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May 07, 2003

Good fences make good neighbors--Robert Frost

ISRAEL’S ARAB MINORITY: Feeling economically isolated, Israeli Arabs reach out to Jews

[...]For some Israeli Arabs, however, the reality of the fence is motivating them to try to mend fences with the Jewish majority: As Israel celebrates its 55th birthday this week, some Israeli Arabs appear to have rediscovered their Israeli identity.

Two and a half years ago, days after the Palestinian intifada began, residents rampaged at the entrance to Umm el-Fahm, cutting the major Wadi Ara traffic artery and assaulting drivers who appeared Jewish.

Since then, Jews have avoided Umm el-Fahm, not patronizing its restaurants, discount furniture stores and olive oil shops. In fact, Israeli Jews largely avoid Arab areas anywhere in the Galilee since the October 2000 riots.

With an upsurge of terror attacks along the Wadi Ara road and in the neighboring Jewish towns of Afula and Hadera, local Arabs also have cut down on visits to their Jewish neighbors, avoiding the unpleasantness of feeling like suspects. As a result, the two populations are growing further apart.

Some Israeli politicians have suggested that as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians, Umm el-Fahm should be handed over to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for West Bank settlements that would be annexed to Israel.

That set alarm bells in Umm el-Fahm ringing nervously. Though the strength of the Islamic Movement has made Umm el-Fahm nearly synonymous in recent years with anti-Israel radicalism, most residents — like the vast majority of Israel’s 1.3 million Arab citizens — would prefer to be a minority in the Jewish state than to live under the Palestinian Authority.

Thus, even though the new fence cuts them off from their Palestinian brethren in the West Bank, many Israeli Arabs welcomed it. Perhaps, they said, it means the government didn’t really consider turning them over to the Palestinian Authority after all.

There is a general consensus here that the fence is a good idea, said Kassem Zeid, a retired journalist, at his home in the eastern suburbs of Umm el-Fahm.

Kassem still fears that the idea of a future territorial exchange between Israel and Palestine may be revived. That’s why he and a group of some 20 friends are working on a new campaign designed to mend relations with the Jews.

The group meets once a month in a private residence to work out the details.

Eventually they want to call a news conference under the title “Umm el-Fahm greets its Jewish neighbors.” [more]