Israeli Arabs Struggle for Equal Rights, Not Liberation
BARTA'A, ISRAEL AND ISRAELI-OCCUPIED WEST BANK — DESPITE a powerful surge of identification and solidarity during the Palestinian uprising, Arabs in Israel and those in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip remain fundamentally divided. The difference between them was dramatically evident on Land Day last week. Land Day commemorates the anniversary of bloody clashes in Israel on March 30, 1976, in which police killed six Arabs demonstrating against government expropriation of their land.
Last week, Israeli Arabs marked Land Day with peaceful, controlled demonstrations, while the West Bank erupted in violent protest in which Israeli troops killed two rioters and wounded about 50.
The village of Barta'a is a microcosm of the differences between Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Barta'a lies half in the West Bank, and half in Israel. Divided between Israel and Jordan after the 1948 war, the village was reunited in 1967 when Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan. Its entire population belongs to one clan.
Yet political conditions differ from one side to the other, leading to different expressions of nationalist sentiment.
This was graphically clear on Land Day, when the old border that bisected Barta'a was literally redrawn. Activists on the West Bank side of Barta'a set up barricades of rocks, scrap metal, and burning tires on the road connecting both sides of the village, at the spot where the boundary used to run.
In West Bank Barta'a, teenagers staged a raucous demonstration, marching with Palestinian flags, including a massive banner they unfurled in full view of the Israeli side of the village. The youths chanted slogans in support of an independent state, and read out a message over the mosque loudspeaker to their Israeli relatives across the valley.
The words could be heard distinctly in Israeli Barta'a: ``The occupation does not distinguish between you and us, between the eastern and western half of the village.... Neither prison, nor tear gas, nor bullets will stop the will of the people. Barta'a will become one village, united in a Palestinian state.''
Earlier in the day, several activists from West Bank Barta'a had crossed over into Israeli Barta'a, burned a tire and then draped a Palestinian flag from a telephone line, symbolically uniting the two halves of the village.
These acts, however, were met with little enthusiasm on the Israeli side. A group of men looked apprehensively at the demonstation across the valley, worried that it would spill over into their side and provoke a tough response from Israeli Border Police stationed outside the village. The Palestinian flag and the burning tire were not their style of protest, they explained.
``Even if 100 flags are put on this side, it won't change the fact that for me, this is Israel, and that is Palestine,'' said Ghassan Kabha, a medical student.
``I support my brothers on the other side like the Jews support Israel, with money and solidarity,'' he adds. ``But I am not ready to throw stones. I am not ready to hold the Palestinian flag and fight, because I have a state, I have a country. I am a Palestinian citizen of Israel. My goal here is equality between Jews and Arabs in Israel, not to establish a Palestinian state on the Israeli side.''
A diametrically opposed view could be heard on the West Bank side of Barta'a, where a young activist argued that despite their Israeli citizenship, Arabs in Israel are Palestinians.
``They can't say they have a state and citizenship, when their true citizenship and national identity are Palestinian,'' he said. ``We don't want them to assimilate into Israeli society; they should preserve their unique identity, and express it by writing, speaking out, and protesting against the occupation.''
The activist conceded that the goal of setting up a Palestinian state only in the occupied territories meant that the uprising should not be extended to Israel.
``We express ourselves by throwing stones, raising flags, setting up barricades, trying to cut ourselves off from the Israeli administration,'' he said. ``This is impossible on the other side. We have no plans to export the intifadah to Israel, but we do expect solidarity from our fellow Arabs.''
A man in Israeli Barta'a summed up: ``Our situation isn't the same. The people over there are one thing. We are another.''