Israeli Arabs shift focus to equal rights. Nationalism, land expropriation now have lower priority

Israel's Arab minority, long preoccupied with preserving its land from expropriation and recently drawn to Palestinian nationalism, now has a different agenda -- equal rights. The change was evident in the relatively unprecedented calm which marked this week's observance of Land Day. Israeli Arabs Sunday commemorated the 10th anniversary of March 30, 1976, when six Arabs were killed in clashes with Israeli security forces during protests against the expropriation of Arab land. On Monday, Israeli troops killed a Palestinian youth and wounded three others while quelling demonstrations on the West Bank.

Today, Arab leaders say, more subtle measures than land expropriation are employed to stifle the development of existing Arab towns and villages. They cite inadequate plans and funding for the expansion of existing Arab settlements; the priority given to Jewish settlements; and the neglect of the educational system in Israeli Arab areas, among others. The Israeli Arab leaders say these steps correspond to a rising wave of anti-Arab racism in Israel.

Prime Minister Shimon Peres's government is apparently attempting to deal with the concerns of Israel's 700,000 Arab citizens. Yosef Ginat, an adviser on Arab affairs, adopts a deliberately nonpolitical tone when discussing the issues.

Dr. Ginat says two main forces have alienated Israeli Arabs from their state. The first is a process of ``Palestinization and Islamization'' which, he says, has led Israeli Arabs to identify with Palestinian nationalism and fundamentalist Islamic movements. The second thread, Ginat says, is an accumulation of nonideological discontent and feelings of unequal treatment.

By initiating a dialogue with local Arab leaders, Ginat hopes to demonstrate that Israel is genuinely interested in being fair to its Arab citizens. In the past 18 months, he has vistied numerous Arab villages to discuss local problems and has pressed to upgrade expansion plans.

The quiet on Land Day, Ginat says, showed his policy has paid off.

The new realities of Israeli Arab politics are reflected in a split that emerged in the Arab community over how to observe Land Day. Most Israeli Arabs rejected a strike call by the pro-PLO Progressive List for Peace party. Instead, thousands attended Communist Party demonstrations, whose main slogan was simply ``Equal rights.''

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