Imagine yourself waking up one morning and finding yourself in a different country. You don’t remember packing, you don’t recall crossing a border, and yet, outside, there’s a “foreign” flag rippling in the wind. You recognize the flag, but it’s not your own.
This so-called dream might become a reality for thousands of Israeli-Arabs after the Israeli upcoming general elections only a month away. I’m speaking of Avigdor Liberman’s initiative, Israel’s foreign minister until not long ago, and his political party “Israel, Our Home.” His plan is simple and straightforward: Transfer Israeli-Arabs to a future Palestine. This would solve the Arab problem, create a more homogeneous Jewish state. He’s speaking of residents who live exclusively in Arab villages, in Israel, along the “stitch-line” of the Israel/West Bank border and some villages further north, on the road leading to Galilee, a place I call home.
Liberman, a staunch right-wing politician, was born in Moldova, one of the Soviet Union’s former republics. At age 20 he immigrated to Israel. In time, he joined Netanyahu and moved up the ranks. Russian Jews, who are generally right-wing and against making concessions to Arabs, further helped Liberman climb the political ladder.
Why does Liberman bring up this land-swap idea now?
His party has been recently rocked by scandal. Officials in his party are under investigation, accused of siphoning money, controlling and awarding contracts, receiving bribes. Although he’s not personally accused, he’s suffered a black eye. The fallout is evident. Would-be voters and supporters are abandoning ship. According to latest polls, his current 14 seats in Israel’s parliament, will be reduced to 6 on election day.
So, in pure Putin-fashion, Liberman is getting on his horse and is trotting all over the Israeli map to sell his idea. His campaign to transfer Arabs appears in newspapers and highway billboards. There’s one such billboard at the entrance to my home village in Kfar Tavor. It reads:
Um El Fahem to Palestine
Ariel to Israel
Bottom Line: Liberman -“Israel, Our Home.”
The message speaks to the conservative base. At first glance, the message is appealing, even intoxicating. What’s not to like? Throw them out. All of them. The city Um El Fahem is a buzz-word for Arab trouble-makers, and for good reason. In the 2000 Arab Intifada, Arab residents blocked Wadi Ara, the highway that goes though their city, essentially cutting off Israel in two. The burning tires and stone-throwing are long gone, but their bad-ass image remains to this day. So, it’s no wonder, Liberman wants to get rid of all 50,000 Arabs in the city, send them to Palestine, where they belong.
But do they belong in Palestine?
Under the law, they’re Israeli citizens. Their forefathers had lived on this land long before Israel was established. In Liberman’s view, Um El Fahem is nothing more than a bargaining chip, to be exchanged for Ariel.
Is that a fair or even exchange?
Ariel is a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, also known as biblical Judea and Samaria. Any way you call Ariel, it did not exist, at least not in its present form until 1978. Ariel, now numbering 20,000 Jews, sits in occupied territory. The town offers enviable municipal services, parks, schools, and even a university.
Liberman wants to eat the blintzes and have them too; he wants both to transfer the Arabs from Israel and keep Jews in occupied territory. The rules of his games are odd. He doesn’t ask the Arabs if they want to play; they’re moved off the board game. He’s decided Jewish Ariel will be included in a Greater Israel. What if Ariel were to be a Jewish outpost inside Palestine? Would it not be sinilar to a West Berlin behind Israel’s own wall? Sensing that his block of seats in parliament will further strengthen a conservative government, he’d already let be known that he will no longer seek the foreign minister position. Instead, he wants to be minister of defense.
If that were to happen, could the land-swap proposal go beyond elections rhetoric, and really happen? Smelling something’s in the air, the four or five Israeli-Arab parties, who were always splintered and stepping over each other’s toes, decided to put their differences aside. They’re going into the elections as one block. Analysts predict their united party might be the 3rd largest in parliament. No Jewish party, Left or Right, would do business with them, but that’s beside the point.
I don’t like Wadi Ara. The road leading to the coast goes through the Wadi. The road is narrow, the traffic lights are slow, the Arab truck drivers zigzag all over the place; it’s a hazard. But I don’t see myself getting off the road and throwing the first Arab I see over the border. They, too, when asked, don’t want to leave. More than 85% want to stay in Israel. Can you blame them? They do well financially. Originally, they used to peddle coal (Fahem, in Arabic) from the forests on the hilltops. Today, they haul heavy-duty loads on semi-trailers, they work in road construction, manufacturing, auto industry. They’re not stupid. They see the turmoil in the West Bank, in Gaza, in Jordan, in Syria. They’re Israeli and they want to remain Israeli.
They don’t like us, and I don’t love them much, either. Tough.
Liberman is playing with fire. The game can be played two-ways. In Galilee, Arabs are the majority. As a Jew, I’m a minority in Galilee. Who’s to stop Arabs in Galilee from wanting to establish their own “nation” here. As is it, the Jewish-Israeli authorities, police, social workers, and such hardly set foot in Arab villages. Arabs run their own show. Worse yet, Arabs in mixed cities (Jews and Arabs) such as Haifa, Jaffa, Acco, Lod, Ramla, Nazareth – they may claim their own “autonomy.” Before long, Israel will turn into Swiss cantons. Only instead of dipping their bread into fondue, Jews and Arabs should first smell the hummus.
This is a centuries-old conflict. It cannot be solved unilaterally. Liberman’s idea is sexy and populist. But it’s a non-starter, a dead-end, a dangerous political game. No one’s going anywhere. Jews and Arabs are here for the long haul.
Deal with it, Liberman.
Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.
He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com
or at BN.com