One of Israel’s prime time evening news programs ran a series on what it called the Palestinian middle class. It featured glitzy hotels, shopping malls, and restaurants in Ramallah and other West Bank cities, interviews with managers and patrons, details of West Bankers, Israeli Arabs, and overseas tourists sharing in what seems like the good life, and interviews with individuals seeing their future in Palestinian high tech.
Some of the extravagance portrayed was over the edge, too much for a modest Israeli to enjoy. The design of hotels and restaurants suggested the excesses of nouveau riche Jews portrayed in Goodbye Columbus, and the pink Cadillacs favored by Harlem politicians and pimps in the 1950s.
The prices are a fraction for anything comparable within Israel.
For that, Palestinians can thank low taxes, low rates of tax collection, and low wages.
The positive side of what we saw is consistent with the experience of an Arab friend. We used to meet regularly at the Hebrew University swimming pool until he transferred his swim to Ramallah. He may feel more comfortable in an Arab/Palestinian setting. And it is probably less expensive.
The same friend sent me an email, including an attachment describing the benefits to West Bankers associated with economic opportunities, which he labeled with the title of this note, i.e., It’s the economy, stupid.
When politics has been going nowhere, economic progress provides a great deal of what people want.
Gaza is significantly less attractive than the West Bank, but there are also snippets on the Internet showing that the area is not entirely a miserable prison. It also has high-end apartments and other opportunities to live the good life, albeit with minimum international travel.
There’s news of Israeli Christian Arabs, using Palestinian passports or Jordanian documents to visit Christian sites in Lebanon.
Those who object to them using Palestinian passports might also object to me, and about 100,000 others required to exit and enter Israel with Israeli passports and enter the US with an American passport.
Along with this are encounters on our walks around French Hill. We’ve passed by individuals and couples, including women in shorts and fashionable jerseys, some with thoroughbred dogs, speaking with their partners in Arabic. Women in shorts and expensive dogs are part of what people describe as Israelization.
Some time ago, when there was an uptick in individual knife attacks by enraged Palestinians/Israeli Arabs, walkers in this neighborhood, not far from Isawwea and Shuafat, showed more than the usual care as to who was near them. I was walking faster than a young couple, dressed like any Israeli Jews in jeans and shirts, holding hands and talking as if they were enjoying life and one another. As I approached, they both turned and examined me briefly, until my age and/or something else seemed to mollify their suspicion. Then as I passed, they continued their conversation, in Arabic.
More recently, when passing by the neighborhood primary school during the rush of kids leaving for their afternoon freedom, I passed by a well-dressed woman speaking in Arabic on her cell phone. Then the boy she was meeting burst out of the gate chatting in Hebrew with his mates.
A sociologist friend found that a majority of Israeli Arabs are willing to fight for their country.
To be sure, the picture is mixed.
Polls range widely in showing both distrust and rejection of accommodation between Israeli Jews and Arabs, as well as attitudes in both communities that life is good.
Israel must continue to invest heavily in its security, including a level of intelligence that penetrates, and brings discomfort to our Arab and Palestinian neighbors.
There are Israeli Arabs and Palestinians demanding a return to a time before most of them were born, and willing to end their lives in order to kill Jews.
On yet another hand, are Jews who reject the idea of sharing a country, neighborhood, or the entire Land of Israel with Arabs.
More moderate than either are Arabs, including individuals who have risen to high positions in the Israeli government, who stand silently during the singing of the national anthem, and refrain from celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.
One Arab politician participates in ceremonies to remember the Holocaust but couples this with citation of the losses experienced by his own people.
Somewhere close to the equivalent may be Jews who do not want the entire Land of Israel, but who work to keep Arabs from renting or buying apartments in their building, saying that it is sure to lower the value of their own holding.
There are Jews who work to keep ultra-Orthodox families out of their buildings, for the same reason.
We should remember the long history of the Jewish people, never completely sovereign in a setting entirely Jewish, usually but not always getting along with their neighbors. And arguing who is a Jew? and What about mixed couples?
Now perhaps for the first time, Jews have maintained a strong nation where they are a large majority, capable of resisting pressure and enmity from countries large and small. The economy and culture suggest what Jews can do when not restrained by quotas, gentlemen’s agreements, or suspicious neighbors and employers.
The notion of a bi-national state, as opposed to a Jewish state, is something that can increase Jewish tempers.
The reality is that we already have a bi-national state, or maybe a multi-national state, taking account of ethnic/racial differences among the Jews, and the many people who identify as Jews but are not recognized as such by the Rabbinate. Yet none should expect Israel to give up the Judaic symbols of a flag, anthem, Law of Return that favors Jews, and the verbiage in its Declaration of Independence. Arab citizens and Arab residents of Jerusalem who have rejected Israeli citizenship can accept a great deal of accommodation, and better overall standards of living and politics than in any other Middle Eastern country, without aspiring to undoing history.
Israel’s prominent minority lives better and is more thoroughly integrated, for the most part, than the prominent American minority.
Israeli Arabs have only one-tenth the chance of being incarcerated as African Americans, and Israeli Arab males, on the average, live five and one-half years longer than African American males.
Peace and harmony are not on the horizon. Issues of boundaries, mutual recognition, along with a number of detailed disputes seem insoluble. However, a lot of people, Jews, and Arabs seem to have reached a higher level of accommodation than the politicians claiming to represent them.
We might also worry about the fragility of Palestinian society and politics. They have high levels of unemployment, corruption, and crime. But those conditions also appear in many other countries. Concerns about the future of Palestine is somewhere in the category with concerns about stability throughout the Third World, along with the escalating tensions between Spain and Catalonia, and that strange man who is President of the United States.
With respect to Palestine, the best bet, along with all the appropriate worries, is that it would be stupid to overlook the advantages of economic development.
Reprinted with author’s permission from The Jerusalem Post