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The speech that could change Israeli Arabs’ reality

Ayman Odeh, head of Joint Arab List WIKI COMMONS PHOTO
Ayman Odeh, head of Joint Arab List WIKI COMMONS PHOTO

My brothers and sisters, fellow Arab citizens of Israel:

We will soon mark 68 years since the State of Israel was established, an event our parents called the nakba, the catastrophe. We must do some soul-searching. I call upon you to join me and take a realistic and responsible look at our future here in Israel. I realize that many will attack me – politically, personally, perhaps even physically. I am not afraid. This is why I was elected.

I call upon you to embrace the following principles:

• Although we would have preferred otherwise, we recognize that Israel was established in 1948 as a home for the Jewish People – the only Jewish state in the world. And so, after almost a century of conflict, we renounce our aspirations to Arab rule over any part of Israel – aspirations that have mostly harmed us. Look around: is there any Arab country where you would prefer to live instead of this Jewish state?

• We know the road from armed confrontation and territorial conflict to peace, full equality and living in harmony, is long and rocky. War can start overnight, but a true and lasting peace is built over time. We choose to follow this path and take responsibility for the success of the process of building peace.

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• We, Arab citizens of the Jewish state, expect full rights and equal opportunities. At the same time, we realize that as a minority in conflict with the ruling majority, we enjoy many rights and opportunities, more than we could expect anywhere in the Arab world. Some examples: a Supreme Court judge, affirmative action in universities and public service, and targeted economic development programs. Furthermore, Arab women in Israel enjoy more opportunities, representation and equal rights than practically anywhere in the Arab world. Yet, we Israeli Arabs still have a long road toward full equality.

• We look to the Jewish immigrants of the United States and Canada as our role models for successful integration of a minority. A century ago, they were excluded, persecuted, downtrodden. Today, a glance at the names of Nobel prizewinners, the world’s wealthiest people, heads of major organizations, among others, shows us that an ambitious minority can thrive if they are willing to work hard and take responsibility. Let us learn from them and thrive ourselves! We are proud when we see more and more motivated, talented Arab engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs breaking glass ceilings. They show leadership and responsibility instead of complaining and waiting for others to lead. Let’s put an end to being oppressed – from today we shall act and we shall be successful!

• We understand that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not over. We are torn by this bitter dispute, and there are times when it defines our identity. However, we recognize that we must choose. If we want to be citizens of Israel, we cannot act against it – nowhere in the world would that be tolerated. If we cannot accept that, we know we have a choice – we can emigrate elsewhere.

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This (sadly) imaginary speech by the head of the Joint Arab List (political party with large representation in today’s Knesset), and its adoption by Arab Israelis, could have a great impact on many levels:

One, on the responsibility and attitude of Arab Israelis for themselves and their future.

Two, on relations between Israel’s Jewish citizens and their Arab compatriots.

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Three, globally. Countries, organizations and people would rush to support this historic declaration to promote the integration of the Arab minority in Israel.

Four, among moderate Arab states. Many will be surprised, but much support can be expected from this quarter.

And finally, among radical elements in the Arab world. They will make every effort to torpedo the initiative and eliminate the initiator.

Will there be an Arab leader with the vision and courage to present such an initiative? If one is found, would that leader survive – politically and physically?

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