Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Who You Are

As a citizen of Israel for the past eleven years I have days where I wonder exactly where I fit in Israeli society. I'm not religious but I'm not secular. I'm defined as secular but I don't belong to the left. I don't always feel at home among the religious right either. So I've pretty much staked out my own identity under the umbrella of Israeli society. So I can understand that Arabs who live in Israel have problems when it comes to identity. After the war in 1948 to destroy Israel ended they found themselves on the Israeli side of the green line, through no fault of their own. Israel was still standing and the other guys were in the West Bank and Gaza. What to do?

Living in close proximity to Jews the Arabs quickly learned guilt. They had accepted citizenship in Israel along with all the rights that come with it. Financially they were better off than their West Bank counterparts. No refugee camps. They were not used as political pawns. While they enjoyed all this they knew their brothers were on the other side watching. How do you straddle that fence? The Israeli Arabs are living in a country who is having a major conflict with its people.

I can certainly tell you how not to handle it.Don't follow Arab Member of Knesset Zahalka. Okay lets start at the beginning. National service is an alternative to service to the military. Religious girls often choose it over serving in the army. Last year the number of Arabs volunteering to do national service doubled. Zahalka is upset and is threatening those who want to serve. He said they would be like lepers in the community. He accuses Israel of wanting to Israelify the Arab youth who volunteer. Imagine that? We are at fault for NOT shunning them. We are at fault for trying to let them be part of society.

People who volunteer for national service work in hospitals and schools for example. Its a year long program. Some opt to stay in it longer. It is a way to give back to society for those who do not serve in the armed forces. As citizens of a country you are granted rights and freedoms. Citizens of Israel receive health care, child allowances and national insurance. So if you are going to make use of these things then giving something back would seem to be a positive thing. Yet Zahalka said "It's our right as a national minority to safeguard our identity. Actually, we see volunteering for service as an attempt to Israelify our youths, and we have a major issue with that."

Somehow Zahalka and his supporters have twisted things to make national service part of the armed forces. It is not. It is an alternative to the army. He would make anyone who did national service a leper in Israeli Arab society. Thankfully the Arab kids doing national service don't give credence to his speech's. They are too busy living their lives in Israeli society. If they were in Italy would it not be okay to join in Italian society? As a Jew living in the States was I not a part of society yet with my Jewish identity very much intact? Yes I know Italy and the US are not in a conflict with the Palestinians.

Hopefully the day will come when Israeli Arabs can choose to live in Palestine and fulfill that part of their identity if they feel so inclined. I can understand that need. Its why as a Jew I moved to Israel. Those who choose to stay are welcome as well. What we cannot do and should not do is make our country not Israel. Its just like asking the Italians to be something else. Its not fair. Think of the gelato.

Submitted by Carol