Israel hit by Arab solidarity. Successful general strike highlights impact of growing empathy between Israeli Arabs and kin in occupied lands
Jerusalem — The joining of Israeli Arabs with fellow Arabs in the Israeli-occupied territories in a general strike yesterday highlights a growing affinity between the two groups. The combined strike dramatized what Israeli experts and officials call the ``Palestinization'' of Israeli Arabs. They use this term to refer to a growing Palestinian national consciousness among Arabs, promoted by contacts with their highly politicized brothers living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Israel occupied 20 years ago.
Yesterday's strike was nearly total, both among the Israeli Arab population of about 650,000 and the 1.4 million Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Shops were shuttered, Palestinians in the occupied areas did not go to work in Israel, and demonstrations were held. Official Israeli estimates put the number of Arabs who usually travel to jobs in Israel every day at 51,000 from the West Bank and 43,000 from Gaza.
In the West Bank Monday, three Palestinians were shot and killed in clashes between rioters and Israeli troops. By Israel's count, the death toll is now 19. (Unofficial estimates put it at 23.)
Police used tear gas in several locations in Israel to disperse Arab protesters who reportedly hurled stones and burned tires - tactics used often during the past 14 days of unrest.
The united action of Arabs - the most extensive in the 20 years of occupation - appeared to be the latest event in the emerging pattern that has followed the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
In the past, Israeli Arabs expressed empathy less openly. But as Palestinian nationalism has become more strident in the occupied territories, it has found echoes among Israeli Arabs.
When Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Arabs in Israel renewed contacts with fellow Arabs from whom they had been cut off for 19 years. Some villages that were cut in two when Israel achieved statehood in 1948 were rejoined, and relatives were reunited.
The mutual rediscovery has led to a growing political identification of the Israeli-Arab community with their Palestinian brethren who live under vastly different conditions.
The two major Israeli-Arab political parties have competed for votes in their community by emphasizing their Palestinian nationalism. Politicians from both the Communist Party and the Jewish-Arab leftist Progressive List for Peace have made it a point to participate in Palestinian cultural and political events that are held in the occupied territories.
This is a trend that Israeli officials dealing with Israeli Arabs find disturbing. These officials have expressed concern about what they say is a growing separatist tendency and disloyalty to the state among Israeli Arabs.
According to press reports, a secret study prepared by Amos Gilboa, the adviser on Arab affairs in the prime minister's office, warned that Arab municipal and local councils were setting up a network of autonomous local governments that could promote separatist policies in the Arab sector.
Israeli officials have also voiced concern that Israeli-Arab support for a Palestinian state could lead to irredentism.
On the eve of Monday's general strike, Ronnie Milo, deputy minister for Arab affairs, said he hoped ``moderation'' would prevail over extremism in the Arab community.
Mr. Milo appeared to believe that expressions of solidarity with Palestinians in the occupied territories indicated an anti-Israeli extremist bent among Israel's Arab citizens.
For their part, Israeli Arab leaders have argued that they are loyal Israelis expressing a genuine concern for their government's policy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
``We are protesting as citizens of Israel against the government's measures in the territories and its broader Middle East policies,'' Ahmed Abu Asbah, mayor of the Israeli Arab town of Jat, said to a group of reporters.
The political leadership of Israel's Arabs has likewise argued that Arabs in Israel can remain loyal to the state, while expressing a natural sympathy for their brethren in the occupied territories.
It appears that Israeli Arabs are reconciled to the existence of the Jewish state, and now are more preoccupied with struggling for equal rights as citizens of Israel, rather than in waging a struggle to establish an independent Palestinian state in place of Israel.
Israeli Arabs contend that the government has followed discriminatory policies in its budget allocations for local councils in the areas of education, health and public services.
Israeli Arab leaders say that while they want to see an independent Palestinian state as a focus of national identification, they also want equal treatment as Israeli citizens.
In putting forth both demands, however, they appear to be walking a fine line, analysts say. Their dual identity as Palestinians and Israelis has apparently led to Israeli officials' concern over yesterday's combined Israeli Arab-Palestinian general strike.
Though the strike was to last only one day, any continuation of such action would make a serious dent in the Israeli economy, which depends heavily on manual labor from the occupied territories.