From Arab to Palestinian Israeli

By | Oct 27, 2011

Since then she’s been employed as a nanny for Jewish families and is especially close to the couple for whom she has worked more than 11 years, helping raise their twins. She jokes that her left-wing employers are more political than she is.

“It’s not that I don’t see what goes on here, and sometimes it does outrage me, but I don’t want to leave the country,” she says. “I don’t want to feel foreign somewhere else. My life is good here. But yes, I see the discrimination. I see it in education, that my neighbors don’t always have a place to live, that in the workplace there are places that prefer Jewish Israelis. But when I come for a job interview I always identify myself as an Arab. I’m proud of it, it is who I am.”

Mariam has seen discrimination firsthand—lengthy questioning at the airport and suitcases searched and returned days later, nasty glances for speaking Arabic, stinging anti-Arab comments during times of unrest and war. During a recent visit to a mall with her niece, a security guard asked to see their identity cards before letting them enter. Her niece, she says, “put up a fuss.” “But it’s all about how you handle things,” she says. “I don’t feel downtrodden.”

Mariam is proud of Shams, her only child with a university degree, although she wishes she had not chosen to work for a non-profit, and especially for a Palestinian-Israeli co-existence organization. She thinks “they,” meaning the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, will not thank her for her efforts. Mariam is also concerned about the Israeli government. “The security services here know everything and now she has all these connections with people from the West Bank,” she says.

She finds it difficult to understand why her eldest child has felt it necessary to take these risks. “I tell her not to get herself into complicated situations,” Mariam says. “She had a good life and has now gone and made it difficult.”

Mariam was too young and sheltered to be deeply influenced by Israel’s control of the West Bank and Gaza after the 1967 Six-Day War, a pivotal moment in the Arab-Jewish relationship.

After the war, the Arabs in Israel became more politically aware. The government hired them at high salaries to build up the new territories, spurring the growth of the Arab middle class. “Suddenly the Palestinians started having money in their pockets in what was an ironic but important stage in their development,” says Mahmoud Yazbak, a professor of Middle East history at Haifa University and chairman of Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, a prominent Arab nongovernmental organization.

They used this money first and foremost for education. By the early 1970s, Yazbak says, the number of Arab citizens going to university soared from no more than 50 new students a year to the thousands. The newly educated bolstered the ranks of Palestinian intellectuals and ushered in an era of activism.

At the same time, Israel’s control of the territories put its Arab citizens into direct contact with their brethren from the West Bank and Gaza for the first time in almost 20 years. It would take nearly a decade, however, for what is considered their political coming of age. On March 30, 1976, a general strike was called to protest government plans to confiscate hundreds of acres of Arab-owned land, and some Jewish land, to make room for Jewish towns and villages, part of a policy to “Judaize” the predominantly Arab Galilee. Six Israeli Arabs were killed by police fire and hundreds were arrested during the unrest that followed. Marches each March 30—now known as Land Day—commemorate the turning point of what is called the “Stand Tall Generation.”

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