Professor Avraham Sela, a senior research fellow at the Harry S. Truman Institute and the A. Ephraim and Shirley Diamond Professor of International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, gave a lecture about Arab citizens of Israel on Monday. The event, sponsored by the Program for Jewish Civilization and the government department, is the 10th in a lecture series held by the PJC this year.
Sela began his presentation by referencing the events of this past weekend, in which the Israeli police shot and killed a young unarmed Arab man, resulting in riots that spread throughout the country. Sela clarified who he meant when he spoke of the Israeli Arab citizens for the purposes of his presentation.
“They are actually those who remained at the end of the 1948 war from the Palestinian Arab population who originally lived within the territory that later became the state of Israel,” Sela said.
At the end of 1948 there were only 156,000 Arabs in Israel, and today that number has grown to 1.4 million, about eighteen to twenty percent of the Israeli population. About eighty percent of Arabs in Israel are Muslim, ten percent are Christian and the rest are various small denominations.
The biggest problem that Arab citizens of Israel face is the ongoing discrimination many spheres of life, according to Sela
“We are talking about a small minority that has been underrepresented in Israel’s institutions, in Israel’s economy,” Sela said. “ A minority whose lives have been constantly and continually encroached upon not only by ongoing coincidences but according to the Israeli law. Israeli NGO and Arab NGO civil rights groups found that at least fifty Israeli laws directly or indirectly discriminate against Arabs, not necessarily because they are Arabs, but because they are non-Jews.”
Sela said that during the 1950s, the Israeli state failed to treat Arab citizens equally.
“The Israeli state and society, during this period, has treated the Israeli Arabs more like a security risk than as equal citizens of the state of Israel,” Sela said. “We can see it in a number of cases that happened from 1956 on, of how Israeli military forces or the police used light ammunition in response to demonstrations or riots.”
Sela referenced the Day of the Land in 1976 when a confrontation between Israeli forces and Israeli Arabs, who demonstrated against the confiscation of land, resulted in 6 deaths.
“The Day of the Land became a milestone in Israeli Arab history that is commemorated every year as a symbol of the steadfastness of the Israeli Arabs towards the Israeli attempts to Judaize the country as a whole,” Sela said.
Sela said that the Israeli Parliament has recently harmed the Arab population with new and unassuming legislation.
“The last five years in particular were heavily loaded or saturated with legislation initiatives of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, that from the outside may seem quite innocent but in fact they are almost all targeting the Israeli Arabs in order to further marginalize them, in order to push them out from the Israeli representative institutions” Sela said.
According to Sela, Arabs in the government system find it difficult to succeed in creating legislation and sharing ideas.
“The Arabs in Israel are not the representatives and they don’t have the capability of changing laws or even submitting significant bills to the Knesset, because they are not really taken as part of the social and political texture,” Sela said.
According to Sela, the responsibility of repairing tensions lies on the shoulder of Jewish-Israeli citizens.
“It’s the Jewish majority that makes the laws, it’s the Jewish majority that represents the state more than anybody else,” Sela said. “The Arabs in most cases are respondents to policies. And Israeli governments have not done much in order to alleviate the situation of continued discrimination.”