Thursday, March 04, 2021




In his 1986 capsule review of Raphael Patai's book, The Seed of Abraham: Jews and Arabs in Contact and Conflict, John C. Campbell concludes:
The author draws some personal conclusions of his own that seem unduly optimistic, such as that the Israeli Arabs are moving through evolving cultural values to a status of equal partners in the democratic and liberal state of Israel. [emphasis added]
Is Campbell right?

In his book, Patai writes that Arabs living under foreign rule is not something new. Until World War I, most Arab countries were ruled by the non-Arab Turks, followed afterward by control under the forces of Great Britain, France and Italy in the region.

But in those cases, the Arabs were the majority population.
In Israel, in 1948, the Arabs almost overnight became a minority in a country in which for many centuries they had been the overwhelming majority even though they did not enjoy self-rule. [p. 322]
With the reestablishment of the State of Israel, not only did the Arabs become a minority -- for the first time, Arabs were exposed to the kind of non-Arab influences which few Arabs had ever experienced before.

Patai describes the compulsory education, exposure to Hebrew and integration into the Israeli workforce, as the Arabs commuted to nearby Jewish cities, towns and villages. All this brought improvements to the Arab standard of living -- and also gave the Arabs increased exposure to Israeli society and culture.
In brief, although in no segment of Israeli Arab society had things reached a stage even in the 1980s where one could speak of the onset of Arab deculturation that is, a decline of their national Arab culture, it soon became clear that what was happening was that the Israeli Arabs were rapidly becoming bicultural...At the time of this writing (1985), this process is still in full swing. [p.323]
To get an idea of how the Israeli-Arabs themselves viewed this, Patai quotes from research done by Mark A. Tessler in 1974, published as "The Identity of Religious Minorities in Non-Secular States." Tessler examines Jews in Tunisia and Morocco -- and Arabs in Israel. As a result of his research, Tessler finds Israeli Arabs to be a "non-assimilating" minority with an "unnarrowed cultural distance" between Arabs and Jews in Israel.

Tessler's evaluation is supported by these responses from the 348 Israli Arabs he interviewed:
23% said they feel more comfortable in Israel than they would in an Arab or Palestinian state
30% said it made no difference
55% considered Israel's creation in 1948 to have been illegal
But on the other hand:
53% stated the term "Israeli" described them "very well" or fairly well"
40% said they felt closer to Jews in Israel than to Arabs in distant lands such as Algeria or Morocco
As a measure of the extent of bicultural acculturation:
50% rejected the statement that it was unacceptable for a married woman to go out socially in public without he husband
Most listened to Hebrew radio and television programs as often as Arabic ones.
55% felt it was important for their children to study the history of Judaism
65% felt it was important to study the history of Zionism
78% said they would not object  to their children attending a Jewish high school
Tessler writes that "the rejection by many Israeli Arabs of some aspects of traditional Arab culture is unmistakable, suggesting that the distance between Jews and Arabs in Israel is reduced in some areas" -- but then goes on to conclude that "no plausible outcome of the struggle among [the] cultural and religious facts would bring about a situation in which non-Jews can share fully the mission of the state."

But based on the positive side to some of Tessler's results, Patai interjects:
The data presented do not seem to justify this conclusion.
According to Patai, the tension between Arab and Jew is aggravated by 3 things:
The Arab religion, tradition and history have conditioned them to have a disparaging view of Jews as dhimmis
o  Never before in Arab history have they lived under Jewish rule
o  An Arab's knowledge of the Koran and Islam has taught them that for a Jew to rule over Arabs is against the will of Allah and intolerable
Based on this, we might expect matters to be worse.
Why aren't they?
Arabs are also pragmatists, and, if not in thought and word, certainly in action, have always recognized and accepted the limitations of the possible. [p. 328]
Because of that Arab pragmatism, Patai still cautions that in the event of renewed hostilities, Israeli Arabs would side with their fellow Arabs if given the opportunity, seeing as at the time of the writing of his book, Arabs have still not reconciled themselves to life under Israeli rule. And material improvements to the lives of Israeli Arabs will not necessarily improve matters. 

Then what will?
Israeli Arabs will have to absorb enough of the Israeli-Hebrew culture and values to erase from their psyche that age-old Arab contempt for the Jewish dhimmis...It can come about only gradually as a result of the de facto symbiosis of Arabs and Jews. [p.328]
Patai sees the contact of Israeli Arabs with Palestinian Arabs as a major factor preventing "Israelization." This is the second consequence of Israel's victory in the Six Day War, that the presence of these Palestinian Arabs and the challenges of Gaza and the "West Bank" since 1967 serves to radicalize Israeli Arabs. The other problem, which Patai mentions earlier in the book is that while Gaza and the West Bank were under the control of Egypt and Jordan, there were no expressions of independence or of establishing a Palestinian state, knowing that neither Nasser nor King Hussein would take kindly to the idea. The miraculous victory also removed that inhibition on calls for a Palestinian Arab state. 

Similarly, as Patai writes in his preface to the 1976 edition of The Arab Mind (p. xxiv-xxv), the fact that Egypt was able to hold its own in the beginning of the 1973 October War, not only gave Sadat the self-confidence to pursue a peace treaty with Israel with honor -- instead of being merely a defeated foe -- but as Patai adds here, it helped create a new generation of Palestinian Arabs who actively supported the PLO.

On that score, evidence that this ominous radicalization of Israeli Arabs that Patai saw may be counterbalanced by surveys of Israeli Arabs in recent years which indicate a decrease in the identification Israeli Arabs feel as Palestinians, as noted in an earlier post, More evidence that fewer Arab Israelis identify as "Palestinian":

Survey as Israeli as Israeli-
Arab
as Israeli-
Palestinian
as Arab-
Palestinian
as Arab as Palestinian as Religious
(Muslim,
Christian,
Druze)
Smooha I
(2012)
--- 40% 40% 20%  --- --- ---
Smooha II
(2014)
--- 32% 45% 22%  --- --- ---
Shaharit
(2017)
20.5% --- --- ---  28.4% 14.6% 35.8
+972 Magazine
(2019)
--- 46% 19% ---  22% 14% ---
JPPI
(2020)
23% 51% --- ---  15% 7% ---

An apparent problem with this chart is that it does not jive with Tessler's survey that back in 1974 53% of Israeli Arabs stated the term "Israeli" described them "very well" or fairly well -- unless you include in the above chart those who see themselves as Israeli-Arab/Israeli Palestinian as well.

Patai sees the situation of Israeli Arabs as not merely a problem that needs to be solved. After all, he is a cultural anthropologist, not an old-school Orientalist.
The Israeli Arabs by acquiring modern Hebrew Israeli culture, are thereby transforming themselves before our very eyes into a radically new coinage in the Arab world: into an Arab people whose cultural physiognomy will have two sides, an Arab and a Hebrew. [p. 329]
Going a step further, he sees a "reversal" of classical Arab history itself. The Koran duality reflects Muhammad's original respect for Jews, whom he hoped to convert -- as well as his later contempt for them when they refused.

But now:
The present-day Israeli Arabs' attitude to contemporary Israel has no choice but proceeds in the opposeite direction, from the tradional Arab contempt for the Jewish dhimmis to a respect for the people of Israel which will inevitably develop as a by-product of the growing Arab familiarity with and understanding of the nonmaterial aspects of Israeli-Hebrew culture. One hardly maintains a contemptuous attitude to a people whose culture one has absorbed and values internalized. [p. 329]
The importance of Patai's analysis is that he provides a view not only of the enormity of what Israeli Arabs are experiencing, but also of the slowly progressing success of their integration into Israeli society, even with the bumps in the road along the way.

These days, we are witnessing this acceptance of Israel on a larger scale that Patai may not have foreseen, with the Abraham Accords and Israel's normalization with the UAE in particular, which we can see goes beyond being a joint defensive pact against Iran. 

It is a rocky road, after all -- this is the Middle East after all, and nothing is easy or can be taken for granted.

But the Abraham Accords is leading to a growing relationship that itself is also affecting Israeli Arabs, demonstrating the potential for accepting Israel, not only as a neighbor in the Middle East, but as another home for Arabs in it.





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