The meaning of Israeli Arab support for Hizballah

The monthly peace index published by Tel Aviv University’s Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research found on July 31-August 1 that 68 percent of the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel defined Israel’s war in Lebanon as unjustified; 79 percent claimed that Israel’s air attacks on Lebanon were unjustified; 56 percent judged Hassan Nasrallah’s declarations to be credible while 53 percent found that IDF reports were not credible.

These findings correspond roughly with declarations made to the media by Israeli Arab citizens under fire in the north; only a small minority of those directly affected by Hizballah’s rocket attacks spoke out against Hizballah, while most either condemned Israel or adopted the neutral pose of condemning the war and the mutual destruction and supporting an immediate ceasefire. In the Knesset, too, after an initial stunned silence, the ten representatives of Arab parties spoke out angrily against Israel’s war effort and drew furious responses from Jewish politicians and the press, who here and there went so far as to advocate ways of depriving them of their citizenship.

The readiness of a sizable majority of Israeli Arabs, who are predominantly Sunni Muslims, to identify with a Lebanese Shi’ite movement that rejects Israel’s right to exist and is indiscriminately bombarding the Israeli north, which is about 50 percent Arab, must give us pause. Ostensibly, these findings contradict those of more routine polls taken in recent years that indicate a growing readiness among the Palestinian citizens of Israel to come to terms, in one manner or another, with Israel and its Jewish nature. Obviously, they contradict the 80-90 percent support evinced for the Lebanon war effort by the Israeli population overall.

Indeed, the only time we heard serious and vocal Israeli Arab objections to Nasrallah was when he advised Arab residents of Haifa to leave their homes temporarily to avoid harm, implicitly admitting that he had little control over where his rockets fell. In fact, despite 17 deaths (as of August 10) and dozens of injured in Arab communities from Haifa to Nazareth and Mrar, few Israeli Arabs left their homes (unlike Jewish residents of the north, most of whom moved south if they could afford to), thereby attesting to their determination not to be displaced again as Palestinians were in 1948.

None of this behavior stopped Israeli Arab communities hit by the rockets from complaining that the government had not provided them with adequate early warning facilities and shelters. The government clearly had not taken into account just how inaccurate Hizballah’s rockets were and how indiscriminate Nasrallah would be in his rocket campaign, to the extent of bombarding a population that empathized with his side.

At the end of the day, the Israeli Arab community reacted to the war more or less the way the Arab "street" elsewhere reacted, whether in Cairo or Kuwait. Israeli Arabs also had special reason for concern in view of the large number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon who were affected by Israel’s bombing campaign. The Bedouin and Druze sectors, who serve in the IDF and are more closely identified with the state, here and there expressed open criticism of Hizballah and support for the Israeli war effort. The Christian minority kept its silence.

But the large Muslim majority of Palestinian citizens of Israel opposed the Israeli war effort even as Hizballah fired rockets at them and despite the fact that a number of moderate Arab governments openly took their distance from Nasrallah. This represents a palpable widening of the internal Israeli Arab-Jewish gap. While we will–and should–all no doubt hasten to get back to our diverse modes of peaceful coexistence when this war ends, this issue should not be swept under the carpet. Hizballah, with Iran’s backing, has in recent years successfully recruited several Israeli Arab agents. Now we must recognize that it has also made progress in winning over the hearts and minds of the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

The gap will hardly disappear merely by increasing Israeli state budgetary allotments to the Arab population, though that is a much-needed step. It will only be exacerbated needlessly by jingoistic calls to boycott or disenfranchise leaders of the Israeli Arab community. On the other hand, it could potentially be seriously narrowed by a successful conclusion to the Palestinian conflict, which Nasrallah exploits with great skill.

But that is not about to happen soon.