Arabs in Israel
To the Editor:
I was intrigued by the editorial comment you published with Walter Schwarz’s article, “Israel’s Arab Minority,” in your January 1958 issue.
You say, “Israel’s population of two million includes 200,000 Arabs who are represented in parliament by deputies of their own choice, and in general have the status of a national minority with rights equal to those of other citizens. The practical restrictions imposed by the continued state of undeclared war with Israel’s Arab neighbors are here discussed . . .” (my emphases).
Whatever may be the “rights equal to other citizens” which you say the Israeli Arabs have “in general,” Mr. Schwarz lists quite a few which they do not have. For example: “no Jewish settlement is without running water, while of 102 Arab villages, only 20 are supplied with it.” “The settlement of 2,000 land claims . . . must be seen in the context of some 30,000 [displaced] Arab citizens of Israel.” “Compensation offered to former owners [Arabs] is based on the land values of 1950 (one third today’s taxable values).” “Yet they are treated in some ways as second class citizens: they are not free to travel; their land can be taken away in what appears to them an arbitrary and hypocritical manner . . . there is a good deal of discrimination” (again my emphasis).
You will note that Mr. Schwarz, too, can use a qualifying phrase—“appears to them”! Does it appear to Mr. Schwarz that the Israeli government can take away land from Arabs in an arbitrary and perchance, also, a hypocritical way? Does it appear thus to the editor of COMMENTARY? And has the Israeli government taken such land away in such manner? Mr. Schwarz offers an example that appears to fit the bill in the opinion of the kibbutz members at the site of Kfar Baram (one of a hundred Arab villages destroyed by the Israeli army during peacetime), who he reports were “indignant.” But let’s qualify this; they are Mapamites. Does Mr. Schwarz or the editor know of any other examples? If not, I refer them to Mr. Don Peretz.
The editor speaks of “practical” restrictions. In what sense “practical”? Does he mean that they work? Or should we infer that the restrictions are necessary for “practical” reasons—as opposed to an “ideal” of no restrictions? But Mr. Schwarz refers to “the contrasting liberal attitude” (presumably of some Israelis, too) that “the Arabs are, after all, Israeli citizens who were in the country before the Jews and who chose to ‘give Israel a chance’ and indeed like most people anywhere are law-abiding citizens. . . .” It would probably be just as difficult to prove that the restrictions were successful in a practical sense, as to prove the contention that the restrictions have maintained and/or created resentments without which restrictions might be unnecessary. In any event, the long series of incidents cast doubt on their practicality, while “liberals” doubt their necessity. And the editor?
I will not cite some other items which should give your conscience pause. We all know about the Arab deputies in the Knesset—but you say that these deputies are the “choice” of the 200,000 Arabs and Mr. Schwarz says that in fact out of 102 Arab villages in Israel only 14 have elected councils. I do not know if the Arab deputies truly represent their 200,000 fellow minorityites, but I suspect your formulation as being euphemistic, and intended to prove your partisanship to Israel.
Insofar as Mr. Schwarz’s article sheds light on a most serious situation, and more information and light are needed, I congratulate you for your moral heroism in publishing it.
[The editorial note to which Mr. Russel takes exception was intended to sketch in the background against which the problem raised by Mr. Schwarz's article is currently being debated in Israel.—Ed.]