There is a community of 1.3 million Arabs living within Israel but outside the Arab world. They have been neglected, ignored and often looked down upon by their fellow Arabs as traitors who have stayed behind while many Palestinian Arabs fled the violence of the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948.
Upon the founding of the state of Israel, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs fled their homes and took refuge in neighbouring countries such as Jordan and Lebanon, whereas about 120,000 Palestinians chose to stay and took up Israeli citizenship. These Arabs now make up about 20 per cent of the population of Israel; this number does not include the 600,000 Arab Jews who migrated to Israel in the 1950s and 1960s, many of whom still identify with their ancestral homes.
These Arab Israelis, having lived in Israel for six decades, have among them third and possibly fourth generation citizens and are not likely to leave the country in the near future.
The Arab Israelis have every right to demand more representation and equal treatment in their adopted country as they struggle, like any minority, to assert themselves. Although the Israeli constitution guarantees them equal rights, their situation resembles that of the animals in George Orwell's literary masterpiece Animal Farm in which those who control the farm proclaim that "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others" (no offence intended to either Jews or Arabs).
The sad truth is that the Arab Israelis enjoy more rights in a country that identifies itself as a Jewish homeland than they would have if they were living in any of the 22 Arab states that surround them. They can vote – genuinely vote with no pressure, rigging or strings attached. They have members of parliament who represent their rights, one of whom (Ghaleb Majadleh) holds a cabinet position, and they have the right to sue the government. Any of these would be considered an unthinkable excess in some parts of the Arab world.
In October 2000, a dozen Israeli Arab citizens were killed in clashes with the police as they marched in the wake of the second intifada. The Israeli government described the events as "tragic" and said that it "regrets the loss of life of citizens"; it paid compensation and censured the Israeli soldiers, one of whom was an Arab Israeli.
It is unimaginable that Arab states such as Egypt or Syria would entertain the notion of having the government sued, or opening an investigation into the many riots that turned violent in their streets in the past few years; nothing less than a total media blackout would have been imposed.
Israel, just like the US, has a system of lobbies that serve to look after and advance the causes of certain groups. We Arabs must take advantage of this opportunity and support our brothers and sisters who live inside Israel instead of ignoring and neglecting them.
Three times as many Arabs live in poverty as Jews in Israel. These are people with the power to vote in legislation that would protect the use of the Arabic language in a land over which we continue to recite poems, write articles and draw paintings to proclaim our love and devotion. People who maintain our traditions, culture and history, speak in our tongue and uphold our values – yet we turn our backs on them.
We claim that we care about the land of historic Palestine, but do we really? Is the best way to support the courageous people who have stayed in their homes and protected their lives and civilisation to ignore them for another 60 years?
Sadly, too few Arabs have decided to look beyond the animosity between Israel and the Arab world, and as a result we have almost no relations with our brethren within the state of Israel. None of the popular television song contests that broadcast in the UAE or Lebanon hosted even one Arab Israeli youngster. No summer camps invited Arab Israeli boy and girl scouts to interact with their kin on the other side. In fact there has been a policy of total exclusion between us.
Will the Arab world benefit from their departure from Israel? Who will take the 1.3 million additional Palestinians when we can't wait to expel those who already inhabit the numerous refugee camps in the Levant and North Africa? Why not support them financially, morally and psychologically?
It is only the Emir of Qatar in the Gulf who has donated a sum of US$6 million to build a football stadium in the Israeli Arab town of Sakhnin in 2005 after it became the first Arab-Israeli side to win the Israeli Football Cup. Sixty years of waiting resulted in a meagre US$6 million from the ultra-wealthy GCC states. Sixty long years. And we wonder why…
Sultan Al Qassemi is a Sharjah-based businessman and graduate of the American University of Paris. He is also founder of Barjeel Securities in Dubai.If you choose to comment and care for it to appear in The National newspaper please cc James at firstname.lastname@example.org