of fighting
with sticks and stones." In what was the most direct call for
violence, the extremist Sons of the Village movement called for
terror attacks against Jews, shouting "Our Popular Front, we want a
terror attack from you."

--------------------------------------------- -
Nightmare Scenario: An Arab Israeli Intifada?
--------------------------------------------- -

13. (SBU) With Arab-Jewish relations in Israel seemingly worse on
balance than at any time since Israel lifted military rule over
Israeli Arabs in 1966, some from among the more alarmist sectors of
Israeli society are beginning to wonder if a "third intifada" could
be sparked from among Israel's Arab minority. The 2007 Arab-Jewish
relations index published in April 2008 by Professor Sami Smooha, a
widely-respected dean at Haifa University, determined that more than
half of Israel's Jewish and Arab populations believe that the two
communities are not on good terms and that relations are likely to
continue deteriorating in the future. The study found that the
percentage of Israeli Arabs who deny Israel's right to exist as a
Jewish Zionist state rose slightly over the last year and now stood
at 64 percent, and the percentage of those who deny Israel's right
to exist at all rose from 15 to 20 percent. Support for the use of
violence to advance the interests of the Arab minority also rose,
from 9.5 to 10.8 percent. In other words, if the survey is
accurate, approximately 140,000 Israeli citizens would say they
support violence against the state. In the Jewish sector, a poll
commissioned by the Knesset Channel revealed that 76 percent of
Israeli Jews give some degree of support to transferring Israeli
Arabs to a future Palestinian state. On a positive note, Smooha
said that when compared to surveys conducted in previous years, this
year's results do not show "a trend towards extremism in the
attitudes of the Arab population or entrenchment among the Jewish
public." Perhaps confirming this sentiment, he also found that 75
percent of Arabs still believe Israel is a good place to live.

14. (SBU) Events within the Arab community in the first four months
of 2008, however, challenge Smooha's optimism. In recent months,
police sources have reported "a rising trend" in incidents of
stone-throwing and other disturbances relating to nationalist
motives among the Israeli Arab community. In mid-March police
officials said that in the past month and a half dozens of reports
of stone-throwing had been received from the area south of Haifa and
a considerable number from the lower and western Galilee. In many
instances the police subsequently arrested minors who confessed to
the acts. Some Arab youth admitted that the Islamic Movement's
Northern Branch -- headed by the radical Sheikh Raed Salah, who
regularly tries to incite Arab Israelis to a new intifada -- paid
them to throw stones. Two fifteen-year-old residents of a village
in the western Galilee told reporters they were paid NIS 100 to
throw stones the first time, and NIS 50 a second time. It is
unclear how much of the recent stone-throwing is sponsored by the
Northern Branch Islamic Movement, but Northern Branch activists
suggest they are responsible for a great deal of it. A 47-year-old
high-ranking member of the movement who was quoted in the press
confirmed that "we help these children with pocket money," adding
that "without social frameworks in the villages, many youths fill
the mosques and realize that if we don't take our future into our
own hands, the government will keep on taking away our land, our
homes and our honor." Anecdotal evidence suggests that such
sentiments are gaining ground, as the Northern Branch of the Islamic
Movement continues to make political and religious gains in Arab
communities, and has recently even become a major force in the
formerly aloof Bedouin communities of the Negev. (Note: Israel's
Islamic Movement split several years ago into the more extreme and
confrontational Northern Branch, led by Sheikh Raed Salah, and the
moderate and tolerant Southern Branch, led by Islamic Movement
founder and coexistence activist Sheikh Abdullah Darwish.)

15. (SBU) Israeli expert on the Israeli Arab community Professor Eli
Rekhes says he does not believe the stone-throwing incidents will
lead to an explosion like the October 2000 riots, but is
nevertheless pessimistic: "A policy of perpetual disregard of the

TEL AVIV 00001081 005 OF 005


Arab community has its price. If present trends are allowed to
continue, the question is not if the Arab sector is going to
explode, but when." Minister of National Infrastructure and former
Minister of Defense Benjamin Ben-Eliezer echoed Rekhes' comments,
saying in a newspaper interview, "I'm worried about the country's
future. The way we've treated them [Israeli Arabs] since 1948, apart
from the brief period of the Rabin government, has pushed them into
alienation and despair. We're in a sociopolitical process whose end
is predictable. Fortunately for us, it is proceeding very slowly,
but if we don't stop it, we ourselves will turn them into a fifth
column."

16. (SBU) In March Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) Director Yuval
Diskin reported an increase in the involvement of Israeli Arabs in
terrorism, noting that in the past year 25 Arabs with Israeli
citizenship had been arrested on suspicion of involvement with
terrorist activity. (Ref. A reports on a recent discussion between
the Ambassador and Diskin on this topic.) A terror attack carried
out by an Israeli Arab, such as the one called for on Land Day,
could spark additional violent confrontations and a further
deterioration of inter-group relations. Depending on the GOI's
response, such an attack could also present a crisis for Israel's
current government. In the absence of a terror attack, with
tensions running so high, even an isolated confrontation, if it
turns violent, between Arab citizens and law enforcement, has the
potential to expand into a major conflagration.

------------------------
The Israeli Arab Promise
------------------------

17. (SBU) Although many in the GOI and the Israeli public currently
consider Arab citizens a liability for the State of Israel, that
need not be their role in Israeli national life. A GOI decision to
narrow socioeconomic inequalities and engage the Arab public
constructively on issues of national identity could quickly
transform their national image from that of liability to asset.
Israel's Arab citizens could serve as valuable players in the
achievement of a peace agreement with the Palestinians, and
following such an agreement, serve as a bridge between Israel and
the rest of the Arab world. Israel's Arab citizens offer a pool of
educated, moderate, democracy-minded citizens capable of assisting
with the social and economic development of the region. Their
knowledge of Israeli politics, culture and history could play a key
role in achieving regional peace agreements with other Arab states,
and they could serve as Israel's ambassadors to the rest of the Arab
world.

18. (SBU) Comment: To realize such a potential, however, the GOI
needs to start delivering, in a determined and lasting way, on the
many empty promises made to the Arab minority over the years. At
the same time, the Arab minority, especially its entrenched but
largely self-serving leadership, needs to recognize that it cannot
have it both ways -- that it cannot continue demanding the full
fruits of Israeli citizenship while also inciting against the
state's existence. The GOI, because it encumbers the
responsibilities of democratic governance and because it represents
the majority, needs to take the first step. But then, if met by a
responsible reaction from the Israeli Arab community, the two sides
could begin to repair their relations by working together in earnest
to realize the national and regional promise of Israel's Arab
minority. The Prime Minister's proposed June conference on the
situation of the Arab-Israeli population may be the first step in
such a process.

JONES

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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