What I, as an Israeli Arab, am hoping for

By Ghaida Rinawi Zoabi, April 18, 2008

Ten years ago, I finished my masters degree at Haifa University and went to the ceremony with my husband and parents. The stadium was full of graduates and their families, and the event began with the Hatikva. Everyone got up to sing, and we remained sitting, a small group. There were very few other Arab graduates then, and people began looking at us, nudging and whispering. It was as if we were creatures from another planet. The experience marked me for life.

As an Arab women in Israel, like many others I lead a normal life day-to-day. We work, advance in our careers, spend time with family and friends; but as Palestinians, we are different from citizens in another country. I always have this corner of my mind that reminds me that I am not living in something that I built or made; it does not belong to me. Someone once asked me what would need to happen for me to feel that I fully belonged. I said that for that to happen, my 10-year-old daughter would need to be able to enter Tel Aviv and feel that it was also hers.

Israel’s 60th anniversary does not mean anything to me. Over the last couple of years, groups in the Arab community have been working on manifestos that set out their own visions for our future in this country.

This has not been a reaction to anything that has happened on the Jewish side; it has been a conscious decision within our circles that we have to take responsibility for ourselves. This is a generation that was not alive in 1948. We can take this leap now that the dream of Oslo has evaporated, and the second intifada broke out with 13 dead from our community [killed by Israeli security forces during confrontatiins in October 2000].

One thing we know for sure: there is no magic solution. We will never find it, and even if Israel and the Palestinian Authority reach an agreement, it will not be simply love and peace here. I cannot say that I have a vision; there will be ups and downs in the relationship between the two sides. But a number of processes are definitely taking place.

The first is that Israeli society cannot postpone confronting our “problem” any longer. And it cannot only happen on their terms. The second is that we are also responsible for our fate. And the third is that we will almost certainly have to give up on the basic formula of two states for two nations. I do not know what will come in its place, but we have to be quite clear that we must not solve one injustice by creating another.

The fact that we are no longer bemoaning our conditions, but instead bravely confronting the future, is liberating for us —and I know that this has worried many Jews. But this is not liberty in a political or territorial sense. It is something much more personal.

My vision is simply that when my son and daughter grow up, the whole world will be open to them, with no glass ceilings.

Last updated: 4:37pm, May 13 2008