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Election benefits revive the old dilemma for Israeli Arab citizens

When the election results confirmed that the Arab League had emerged as the third-largest bloc in the next Knesset, its leader Ayman Odeach reached the Old Testament, tweeting in Hebrew from Psalm 118 that the rejected stone had become the cornerstone.

His message: The Arab community, which has long been confined to the margins of Israeli society, will use its new influence to set the country on a fairer path.

Ayman Odech speaks to reporters outside his home in Haifa, the day after the September 17 election (Photo: Gil Nasson)

Ayman Odeh talks to reporters outside his home in Haifa, the day after the September 17 election (Photo: Gil Nasson)

The results have left the two main parties deadlocked but marked a victory for the Arab bloc and have put Odeh in a strong position to become the first leader of the Arab opposition, an official role that will enable him to receive high-level security briefings and meet guest heads of state.

Outraged by what they see as racist politics and incitement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, most in the bloc have recommended their opponent, former army chief Benny Ganz, as prime minister, for the first time for Arab parties to back an Israeli candidate since 1992.

The potential for a newly discovered influence has forced Arab citizens to oppose the dilemma of returning to the founding of Israel: Working within the system can provide social benefits to a marginalized community, but risks legitimizing the state that many consider to be sending them. in second-class status and oppressing their Palestinian brothers in the occupied territories.

"We really want to support Ganz," said Abed Abed, a food wholesaler in the Arab city of Nazareth in northern Israel.

"But at the same time we are Arabs, and the people in Gaza and the West Bank are our brothers. If Ganz goes to war in Gaza tomorrow, then we can't be a part of it. So we're in big trouble. "

The leaders of the Alliance list refer to a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, who recommended Benny Ganz as prime minister (Photo: Reuters)

The leaders of the List are referring to a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, who recommended Benny Ganz as prime minister (Photo: Reuters)

Israeli Arabs make up 20% of the 9 million population and come from the Palestinians who remained in Israel after the 1948 independence war that surrounded its creation.

They have citizenship and suffrage, they speak Hebrew and attend Israeli universities and have increased attendance in a wide range of professions, from medicine to technology startups.

But they still face widespread discrimination, especially when it comes to housing, and accuse Israeli authorities of ignoring crime in their communities, contributing to rising homicide rates.

They also have close family ties with the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and are largely identified with the Palestinian cause.

This has led many Israelis to consider them the fifth column in alliance with the country's enemies, fearing that Netanyahu has repeatedly used them to destroy his right-wing base in the election campaigns.

The joint list of Arab parties has pledged to use its political clout to resolve day-to-day struggles while remaining out of government. No Arab party has ever sat in the Israeli government, and none of the main parties in Israel have invited them to do so.

List leader Ayman Odeh casts ballot in Haifa on Election Day (Photo: Elaad Gershgoren)

Joint List Leader Ayman Odeh votes in Haifa on Election Day (Photo: Ellad Gershgoren)

Problems facing Arab leaders and limited means of addressing them were exposed Wednesday in the northern city of Jaffa Amr, known in Hebrew as Shfaram, where Israeli forces destroyed two homes that were illegally built. It ignited clashes between local youth and Israeli police, who arrested about a dozen people.

"They do not consider themselves second-class citizens," said Sabri Hamdi, one of several angry residents who gathered outside the police station. "They want to despair and leave the country, but we will not."

Aida Tuma-Suleyman, an Arab lawmaker from the Odeach party, arrived shortly after the clashes ended. The crowd in front of the police station parted to let her go, and she met with Israeli officers inside to push for the release of the detainees.

After about 15 minutes, she came up with what she said was a commitment from police to process the cases quickly.

"The change will not happen in a few days. It's a long battle, "she said. "We have earned three seats, but the political situation in Israel has not changed. Racism is still there. "

MK Aida Tuma-Suleyman (Photo: Gil Johanan)

MK Aida Tuma-Suleyman (Photo: Gil Johannan)

Rights groups say systematic discrimination in planning and approvals has restricted the growth of Arab communities for decades, forcing those with growing families to build without permits and leaving them vulnerable to home demolition.

Odech cites equity among the largest Commonwealth listing claims in the New York Times
in which he backed Ganz as he refused to join his government.

He called for more law enforcement resources, better access to hospitals, increased pensions for all Israelis and programs to combat domestic violence.

He also called on the next government to renew the peace process with the Palestinians and repeal the controversial law passed last year, declaring Israel a nation-state of the Jewish people.

"Arab Palestinian citizens can no longer be rejected or ignored," Odech wrote. "The only future for this country is a shared future."

List leaders celebrate their election successes (Photo: AFP)

The leaders of the Common List celebrate their election successes (Photo: AFP)

A poll conducted by the Institute for Democracy in Israel earlier in the year, ahead of an unprecedented Israeli backing election, showed that 76% of Arab citizens favor their parties in the Israeli government and 65% are proud to be Israel, the highest rate. recorded since 2003. The nonpartisan think-tank polled 536 Arab nationals, with an error margin of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

It also found that 58% of Arab citizens were not dissatisfied with their leaders, something that pollsters attributed to part of the Palestinian cause's prioritization of domestic problems. But for many Arabs, the two are inseparable.

"Home worries cannot be separated from the general political oppression of the Palestinians," says Nijmeh Ali, a political analyst at al-Shabaka, a Palestinian mission. To do so is an attempt to undermine the political legitimacy of Arab leaders and to "depoliticize" what is considered institutional discrimination, she said.

The dilemma over how to get involved in politics continues to divide Arab citizens. Three deputies from the hard-line nationalist Balad party, which is part of the Joint List, refused to support Ganz.

"It is clear that the Palestinians in (Israel) want more influence," said Sheba Hazzak, the newly-elected Balad MP who recently completed her doctoral studies. in sociology from Tel Aviv University.

"But if you ask any Palestinian in this country if they want us, as Arab parties, to join an occupation government, a government whose budget is dedicated to the occupation, for the siege of Gaza, the answer will be no."

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