by Philip Weiss on March 3, 2009 · 25 comments

A Zionist friend told me recently that polls show that most Palestinians living in Israel would prefer to live there than in neighboring societies; they like the freedom. He offered this as the smoking-gun of Israel’s advancement. I asked my friend Anees, who lives in Jerusalem: “A Zionist friend says: ‘Palestinian citizens of Israel would rather live there than in neighboring Arab countries or Palestine. That shows Israel is a model.’ Is it true? What’s the answer to this?”
Anees writes:

It’s a specious remark your friend makes. Some and perhaps many Israeli Arabs/Jerusalem residents (IA/JR) would agree to staying in Israel. This group would predictably say the reasons why: they are not ready to give up the health care and social services (reliant on heavy taxation though they are) which living in Israel allows them and their children, compared to most Arab countries. (I don’t include education in these “pro’s” because the education IAJR receive in schools inside Israel is terrible by any standard.) But if you give them a choice to live (or to have lived) in certain places like Amman or UAE or Cairo or Beirut, I think some in this group might think again.
In the first 20-or-so years of Israel’s existence, most IA suffered considerable injustices: many were not allowed to leave their towns without permits. After these restrictions eased, they found themselves still isolated and poor in their small communities. Many came here to Arab East Jerusalem to find a better life, and they did, especially the doctors, lawyers, and other professionals who were lucky enough to have something to offer and thus make a decent living. Could they have done as well if they stayed in their undeveloped towns/villages? Not likely. Could they have done well in Jewish Israeli communites? No, because they are not an accepted minority and discriminated against in jobs and housing.
I am a Jerusalem resident (JR) and growing up in East Jerusalem, there were always one or two pupils from such “immigrant” IA families in my classroom. They came to East Jerusalem from Nazareth, from Tarsheeha, Acre, etc. So who stayed behind in those towns and villages? I am sure not everyone who stayed behind in IA communities is starving right now. Some may be doing OK, but they are living a very demeaning life, always reminded of their typically much-better-off Jewish neighbours, and of their status as second-tier citizens.

And then you have a really destitute group among the IA, especially in Um el-Fahm. It’s the so-called internal refugees (i.e. Palestinians who in ’48 were disposessed and displaced but within Israel proper). They never recieved compensation from Israel. Today they and their children are basically Israel’s cheap manual labor. Is that a life this group is grateful for? Doubt it.
Finally there is us, East Jerusalem residents, under threat of Israel taking away our right to live here (the blue ID card) if we live just across the checkpoint oustside, or abroad, for longer than half a year or so. (Remember Moustafa Barghouti’s grievance on 60 Minutes?) The Israeli project of ethnically-cleansing Arabs from Jerusalem by various policies and laws is making JR stick to their ground here even more solidly. There may be dual motives to their clinging (to retain benefit of social services vs. to be a thorn in Zionist demography’s throat), but that just goes to show it’s a complex world we live in, where everyone negotiates his/her own principles and priorities.
Anyway, the argument your friend tries to make doesn’t hold water even if all IAJR choose to stay in Israel in a hypothetical offer. “That shows Israel is a model”? Please. That’s quite a leap. It may be an advanced nation in a sea of backward ones, but to us Palestinians it’s a model of injustice and tyranny before all else. If we, ALL Palestinians not just IAJR, had been treated by Israel with dignity and equality, then.. well.. a great many things would be different, wouldn’t they?

Weiss: I realized I’d forgotten to ask Anees specifically about polls. I put that question.

I think the poll might well be right, that there are a majority who answer “yes we’d stay”. They are being true to self-serving nature; they don’t want to give up the security of Israel’s welfare system.
Ask the same Yes Group, “Do you believe Israel is being fair to you?” and the picture starts to get murky with No’s.
Because if Israel were being fair to them, they’d be doing WAY better than they are, living as they are as second-class citizens. And if Israel were not killing and oppressing their brethren in the West Bank and Gaza, they might even stop harboring resentment towards it.

Weiss comment: A great coalition of liberals, blacks, Christians, and Jews liberated my country, America, from southern Jim Crow in the 1960s. Today Hollywood makes glorious movies about this. Let us come together again to end the discrimination that our country supports in Israel/Palestine before Anees’s children have to experience it too.

Meantime, Anees sent me another note:

I keep thinking: Some Israeli Arabs also might not want to leave Israel… simply because it’s their homeland.