March 22, 2008

Faradis. Kafr-Kassem. Shfar-Am.Taibe. Um-El-Fahm. Whoever heard of these names? Are they in today’ s newspaper headlines? Have they been shown on television? Would an average American appearing on Jeopardy be able to identify them or know what they have in common?

These are the names of Arab villages — largely populated by Arabs only — deep in the heart of Israel proper. Not on the West Bank. Not on the Gaza Strip. Inside the borders of the State of Israel. Their residents are Israeli citizens with most of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Relatively few of them have taken part in the Intifada. Their standard of living, while not up to that of the average Jewish Israeli, is far better than that of the vast majority of Arabs in countries controlled by their bretheren. They have no desire to emigrate from Israel and, except for a lunatic fringe, the Israeli Government and most Israelis have never suggested that they be exiled or deported.

These five villages can rightly be defined as “settlements.” But no one in his right mind has asked that these settlers be forced to vacate homes and move to Arab lands. No one has suggested that their presence in the heart of Israel constitutes the major impediment to Middle Eastern peace. No New York Times editorial, no television talk show, no vituperative columnist has even mildly hinted at such a step. The names of these villages are never even mentioned. Is there a conspiracy of silence by the American press?

Peculiarly enough, these same newspapers, these same television networks, these same columnists and pundits are at the same time pounding away on the theme that Israel must get tough with its settlers, must remove their settlements from Hebron, and even from the perimeters of Jerusalem. Claims are made that the settlements constitute a danger to the peace process, so they must go, and they must go now. Otherwise, the peace process will falter, and you know who is to blame for that.

Whatever happened to quid pro quo? If Arabs can live peacefully in the land of Israel, why can’t Jews live peacefully in Arab lands? They did so for two thousand years and, in countries like Morocco, still do today. If there can be Arab villages inside Israel, what is so wrong with the idea of Jewish settlements or villages in Gaza or Jordan or in some future Palestinian state, should one arise? These questions seem fair, but no one asks them. Not the newspapers, not Crossfire or Nightline. Not even normally pro-Israel columnists. Nobody.

The more important question, however, regards reciprocal living arrangements. Is ethnic cleansing really necessary in the Middle East? Europeans, Asians, African-Americans and Latinos coexist more or less amicably in the United States. So do Jews and Arabs. If they can coexist here, if Arab villages can grow and flourish in Israel, why can’t Jewish settlers grow and flourish in Arab countries? Certainly, this question creates other questions. Whose laws will the settlers obey? Will they be given citizenship in the countries where they reside? Most important, will these countries provide them with protection? And, if some settlers choose to return to Israel proper, will the Government of Israel provide them with financial assistance? These are just a few of the many questions needing answers.

But these questions can never be answered until the first question is discussed, debated and settled. By the Israelis, by the Arabs, by the American State Department, perhaps by the United Nations. First and foremost, however, the American press must be willing to ask this question. If there can be Arab enclaves in Israel, why can’t there be Jewish enclaves in Arab countries? What is the matter with quid pro quo?

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