Friday, February 22, 2013

The Arabs in Israel - Part I by Dr. Mordechai Kedar

Dr. Mordechai Kedar..
Middle East and Terrorism..
21 February '13..

This is the first in a series of articles on the Arab sector in Israel. We intend to bring to the reader the historical background and the position of the twenty percent of the population of Israeli society that does not share the Zionist dream, but are citizens with equal rights. We will deal with obligations of these citizens later in the series.

These issues are politically charged, and represent contradicting narratives, one Jewish, and the other, Arab. The question we will deal with is not what the Jews think about the issues, but rather what are the prevailing opinions within the Arab sector. First, it should be noted that just as there are differences of opinion within the Jewish sector, there are variances in the Arab sector, and attitudes towards the Jewish sector, the state and its institutions not only differ, but often are even polar opposites.

We begin with a description of the Arab population in Israel. To start with, I will say that there is no such thing in Israel as one "Arab sector", rather there are several Middle Eastern populations, some of which are not Arab, and they differ one from another in religion, culture, ethnic origin and historical background; therefore they do not constitute one cohesive sector. Parenthetically, it is debatable whether there is one cohesive Jewish sector in Israel. Therefore, when we use the terms "the Arab sector" and "the Jewish sector", it will be only for the sake of simplicity.

Ethnic Division

Within the Arab sector in Israel there are a number of ethnic groups who differ from each other in language, history and culture: Arabs, Africans, Armenians, Circassians and Bosnians. These groups usually do not mingle with each other, and live in separate villages or in separate neighborhoods where a particular family predominates. For example: the Circassians in Israel are the descendants of people who came from the Caucasus to serve as officers in the Ottoman army. They live in two villages in the Galilee, Kfar Kama and Reyhaniya, and despite their being Muslim, the young people do not usually marry Arabs.

The Africans are mainly from Sudan. Some of them live as a large group in Jisr al-Zarqa and some live in family groups within Bedouin settlements in the south. They are called "Abid" from the Arabic word for "slaves". The Bosnians live in family groups in Arab villages, for example, the Bushnak family in Kfar Manda.

The Armenians came mainly to escape the persecution that they suffered in Turkey in the days of the First World War, which culminated in the Armenian genocide of 1915.

Cultural Division

In general, it can be said that the Arab sector is divided culturally into three main groups: urban, rural and Bedouin. Each one of these groups has its own cultural characteristics: lifestyle, status of a given clan, education, occupation, level of income, number of children and matters connected to women, for example polygamy (multiple wives), age of marriage, matchmaking or dating customs and dress. The residents of cities - and to a great extent also the villagers - see the Bedouins as primitive, while the Bedouins see themselves as the only genuine Arabs, and in their opinion, the villagers and city folk are phony Arabs, who have lost their Arab character.

The Arabic language expresses this matter well: the meaning of the word "Arabi" is "bedouin", and some of the Bedouin tribes are called "Arab", for example "Arab al-Heib" and "Arab al-Shibli" in the North.

The Bedouins of the Negev classify themselves according to the color of their skin into "hamar" (red) and "sud" (black), and Bedouins would never marry their daughters to a man who is darker than she is, because he does not want his grandchildren to be dark-skinned. Racist? Perhaps. Another division that exists in the Negev is between tribes that have a Bedouin origin, and tribes whose livelihood is agriculture (Fellahin), who have low status. A large tribe has a higher standing than a small tribe.

Religions and Sects

The Arab sector in Israel is divided into Muslims, Christians, Druze and 'Alawites. The Christians are subdivided into several Sects: Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant, and among the Muslims, there is a distinct sect of Sufis, which has a significant presence in Baqa al-Gharbiya. There is also an interesting Salafi movement in Israel, which we will relate to later. The Islamist movement is organized along the lines of the Muslim Brotherhood and we will dedicate significant space to it in this series.

The religion of the Druze is different from Islam, and Muslims consider the Druze to be heretics. Because of this, the Druze are supposed to keep their religion secret, even from each other, and therefore most are "juhal" (ignorant - of religious matters) and only a small number of the elder men are "aukal" (knowlegable in matters of religion"). In the modern age there have been a number of books published about the Druze religion.

The 'Alawites in Israel live in Kfar Ghajar, in the foothills of the Hermon and some live over the border in Lebanon. They are also considered heretics in Islam, and their religion is a blend (syncretism) of Shi'ite Islam, and Eastern Christianity and ancient religions that existed in the Middle East thousands of years ago. Their principle concentration is in the mountains of al-Ansariya in northwest Syria, although some are in Lebanon and some migrated southward and settled in Ghajar. The meaning of the word Ghajar in Arabic is "Gypsy", meaning foreign nomads with a different religion. In Syria the 'Alawites have ruled since 1966. The family of Asad is part of this heretical Islamic sect , and this is the reason for the Muslim objection to 'Alawite rule in Syria since according to Islam, not only do they not have the right to rule, being a minority, but there is significant doubt as to whether they even have the right to live, being idol worshipers.

Migration to Israel

Some parts of the Arab sector are communities that have lived in the land now called the State of Israel [Translator's note: we will henceforth refer to this area as the Land] for hundreds of years, but a significant part is the offspring of immigrants who migrated to the Land mainly in the first half of the twentieth century, especially after 1882, when Petach Tikva was established. Many people from neighboring lands migrated to the Land at that time in order to work in the Jewish farming communities. Many migrated from Egypt even before, in order to escape from being impressed into forced labor as the Suez canal was being dug. This is how the al-Masri, Masarwa and Fiumi families as well as many others came to the Land, with names that testify to their Egyptian source. Other families have Jordanian names (Zarkawi and Karaki, for example), from Syria (al-Hourani, Halabi) from Lebanon (Surani, Sidawi, Trabulsi) and from Iraq (al-Iraqi).

The Arabic dialect spoken by most of the Bedouins in the Negev is a Saudi-Jordanian dialect, and because of their familial ties to tribes living in Jordan, when the Bedouins become involved in matters of blood-vengeance, they escape to family members who live in Jordan. The connection between Arab families in Israel with groups in neighboring countries should not be surprising, because until 1948 the borders of Israel were not hermetically sealed, and many Arabs of "Sham" (Greater Syria) wandered into the Land almost totally unimpeded, following their flocks and the expanding employment opportunities .

Traditional vs. Modern

The division between traditional and modern outlooks exists in each of the other groups, meaning that in each group indicated above there is a subdivision: those who are more connected to the tradition of the group and those who are less connected. Among the young, one sees more openness and less adherence to group tradition, and it can be assumed that the young of the next generation will generally adhere even less to group's traditions. This is obvious among the Bedouin groups, because among the young there are more than a few who challenge the socially accepted ways of the Bedouin.

Education also plays an important role in the changing attitude toward tradition, because Arab academics are usually less linked to social tradition and the framework of the clan and live more within the framework of nuclear families (father, mother and children). They also tend to move to more open areas such as mixed cities (Acre, Ramla and Lod) and even to Jewish cities, such as Be'er Sheva, Karmiel, and Upper Nazareth) and adopt a modern life-style.

The shift to the city is also connected to a change in the source of livelihood - there are more in the independent professions and less in agriculture - a change that was due partly to the confiscation of the lands of absentees after the War of Independence.

Division by Gender

As in every other society in the world, there is tension between men and women among the groups that make up the Arab sector in Israel. Tension exists regarding issues of gender such as the rights of women to learn, to work, to choose a mate, freedom of behavior, the age of marriage and number of children. The tension between men and women that exists in the Bedouin groups is different from that which exists in the villages and the cities, because of the difference in exposure to the Jewish sector, in education and methods of earning a livelihood that exist between the various segments of the Arab sector.

Basic Differences between the Jewish and Arab sectors

Beyond the religious dividing line in Israel that differentiates Jews and non-Jews, another basic division exists between the Jewish and Arab sectors in their approach - in general - to the state. For most of the groups within the Jewish sector, the State of Israel fulfills two roles: one is the political and governmental embodiment of the aspirations of the Jews to return to themselves and regain the independence and sovereignty over the Land of their fathers that was stolen from them after the destruction of the Second Temple. The symbols of the state are Jewish, such as the national anthem, which includes the words "the Jewish soul yearns", the flag which represents the prayer shawl, the Shield of David and the seven-branched menorah, the Hebrew language is the official language of the state, on the Jewish holidays, the governmental institutions are closed, and thus the state bears Jewish genes.

The second role of the State of Israel in the eyes of most Jews is functional: to provide its citizens with security, employment, livelihood, health, education, roads, bridges and social services.

For the Arab sector, the first role does not exist; the State of Israel is not the embodiment of their diplomatic and political dreams. The national anthem is not their hymn, the symbols of the state are not their symbols, and our Independence Day is their "Nakba" (disaster). The second role as well, the functional, is only partially fulfilled by the state in matters of education, planning, roads and infrastructure. One may argue about the causes and reasons, but the facts are clear: How many Arab Members of the boards of directors of government companies are there? How may Arab judges are there in the High Court? What is the proportion of Arabs in the academic staff of universities?

But on the other hand, one cannot ignore the phenomenon of "reverse discrimination" either: laws of planning and building, that are observed almost fully within the Jewish sector, are very loosely observed within the Arab sector, especially in the Bedouin sector in the Negev. How many thousands of buildings have been built in the Negev without building permits on land that does not belong to Bedouins? How is it that there are no sidewalks in Um al-Fahm and the distance between the buildings is about the width of the cars?

Another example of reverse discrimination exists in the area of marriage: if a Jew dares to marry a woman before he has completed the process of divorce from his present wife he will find himself behind bars, like the singer Mati Kaspi. But if an Arab marries a second, third or fourth wife, the state pays a monthly children's allowance for each wife separately and without asking too many questions.

Another case of discrimination in favor of Arabs exists in the area of housing: in the Jewish sector about ninety percent are residents of apartments and about ten percent live in private houses. In the Arab sector the picture is the reverse: more than ninety percent live in private homes, and less than a tenth live in apartments.

But the characteristic that most unites the Arab sector in Israel is the environment that they live in: All the Arabs in the world live in one of two situations: Either in dictatorships in their homeland, or in dictatorships in the diaspora. There is almost no Arab community in the world that lives in its homeland for tens of years in a truly democratic state. The Arab citizens of Israel are the only Arab group that lives on its land (especially if you ignore the lands from which they originated) in a democratic regime that honors human rights and political freedoms. This is the reason that Arabs outside of Israel envy the Arab citizens of Israel and call them "Arab al-Zibda", or "butter Arabs".

Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav with permission from the author.


Dr. Kedar is available for lectures

Dr. Mordechai Kedar ( is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.

Additional articles by Dr. Kedar

Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the author.

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1 comment:

  1. No mention is made of the Achmadiya people in the section on Religions and Sects. They live in their own neighbourhood in Haifa (Kababir).

    I do not know if followers of Bahai live permanently in Israel.

    The article is very informative.