Monday, April 15, 2013

The Arab Leader who Sings "Hatikva"

by Avinadav Vitkin

The "Hope for Change" party did not run in the last election for Knesset because of the fear of fraud, but its leader is sure that its pro-Israeli positions are held by hundreds of thousands of Israeli Arabs : "The state of Israel is our state and we must be loyal to it. To have equality but to contribute as well. We're sick of the radical politicians  who, together with the Israeli Left, perpetuate the hatred."

There were no surprises from the Arab sector in the elections. The hoped-for additional mandate or two for Arab members of Knesset (MKs) did not materialize because of the low voting rate and in the Balad, Hadash and Ra'am-Ta'al parties, not much has changed. After they were spared from the claims to disqualify them that always occur before elections, the Arab members of Knesset returned to their secure places in the Israeli Knesset. While the fate of the Palestinians is their main concern, there was silence about the way Arabs are slaughtering each other all around us, and even though their political power in the local Arab government is funded by the state of Israel, they call for the dismantling of the Jewish state.

A change for the better regarding the large and challenging Arab population in the south of the country doesn't seem likely either. The state of Israel's plans for permanent settlement, having been overturned in practice by the pattern of scattered of Bedouin settlements, are not going anywhere. Rage and alienation are increasing, illegal settlements supported by the Islamic movement and Arab nationalist movements are striking roots, and the state of Israel continues to do nothing.

Nevertheless, these days, if you walk the streets of Rahat, the large and developing Bedouin city in the South, you can see a difference in the billboards. Among the advertisements of the Balad people with their smiles and neckties , and the signs of "Idhkur Allah" (remember Allah) of the Islamic Movement, there is a new face. This is the face of Atef al-Krenawi, head of the new movement, "al-'Amal-al-taghyeer" ( الامل للتغيير) The Hope for Change.

The phenomenon of small, marginal Arab parties is not a new thing, but Hope for Change, which was established just before the elections (even if, after all, it did not run), definitely represents something new. The party of al-Krenawi, a Bedouin from the Negev, includes Christian and Muslim Arabs from all over the country who have taken the forbidden step - establishment of an Arab party that supports Israel. 

A Longing for Integration

Atef al-Krenawi is not a marginal person who is adopting an identity that is not his own. He is not a former collaborator and not a strange bird. Al-Krenawi is like any man of Rahat, and perhaps this is the novelty. As an affluent, respected person, with a powerful family (no less than 49 brothers!), al-Krenawi can say whatever he wants.

Al-Krenawi, 44 years of age, was born in Tel Arad and has been a resident of Rahat since age 8. He is married and the father of five. He served in the IDF and currently serves in the reserves. His adult children have done National Service. Al-Karnawi was Netanyahu's consultant for Bedouin affairs in 1996, and he continues in government service as the head of the Lehava Project (which aims to decrease the digital gap among minorities) in the Bedouin sector. He is energetic, shrewd and passionate. It is difficult to really assess the extent of his electoral potential, but it is also clear that there is such potential. Along with the processes of radicalization, there is a thirst for integration into the society, a desire to participate in National Service despite the objection of official leaders of all the Arab parties, and a certain dissociation from matters of the Arab and Palestinian world in favor of improving their condition and quality of life for the Arabs in Israel.

On the same day that I met Al-Krenawi, I also met the son of one of the heads of the Islamic Movement in the Negev. Even as his son was spouting fire and brimstone (in the metaphoric sense, of course, because the hospitality was excellent), his son sweetened his words with a forgiving smile: "I am really not there. I'm for integration into the society." The son has also established an NGO to promote the Bedouins' integration into Israeli society.

The reservations that the people have about the state of Israel, their joining the Islamic Movement or going into crime, are not a product of ideology ", explains Al-Krenawi, "this is a result of the reality. Of the neglect by the state of Israel. The state that doesn't define the issue of settlement, that doesn't create enough sources of livelihood  -  supports the radical movements."

Al-Krenawi claims to represent the entire Arab public, but in his words the Bedouins in the Negev are the most important and urgent challenge: "You don't understand how the present generation has grown up here with incitement and hatred. They get brainwashed to think that the Jews are murderers and house-wreckers, they are related to as class B citizens, and ultimately here is where a real atom bomb is hidden. Forget Iran, your real bomb is the Bedouins in the Negev." 

What brought you to establish "Hope for Change?"

We established the party for the general Arab population, with an understanding that we have no other country. The state of Israel is our state and we must be loyal to it. To have equality but also to contribute. I believe  that hundreds of thousands think as I do and are willing to support us, but of course I must battle the existing Arab parties. They have budgets that I naturally don't have yet. 

"We want to rescue the Arabs in this country. Those citizens who want to live here and to be part of the country and who are sick of the radical politicians who, together with the Israeli Left, perpetuate hatred for the country. Our radicals want there to be headaches in the country and the Left also can't live without a headache; that's why they help the radicals."

Your opposition says that the Arabs will never have a fair share of the state resources.

Our goal is to support the state of Israel, and in parallel make sure that the underprivileged Israeli Arabs will finally get what they deserve, but with the condition that they will also give back to the state. It is impossible to demand hospitals, schools, a university, employment and so on - and not give anything back. The burden must be shared equally. The state of Israel must be recognized as a Jewish state. If I go along with the state on the Knesset podium and all over the world, stand by its side in war and in peace, wouldn't I win the support of the Jews? I'm sure that I would. This is the only key that will rescue the Arabs of this country from unemployment, violence, drugs and jihad."

Can Arabs accept Israel as their state along with its being a Jewish state?

"Of course. I am first of all an Arab Muslim and proud Bedouin, and also a citizen of the state of Israel. I am not a self-hater. I am hajj three times over (has made the pilgrimage to Mecca, A.V.), I pray and everything, but my identity fits one hundred percent with the state of Israel as a Jewish state. This thing must be clear: my flag is the flag of Israel, not Palestine. Whoever wants the flag of Palestine should go to Palestine - which will not arise in a million years.  I sing "Hatikva" without any problem, because what is good for the people that I live among is good for me too. Should I tell the Jews who have suffered so much and lost six million to take down their flag? That this is not a Jewish state? Not that I don't have plenty of complaints about the state. But this state takes care of me. What would have happened if I lived in Syria, in Egypt or in Iraq? What countries... Rivers of blood."

It's a Matter of Money

The basic worldview of Arab politics says that the Jewishness of the state perpetuates the historic dispossession of Arabs from their land.

"Who fired the first shot and who wanted peace? We Arabs shoot Jews, persecute them and kill them and also receive budgets from the state. It's unbelievable. Where there are Jews there is economic prosperity, there is life, there is good health, and when the Jews leave, then it's the opposite. "

"There was never a state of Palestine here. I respect the Palestinians and want the best for them as individuals, as human beings. But it was the Ottomans who ruled here, afterward came the English and finally the state came and gave us citizenship. That's why I am Israeli and loyal to the state. Whoever is not loyal to his government is not loyal to his family. If I had been born in Jordan I would be loyal to Jordan, and it would be the same for Egypt or Libya. But thank G-d I was born in Israel.

"Today the Islamic Movement and Balad buy apartments for Arabs in Tel Aviv and other cities in order to chase out the Jewish neighbors. The state knows this and cannot do anything about it.  I don't understand these things. Anyway, I'm telling you that I bring with me hundreds of thousands. If I have the means to give the youth an alternative, and they will be for me only if I am part of the governing coalition, I can bring the youth out of the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Sufis, al-Qaeda and everything else that goes on here under the nose of the state of Israel. The problem is that the state apparently wants it to be that way. This apparently keeps everyone busy"

What do you mean?

"Look what's going on in the Negev, for example: who wins the bids for government jobs? the people of the Islamic Movement, Balad and Hadash, who burn the flag and incite against the state. Who succeeds in the university, in the economy? Those who hate the state. They have NGOs funded by the generous state of Israel, and they help students, orphans, the poor, while families of veteran soldiers who have not studied remain without livelihood. Then they turn to crime in order to make a living and end up sitting in jail. Who takes care of the prisoner's family? The Islamic Movement! That's how he and his family are won over and say thank you to them a thousand times. The state doesn't understand what's going on here. How can it be that a soldier comes home and his home is destroyed, and the people of the Islamic Movement sit in villas because nobody dares to mix it up with them? The message is very clear: A good Bedouin is like a disciplined dog who gets no attention. If you want to get budgets, jobs, attention, donations, money for NGOs - then you need to make a lot of noise. That's why the enemies of the state make noise and then the state buys quiet with money. That's the deal, and this is a disaster for the state".

You don't feel helpless against the system that you describe?

"Not at all." I'm not afraid of anyone. It's only a matter of budget. I can take the local authorities away from the Islamic Movement and then I will have the power for general elections as well. It's all a matter of money. The reason that we didn't run in these elections was that we didn't have enough time to raise the money to pay people to oversee the voting booths. Since only twenty percent of the election results from the Bedouin sector are true votes, I knew that without overseers they would erase all of the ballots that I would get.  That's the reason that at the last moment we decided not to run. But we are getting organized and we will have a lot to say in the future. If I win six local authorities, I've taken down the Islamic Movement". 

Not a Disciple of Jabotinsky

Attorney Kamel Tibi, 41, a resident of Taibe and a distant relative of MK Ahmed Tibi, promises that the new party is not a one-man party, but rather will be a real, living party whose members agree with the idea of integration in the state of Israel. Tibi, who was an adviser to MK Dalia Itzik, a former Kadima member, joined Atef al-Krenawi in the hope of changing the Arab political discourse in Israel.

His world view is different from that of al-Krenawi, because he is not an enthusiastic Zionist. An honest belief in a partnership with the Jewish public is enough for him, a stance that one can assume is more relevant to the great majority of Israeli Arabs. "The Arab MKs have not done anything for the Arabs in the past fifty years besides a few jobs and bringing money from abroad for their business", says Tibi. "I have been an adviser in Knesset enough years to know that in order for my children to live well, securely and prosperously, you have to be on the inside. In the coalition. The Palestinians have leaders that take care of them, and believe me they are more shrewd and clever than the Israeli representatives. The European Union gives them money too, and we, who live here, pay the price. We call on the Arab public to wake up and take care of itself instead of the Palestinians".

And to give up the dream of changing the character of the state of Israel? 

"They told Peres once that Arafat wants Jerusalem. He answered: He is allowed to dream. The state of Israel is a reality, this is axiomatic. If the state doesn't want the Israeli Arabs to rise up one day and demand autonomy, it must act today to give them the sense that they belong and are wanted, that they are also sons of the state. Today at least 75 percent of Israeli Arabs support the state of Israel, but this embarrasses the state because it doesn't want to give us the same conditions that the Jews have. I am not of my father's generation, that is still afraid when they see a soldier. I grew up with the Jews, I understand how this state manages itself.  I am a new Arab, not from the days of the military state. I want to live well and take care of my children, and so I don't negate the possibility to live here in peace, serenity and with equal rights". 

Does this mean identifying with the state too?

"I am not a disciple of Ben Gurion and Jobotinsky. Clearly, my ability to identify with the national anthem or the flag is limited, but we understand that the state is here, and we are with it. Even the Arab MKs who make noise, will tell you something else in the Knesset cafeteria. They too identify with the state of Israel, despite the fact that they make a living from causing disturbances. I crossed over to Kadima in its time, because I believe in coexistence. I have had the stigma of treason ever since the the days that I was with Avoda and Kadima. Let them say what they want.This is my belief".

The "Hope for Change" movement includes people from various backgrounds: people who come from Likud, Kadima, and even Benan Taha, a businessman from Kfar Qassem whose family has a political past in the Ratz party. He also emphasizes the Palestinian matter that has become a central business of the Arab leadership, [instead of] concern for the Arab public in Israel. "In every Arab home that we entered, they received us with open arms and told us that this is what is needed today. We didn't run for elections because we understood that we would have taken down Hanin Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka but without passing the lower limit percentage, and then we would have had the stigma of someone who came to dis-empower the Arabs."

According to Taha, "all of the Arabs want an equal share of the burden, but of course it must be possible to do National Service that doesn't present a problem with our identity and our religion. To serve in a hospital, for instance, is a good option. This way we can serve our brothers and our cousins as well. But first of all the state must prove that it is interested in changing our situation. I want to take you to Kfar Qassem, where today there is 80% compliance with tax collection. The mayor has paid off a debt of 50 million shekels. You will see that there is no sewage, schools or landscaping. This is the minimum that we must get from the state so that we can identify ourselves with it wholeheartedly. In neighboring Rosh haAyin it's paradise, everyone sees it. If the youth have a good school, and activities to occupy them after school hours, they will not go for drugs, they will not go for radicalism. this is the key to change and we will run on this idea in the next elections. I believe that we can bring about a drastic change in Arab politics".

Translator's Notes: 
"Hatikva" means "the hope". The hymn by this name is the Israeli national anthem, which speaks of the Jewish yearning to dwell in the Land of Israel as a free people.
Balad: Hebrew Acronym for "National Democratic Alliance"
Hadash: Hebrew Acronym for "Democratic Front for Peace and Equality"
Ra'am-Ta'al: the union of three Arab parties
Lehava: Hebrew Acronym for "To Minimize the Digital Gap in Israeli Society".  Although the word is pronounced with slight differences between Hebrew and Arabic, the root "L-H-V" ("L-H-B" in Arabic) means "flame" in both languages.

Avinadav Vitkin

Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav

Source: Yoman section of Makor Rishon newspaper, 12.4.2013, issue 818, page 14

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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