A recent poll reported in Haaretz showed that 77 per cent of Israeli Arabs would rather live in Israel than any other country. This encouraging news was accompanied by the statistic that 94 per cent of Arab citizens want Israel to be “a country in which Arab and Jewish citizens have mutual respect and equal opportunities”.
The poll was conducted by the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and the pollsters declared themselves surprised by the findings, which pointed towards a higher level of co-existence than they had thought. My own anecdotal finding confirm this: when I was researching my book in Jaffa, almost all the Aras I interviewed said they defined themselves as “Palestinian citizens of Israel”. Yet not a single one said they would rather live in a Palestinian state, even if a meaningful state came into existence. The reasons were varied, but basically boiled down to the fact that Israel is a democracy, with a rule of law. Unlike all of its neighbours.
A businessman said if he had a problem with his premises he could call Tel Aviv municipality and someone would be over the next day to fix things. A retired Christian Palestinian said he did not feel comfortable in Ramallah because the social codes of dress and hospitality had not evolved since 1948 (when, in many respects Palestinian society has been frozen, rather like east Europe under Communism) and he could not wear shorts. And so on.
My own analysis of why the Harvard pollsters were surprised is based on the rather bizarre nature of being a Jerusalem correspondent for a major western news organisation. Jerusalem correspondents are basically Ramallah correspondents and mainly report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They rarely report on Israel itself, unless the government is about to collapse or something like that. The complexities of Israeli society and its robust democracy go largely ignored. Perhaps the Harvard poll will be a hook for a few articles about Israel itself.
One topic worth examining is the complex and often bitter relationship between Arab citizens of Israel and those in the Occupied Territories and global diaspora. Both sides often regard each other with disdain: the exiles say that Arab citizens of Israel have betrayed the Palestinian cause by taking Israeli citizenship and learning Hebrew. The Arab Israelis have a simple answer to that: we stayed in our homeland – you left.