The conflicting approaches towards minorities within the different parts of Israeli society have taken a toll on the identity of Arab Israelis.
In the aftermath of the Hamas attack, Israel‘s Arab citizens find themselves caught in the war’s crossfire. The situation unfolds within escalating tensions and a multifaceted socio-political landscape, leaving little room for neutrality.
“It is challenging to be an Arab Israeli today. There’s a pervasive sense that we are caught between two fires, and regardless of the choices we make, there are consequences.” Samir, a 25-year-old resident of Kafr Qasim, finds himself living between two worlds without fully belonging to either.
He lives in a village on the Israeli side of the Green Line, which separates Israel and the West Bank. It is situated in the southern part of the “Little Triangle,” comprising Arab-Israeli towns and villages that, despite being within the Israeli state, have never fully integrated into it.
Since the deadly attack by Hamas on 7 October 2023 and the onset of the war in Gaza, the crackdown on domestic dissent and minorities in Israel has escalated. A wave of arrests has sparked international and domestic outrage, as individuals have been detained for “justifying and supporting Hamas actions” and face accusations of treason with potential sentences of up to 10 years in jail.
“On 7 October, like every Saturday, I woke up to meet with my friends. But as soon as I heard the news about what was happening next to Gaza and the operation carried out by Hamas, I couldn’t move; I was shocked. I knew that hard times were coming for us,” Samir explains.
Arabs with Israeli citizenship constitute the largest minority in the country, making up over 21 per cent of the total population. This diverse group includes various religious, linguistic and social identities. The segment with a Palestinian heritage is the largest within Israel.
Most Arab Israelis are descendants of Palestinians who chose not to flee during the event commonly known as the Nakba. In 1948, after the establishment of the state of Israel, over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs, constituting about half of pre-war Mandatory Palestine’s Arab population, were either expelled or voluntarily left their homes as a result of actions by Zionist militias.
While Arab citizens have the same legal rights as Jewish Israelis, they often reside in economically disadvantaged cities, have limited access to formal education and encounter various challenges, some of which experts attribute to structural discrimination.
Arab political parties and currents in Israel have historically faced challenges in securing adequate representation in the government. Many Arab Israelis have expressed concern about the leadership of right-wing Israeli politicians, particularly during the tenure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most recent government. Critics argue that it represents one of the most extremist administrations in Israel’s history, leaving little room for Arab representation in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.
The conflicting approaches towards minorities within the different parts of Israeli society have taken a toll on the identity of Arab Israelis, constraining their sense of citizenship through mutual distrust and suspicion.
“Hamas’ actions have forced all of us to rethink our identity. Are we Israeli citizens or Palestinians?” Samir said. “Do we belong here or on the other side of the wall? The way the Israeli society looks at us does not make me feel fully recognised as a citizen. At the same time, I do not feel comfortable being under a Palestinian government.”
Since the outbreak of the current war, dozens of Israeli Arabs have faced imprisonment, although later released with warnings or fines, for expressing solidarity with Gaza. Some have experienced harassment and even expulsion from work or university as a result of their stance.
Dalal Abu Amneh, a renowned singer and influencer from Nazareth, was detained for two days and now faces serious accusations. Charged for “disruptive behaviour” and “inciting violence” through her Instagram posts, particularly one featuring the Palestinian flag with the text “There is no victor but God,” she now faces scrutiny from Israeli authorities.
The state of emergency in Israel has raised concerns about individual rights violations, especially freedom of expression. Many prominent voices have criticised this situation. The aftermath of the Hamas attack has triggered widespread anxiety in Israeli society, fostering an increased fear that the Arab minority might join Hamas in the struggle, intensifying tensions between Arab and Jewish Israelis and creating a more challenging context for minorities living in Israel. However, instances of censorship have also surfaced within the Arab Israeli community.
Ofney Uday, a 42-year-old bike shop owner in Taibe, had his shop torched and looted after donating bikes to Israeli kids from a kibbutz raided by Hamas that were hosted in a nearby community. Eventually, a fundraising campaign by Israeli citizens collected over $200.000 and helped him reopen a new business in Kfar Sava, but he remains acutely aware of the precarious situation.
When contacted by Fanack, he declined further discussion. “I prefer not to talk about this story anymore; it is a very complicated time for us, and we live on the edge daily,” he said.
A different narrative unfolds where it concerns the many Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, who are permanent residents of Israel but not citizens. Jerusalem has been at the centre of tensions for months, even prior to the war in Gaza. It has seen daily clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police for issues related to access to the al-Aqsa mosque as well as for provocative settler marches in the Palestinian part of the old city.
In Jerusalem, few are willing to discuss the events in Gaza for fear of retaliation from Israeli authorities. Among them is 44-year-old Alaa Sulaiman, the owner of an electronics shop next to the Damascus Gate in the Old City.
“Following the attack by Hamas, the situation in Jerusalem changed for the worse. If we were in a conflict before, now we are at war. However, our war is not fought with weapons but with our will for freedom. That is all that is left for us. Unfortunately, all voices speaking against the war are silenced, and people are even afraid to talk about it. Many have been imprisoned just for expressing words of solidarity towards the people of Gaza,” Alaa underlined.
While we talk, the Old City and the entire East Jerusalem are strangely silent and empty as the population, along with the entire West Bank, has decided to go on a complete strike to show support for Gaza. “This is our only way to demonstrate our opinion and to shut down the city’s economy. We want people here to understand that this war is against all human beings, regardless of whether they are Palestinians or Israelis,” says Alaa.
Photo Credit: Nino Orto
This article was originally published on Fanack.com