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Israel Palestine Peace Talks: Let's Also Address Arab Treatment in Israel

In the past few months, political and media attention has focused on the renewed effort, headed by Secretary of State John F. Kerry, to restart the Israel-Palestine peace talks. While speaking at the American Jewish Committee Global Forum in Washington on Monday, the secretary of state said that Israel could not afford to wait to make peace with its Arab neighbors. Israelis, said Kerry, are “lulling themselves into a delusion” that the status quo of a relatively secure Israel in perpetual conflict with its neighbors can be sustained.

However, in light of the fresh wave of trouble facing U.S. efforts to renew peace talks, very little has been said about the internal conflict being waged in Israel between the Arab-Muslims and the Jews.

In 2012, the film Ameer Got His Gun sparked a wave of media and public interest in the lives and challenges of the various minority populations living in Israel. The film, directed by Naomi Levari and released at the Other Israel Film Festival, documents the discrimination and persecution that Ameer Abu Ria, a young Arab Muslim, encounters as he enlists in the Israeli military. His is certainly a counterintuitive career choice. Arab citizens of Israel are exempt from the country’s mandatory-service rule; however, for the few Arab volunteers — roughly 20 Muslim Arabs volunteer to serve every year — joining the Israeli military is both an act of responsibility and a means to assert themselves as equals within the predominantly Jewish state.

“It’s my country, and I’ll defend it, more than I’d defend myself,” Ameer Ria says. “It gives me the feeling that I’m part of the country, that I’m one of its people.”

In the absence of a binding constitution, Israel has no real protection for its minorities or for their freedom of worship and expression. Instead, many Israeli Jewish citizens harbor exclusionary ideas about a “pure” Israel with no Arabs.

When modern Israel was created 64 years ago, its Declaration of Independence promised “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants.” The modern combination between democracy and Judaism was expected to give birth to a pluralistic nation. In theory, the state would protect Jews against persecution, and the moral standards of Jewish culture would guard against Israeli citizens becoming persecutors of others. However, very little thought was given to Palestinian Israeli citizens within the Jewish-democratic equation. Consequently, the state’s religiosity, which has come to be defined by extreme Orthodox interpretations, has led to the implementation of laws that define Israeli Arabs as secondary citizens within the “Jewish and democratic” state.

Ultimately, Levari's film seems to reach the conclusion that as long as Israel is facing the external challenges of Arab — in particular Palestinian — hostility, its internal divisions will never be overcome. Moreover, it leaves its audience caught up in some of the most discussed issues confronting Israeli Society: what is the role for a growing Arab minority in a state resolved to be democratic and Jewish?  

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