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Israeli Arabs originating from thin air

A picture dated before 1937 during the British Mandate in Palestine shows Arabs demonstrating in the Old City of Jerusalem against the Jewish immigration to Palestine. [AFP via Getty Images]
A picture dated before 1937 during the British Mandate in Palestine shows Arabs demonstrating in the Old City of Jerusalem against the Jewish immigration to Palestine. [AFP via Getty Images]

“Israeli of Arab origin” is a phrase I have read several times in the context of a news story about an Arab Palestinian who holds Israeli citizenship. It is a description often used to introduce artists who were participating in Arab singing competitions or acting in films, or about famous soccer players who signed to play with foreign teams. This description usually comes at the end of the news in a sentence, such as: “It is worth noting that Mu’nis – or Dia – is an Israeli of Arab origin.”

This definition is usually reserved for a person who became a citizen of a country after their family immigrated to it, as is the case of the former President of Argentina Carlos Menem. Menem is of Syrian origin, meaning that his family immigrated to Argentina some time ago, and became Argentinian.

The same is true for Americans, most of whom descended from families who migrated from somewhere else around the world, except for the Native Americans. They are the indigenous inhabitants of America. This portrayal also applies to the Israelis, who are often described as “so and so, an Israeli Jew of American or European origin.” As for those who descended from Jewish families born in Palestine, they are simply referred to as “tzabar” or “sabra”, referring to the cactus plant that is widespread in the country. This name was initially given by new immigrants from Europe to the Palestinian Jews as a form of mockery. Then, every Jew born in Palestine was called a sabra, even if their father was born in Russia or elsewhere. This means that Lieberman’s children of Moldavian origin, for example, are considered tzabar in the Israeli census.

As for describing an Arab as an “Israeli of Arab origin”, it does not apply to the Palestinian Arabs in Israel because they did not travel thousands of kilometres to come and settle. Rather, they are the heirs of those who were born there, generation after generation, many centuries ago, and some of the lineages date back to before Islam.

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The newcomer is the one who is new to the area, and that is why people are reminded of their origin in order to clarify, like Barack Obama, the American president of Kenyan descent.

Once an immigrant to America, Argentina or elsewhere obtains citizenship, they obtain all the rights of a citizen, and are equal before the law. They can become president of the country and can work in all positions, including the Ministry of Defence and operating nuclear bomb buttons.

Palestinian protestors clash with Israeli forces during a protest marking the 53rd anniversary of Naksa or setback day, near the Jabara military check point in Tulkarm, West Bank, Palestine on June 5, 2020 [Issam Rimawi / Anadolu Agency]

Palestinian protestors clash with Israeli forces during a protest marking the 53rd anniversary of Naksa or setback day, near the Jabara military check point in Tulkarm, West Bank, Palestine on June 5, 2020 [Issam Rimawi / Anadolu Agency]

As for the Palestinian Arabs, they are not treated as citizens with equal rights, instead they are in a state of contradiction and conflict. The state reinforces their sense of alienation in their own homeland by refusing to recognise their national, and even geographical, affiliation after erasing the name of their original homeland – Palestine. Its officials propose population exchange with the aim of eliminating them, and they are seen as an obstacle, making officials anxious about what they call the demographic problem associated with these citizens.

When the West and the Israeli press describe a Palestinian in Israel as an “Israeli of Arab origin”, they are implementing a policy that considers the relationship of Arabs with the state to be an internal Israeli issue. However, when Arab media outlets, some of which have great influence on the emerging Arab generations, use this description, they are deliberately misleading people, denying the indigenous people of the country.

It is a denial of the existence of a problem from which these Arabs are suffering, and it is an expression intended to isolate them from their national connection.

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This term is not naive, but profound, and is intended to deny their status as an indigenous Palestinian Arab minority. This term mentions the word “Arab” and ignores the “Palestinian”, because if they are Palestinian, then they would belong to a place called Palestine, and to a people called the Palestinians. However, when they are an “Israeli of Arab origin”, they come from thin air. Likewise, the state does not classify these Arabs as tzabar, because this term is only allocated to Jews.

The use of this term means cutting the roots, fragmenting a people and ignoring the existence of a national cause that unites all Palestinians.

No, they are not plucked from thin air. They are Palestinian Arabs, the indigenous people of the country, who hold Israeli citizenship. As for the conditions of holding this nationality, that is the never-ending story.

Translated from Arab48, 13 October 2020

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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