Outsiders’ Identities: Are the Realities of "Inside Palestinians" Reconcilable?
The Palestinians in Israel were known in Palestinian political jargon as the "Inside Palestinians" in reference to their geographical location inside Palestine. The Palestinian political center moved from exile to the West Bank and Gaza after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, so the term "Inside Palestinians" started to also be used for people in the West Bank and Gaza. "Inside Palestinians " have always been on the outside of both Palestinian and Israeli society and politics and, in a way, outside the Israeli and Palestinian national experiences and authentic identity. This article examine how this dual "outsiders" reality has become the defining characteristic of the collective identity and national existence of the Arabs in Israel, and questions whether their conflicting political realities are in fact reconcilable.

On the margins of Two Societies

Although the Palestinians in Israel are an integral part of the Palestinian people by virtue of their history, culture, and national consciousness, and although they are citizens in Israel with legal political rights of suffrage and representation, nevertheless they are, not fully Israelis and, in a sense, not fully Palestinians. The essence of their political struggle over the 53 years since their society was dismantled and exiled and they became a minority in their own homeland has been to achieve equal citizenship and maintain the integrity of their national identity. However, until now, they remained on the margin of each society with deep implications for their collective identity.
In order to understand the depth of the political quandary and its consequences for the Palestinians' collective identity, one should consider the extraordinary characteristics of their relationship with Israel, "their state," on the one hand, and with the Palestinian people, "their people", on the other. The most meaningful elements of the relationship with Israel point to experiences of denial and exclusion: Israel through its policies, laws, and declared ideology questions their collective existence, challenges the authenticity of their relationship to their land, considers them as a threat or as adversaries, and often expresses a wish that they didn't exist at all. On the Palestinian side, their predicament relative to the major issues that face other Palestinians is overlooked; their collective concerns are placed outside the national goals of the Palestinian National Movement, and they fall outside any negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.
Consider, for example, three major issues in their relationship with Israel: Their relationship to the land as an indigenous group, their citizenship, and the reality of being a national minority in Israel. First, it can hardly be disputed that the Arab community in Israel is an indigenous minority whose relationship to its homeland, sense of belonging, and sense of ownership and right are deeply ingrained. Yet this status, as an indigenous group is explicitly or implicitly denied to the Palestinians in Israel; in effect they are considered foreigners, aliens, even invaders. The Palestinians in Israel are tolerated as guests by mainstream Zionist ideology and by most Israelis, ironically a nation of immigrants that conferred indigenousness upon itself. The dominant state ideology, which considered the country the "homeland" of the Jewish people, ingrained in the Jewish public the awareness that Arabs have no authentic indigenous connection to the place as a homeland.
Furthermore, only in the last few years has the Palestinian community in Israel itself begun to claim the status of an indigenous group, despite the fact that some of their major grievances emanate from denial of indigenous rights (e.g., recognition of their identity, simple recognition that the country is their homeland, control over their land, and cultural autonomy). It is the Zionist perception of Arabs as alien to a "Jewish state", that provides Zionists with justifications to expropriate private and public land for the exclusive use of Jewish citizens, without an eyebrow being raised by Jewish conscience or the justice system.
Even today, tens of Arab villages and towns are not recognized by the state (and as such receive no basic services such as access roads, health services, and education), and about 20% of Arabs are internal refugees whose original towns were destroyed and their lands handed over to Jewish towns and kibbutzim. The refugees are not allowed to return to their villages or to regain their land. These issues remained on the back burner of Arab political agenda because the Arab minority did not have the power to challenge this imposed denial of their indigenous status and authentic ownership of the homeland. These issues are gradually emerging, however, together in parallel to growing awareness of their status of an indigenous minority.

Citizens or Enemeies?

Consider Arab citizens and Israel's ethnic project. The most important factor in determining Israel's approach to its Arab citizens is that Israel is an ethnic Jewish state - an exclusionary vision that leaves no place for non-Jews. Being Jewish rather than being an Israeli citizen determines the borders of inclusion in the state identity, power centers, and resource distributions. Israel is a state in the service of the Jewish people - Israeli and non-Israeli citizens - and not of its citizens, as in national states. In contrast, Israel sees in the existence of the Arab minority a hindrance to the ethnic Jewish project and therefore as a demographic threat.
The Arabs are to be controlled--even if that means using morally warped policies such as encouraging internal segmentation and social tension and using cooptation -- policies that are generally used against adversaries, not fellow citizens. In some cases, such as in issues related to land and immigration policies, Arabs are treated more as enemies than as citizens. This exclusion from the state's identity and goals is blatantly reflected in fundamental policies, basic and other laws, and numerous regulations. What Arabs in ethno-centered Israel experience is not discrimination similar to that of national or other minorities in nation states. The Arabs are excluded, repelled, treated as adversary, and considered a threat to the state for no other reason than being what they are. Perhaps the draft law that was recently submitted to the Knesset by MK Michael Kleiner that offers an "emigration package" to Arabs in order to encourage them to leave the country (in contrast to the "immigration package" given to Jews) best represents how Arabs experience the official state policies toward them.
It might be misleading to describe Israel's ethnic project without referring to Israel's broad democratic margin. Although Israel's democracy applies in full to Jews only, it provides Arab citizens with a broad enough margin of political freedoms and social state services to enable most Palestinians in Israel to take their citizenship seriously and consider it an asset. Citizenship, even if unequal, is what connects the Arabs to Israel and to the Jewish majority because many Arabs assume that once the larger Palestinian issue is resolved, it would be possible for Arab citizens, together with non-Zionist Jewish allies, to work on making the fundamental issues of equal citizenship and separation of state and religion a central focus for the whole society. The political vision of a state for all its citizens advanced by their secular national leadership was widely accepted in the community as the program that could gradually lead to a de-Zionized and democratic state.

An Unrecognized National Minority

Palestinians in Israel constitute a national minority by any standard of demography (they are about one million citizens and compose about 17% of the population).They have national awareness as Palestinian Arabs and share a history with other Palestinians and Arabs. Yet this reality is wholly unrecognized by Israel, which refuses to see in them a national group. Their very national existence is still psychologically and politically denied. Israel sees in them a collection of minorities and actively implements policies to segment this group into religious and other subgroups. Israel, therefore, refuses to consider group rights for the Arab community, even on the most basic level of cultural and identity rights. Arab education, for example, is a notoriously known tool of state control that is deplete with Zionist substance and devoid of Palestinian national themes.
On the Palestinian side, Palestinians in Israel are in a strong sense outsiders to the Palestinian National Movement. They never participated in the movement nor were they represented in its institutions. The movement that started in exile reached out to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, but refrained from reaching out to the Palestinians in Israel. The Palestinians in Israel were placed outside the strategic goals of the Palestinian people. They are important to the National Movement to the extent that they can offer support to the project of a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza, a project that excludes them by definition.
The Palestinians in Israel, although treated as strangers in their own homeland, were spared the devastating experiences of refugee life, exile and occupation, which define the core national experience of all other Palestinians. They did not take part in Palestinian resistance or pay the price of being under a superior Israeli power; they were not exposed to extreme hardship or military crackdown during the first or second Intifada. During the two Intifadas when Palestinian life was defined by resistance, death and destruction, closures, home demolitions, and military curfews, and in the recent Intifada by assassinations and military incursions, the Palestinians in Israel continued in their life undisrupted, showing solidarity but avoiding confrontation. The only exception was in October 2000, when Palestinians in Israel demonstrated in identification with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and were met by police forces that killed 13 citizens.
The predicament of the Arabs in Israel is not an urgent priority for the Palestinian society, nor does it have a prominent place in the leadership's stated national goals. Even Palestinian elites often show ignorance about the predicament of the Palestinians in Israel, oscillating between considering them collaborators with the Israelis or models of resistance to be followed by others. In negotiations with Israel over the last ten years, the Palestinian team did not raise any issue of concern to the Palestinians in Israel.

Struggles of Eternal Outsiders

Thus the essence of the Palestinians' experience since the establishment of Israel has been rejection, exclusion and inequality. Even without considering the psychological implications of these experiences, the collective existential predicament has been intensified with the conclusion that Arabs cannot be equal in a Jewish Zionist state. It should not be surprising, therefore, that Palestinians do not feel a sense of belonging to, identification with, or attachment to Israel. Indeed, their Israeli identity is devoid of the very essence that makes identity have such a gripping force on national groups: solidarity, belonging, group identification, loyalty, national commitment, and pride. The characteristics which have been the exclusive privilege of the Palestinian Arab national movement (and increasingly in recent years the Islamic identity of a large segment of the population), leave out the Palestinian Israelis because they do not bear the brunt of Palestinian resistance.
The annals of the Arabs in the Jewish state have been, by and large, a history of struggle to overcome the status of eternal outsiders that they have been assigned by the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This struggle has swung from one direction to another: at times it has been for equality and full inclusion in the Israeli system, and at others for fully asserting their Palestinian identity. As we will see below, a major attempt to bridge the two might have come to end in light of developments after the recent Intifada.

During the first two decades, between 1948-1966, the Arabs in Israel who were the remnants of a defeated and exiled nation, found themselves under a system of military control designed to extract their resources in favor of building the young Zionist state. They were treated more as a defeated enemy - which they were - than as fellow citizens, which they also were, at least legally. Their struggle was at the time spearheaded by the Israeli Communist Party with an agenda to lift military rule, fight legal land theft by the state called land expropriation, and improve basic services. This was a period of national trauma and collective fear in which the main goal was to stay put. Neither Israeli nor Palestinian identity was a matter of interest in the public discourse.
The period after the 1967 war witnessed the occupation of the remainder of Palestine and renewed contact with the Palestinians under occupation. This resulted in a gradual reassertion of Palestinian Israelis Palestinian identity, parallel to the forceful reemergence of Palestinian identity with the rise of the Palestinian National Movement headed by the PLO. The 1970s witnessed the emergence of many community-based local nationalist organizations, the rise of student movements, the Land Day strike in 1976, which became a landmark of successful extraparliamentary resistance, and the creation of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (DFPE), an uneasy and temporary coalition between the Communist Party and nationalist groups. In the 1977 elections, the DFPE received half of the Arab votes, the highest percentage the Israeli Communist Party ever achieved. The essence of the political struggle under DFEP leadership was for equality, (without defining its consequences for the Israeli state and the identity of the Arabs), and for a two-state solution (without spelling out the nature of the Israeli state that would emerge out of that program). Yet, it is important to notice that the essence of their struggle in this period--until the end of the 1970s--was for equality and inclusion within the Israeli system.

New Leadership

The late 1970s and the 1980s were characterized by the separate organization of nationalists in the form of a list that ran for the Knesset - The Progressive List for Peace (PLP). The PLP broke the grip of the Israeli Communist Party on the Arab community in Israel. The PLP was a coalition of Arab nationalist groups that emphasized their Palestinian identity, and a small leftist Jewish group. Indeed the Arab side in the PLP represented an accentuated Palestinian consciousness. It stressed the community's Palestinian roots and belonging, manifested deep identification with the goals of the Palestinian National Movement and established contacts with the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza and the PLO leadership in exile. The PLP offered no vision for the future of Israeli citizenship or the meaning of equality. It represented a full swing in the pendulum toward Palestinian National identity and away from Israeli identity.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the Islamic movement also emerged as a major political force. On the other hand, a pragmatic and non-ideological party (called the Arab Democratic Party) that was in essence the outgrowth of Arab representation in the Labor party also emerged. Both the Islamic movement and the Arab Democratic Party avoided dealing with the complexity and intensity of the issues of Israeli citizenship and Palestinian identity.In the last ten or fifteen years, a new secular and nationalist Arab leadership emerged in Israel that galvanized the intelligentsia and cultural elites in a national project that sought to erect a bridge between equal citizenship and national idenity: The National Democratic Alliance (NDA). This was the only major force that dealt heads on with both poles of the Arab's identity. The NDA first ran for the Knesset with the DFPE in 1996, when it won one seat, and later as a separate list in 1999, when it won two seats.
Under the leadership of Azmi Bishara, a charismatic intellectual, The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) attempts to bridge between equal citizenship and national identity. This was the only major force that dealt heads on with both poles of the Arabs' identity. The NDA first ran for the Knesset with the DFPE in 1996, when it won one seat, and later as a separate list in 1999, when it won two. The NDA presented the first serious intellectual effort to deal with the Israeli citizenship and Palestinian identity in a way that pulls the Arab minority from the "outside" of each group to the center.
The NDA presented in utmost clarity the possibility of equal citizenship for Arab and Jew in a non-Zionist Israel that should be transformed to a state for its citizens rather than a state for the Jewish people. The NDA articulated some of the constitutional, political, and social changes that would be required for such transformation but stopped short of developing this vision into a political program. The NDA argued that if the state were de-ethnicized, the Arab minority could develop a proud Arab national identity and be an integral and active part of the Palestinian people, thus bridging the two main components of their identity. Claiming the two components of identity requires political transformation on the Israeli side and the side of the Arab community itself, the nature of this transformation was discussed and clarified only as it relates to the nature of Israel and Israeli society.

The cornerstone of the required transformation has always been seen as shared citizenship between Arabs and Jews. Arab citizenship, although unequal to that of Jews, was seen by many as the foundation for a democratizing force that could push for change in Israeli society, together with democratic Jewish sectors. But this cornerstone was shaken to the core after the recent Intifada. In reaction to Arab demonstrations in October 2000, a few days after the start of the Palestinian Intifada, Israeli police killed 13 Arab demonstrators, Jewish mobs attacked Nazareth, Arab citizens were assaulted in the streets of Israeli cities, and angry Jewish citizens damaged Arab businesses.
Unlike any major development in the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1967-- including the first Intifada and the Oslo agreements--the present Intifada has permanently damaged the nature of the relationship between Israel and its Palestinian citizens. In particular, its first few fateful days, and specifically, Israel's reaction to the demonstrations that erupted in various Arab localities inside Israel, raised deep doubts among Arabs about the value of their Israeli citizenship and ruptured the relationship between Arab and Jew in the country. The Israeli behavior in the West Bank and Gaza since October of last year has deepened the split that emerged between the two communities, and perhaps caused irreparable damage to the fabric of relationship that was already significantly frayed.
With the shaken trust in the nature and value of citizenship, the secular nationalist project that was conceived as a way out of the double marginality seems to have reached a serious impasse. Both the elites and the public recognize this impasse as an existential predicament. The predicament emanates not only from the irreconcilability of the realities on the ground, because most people agree on that, but also from the failure to imagine a reconcilable reality within secular nationalist thinking, even theoretically. Until such a reality is imagined, the "Inside Palestinians" will remain on the Outside of both societies and their institutions.