Sarah El Shazly
January 19, 2005
Ever since I was a child, I’ve heard a range of accounts of what happened to the Palestinians and Palestine. Everyone knows the Jewish version and the Arab version. But there is a third side, that of those who lived there and still do–the Israeli Arabs.
Some Jews want us out of Israel, and some Arabs believe that we are an extension of the Zionists. Yet we Israeli Arabs keep our culture and traditions. We are unique among the Arabs, though. We have vested interests on both sides–and are angry at both sides.
Israeli Arabs have lived alongside Jews for as long as this generation can remember. We became Israeli citizens in 1948. Before that, the region wasn’t quite as divided. Families lived in an area that includes the West Bank, Gaza, and Amman, and in other Arab cities in areas where borders were created later. We were divided by boundaries set by the Europeans, and those within the boundaries of Israel became “Israeli Arabs”. Now, these Arabs are the unwanted, unloved, [and] illegitimate.
Misinformation surrounds the story of 1948. Palestinians who fled their homes are angry, bitter and distraught. No one can blame them. Yet they seem to have been taught who they are supposed to hate, who is the guilty party and who should be punished for their problems. People’s memories are so short. It is easier to focus on one enemy–especially an enemy who does not belong to the same “tribe”–than to analyze a complex situation such as the Palestinian refugee disaster.
It is not my intent to discuss who belongs in that tiny region called Israel, but I will risk being shunned by my own community to set the record straight. The question is: why did Arabs flee the area that became Israel? After all, the ones who remained in their homes still live there today and prosper. The fact is that the Arab world warned the Palestinians against staying with the Jews. They also warned them that Arabs were going in to fight the Zionists and that the Palestinians should leave to avoid getting hurt.
Many Palestinians trusted these Arab leaders and left as instructed. Those who had lived with Jews for a long time were not as easily convinced of the danger, and these Arabs stayed home. Among them was my family, which saw cars traveling the area. The cars contained Jews. They reassured Arabs that they would not be harmed. Thus, we had a situation where Jews begged Arabs to stay and live with them, while Arabs from foreign countries told them to leave right away.
Palestinians have gotten the short end of the stick in Arab society. It suits Arab leaders to keep this group in a state of poverty and conflict, and to channel all resentment toward the Jews. You don’t believe me? Ask yourself why Jordan or Egypt or Syria never gave the Palestinians a country? If I hear another non-Palestinian, especially an American Muslim, repeat the phrase “over 50 years of the Zionist occupation,” I’m going to burst. Can no one actually read history? It’s not ancient history, just 1948-1967. Who had that land? Even if Arabs want Palestinians to have “all” the land, this is no excuse for denying them an independent state. And yet, we blame Israel!