לוגו קרן ברל כצנלסון

Misconception 10: In Wartime, Israel’s Arab Citizens Will “Turn Against the State”

For many years, voices on the right have asserted that Israel’s Arab citizens are not loyal to the country. This, it is claimed, justifies discrimination against them. In fact, the responsible behavior and solidarity that the Arab public has displayed since the start of the war, especially in contrast with the right-wing government's irresponsibility, shows that precisely the opposite is the case.

June 2007

 Itamar Ben-Gvir is convicted on charges of supporting a terrorist organization and inciting to racism.

March 2011

The Knesset passes the Nakba Law, which authorizes the government to deny funding to institutions that challenge the Israeli national narrative and its justification. Invoking the law, Minister Miri Regev later discriminates against artists and cultural institutions, both Jewish and Arab, that are critical of this line.

December 2015

 The Netanyahu government passes Resolution 922, a five-year plan for investment in the Arab sector.

April 2017

 The Knesset passes the Kaminitz Law, which authorizes draconian enforcement against violations of building and zoning regulation, especially by Arabs. In fact, the deliberate foot-dragging in the approval of outline plans for Arab localities has made legal construction there almost impossible.

July 2018

The Knesset passes the Basic Law: Israel, the Nation-state of the Jewish People, which ratifies discrimination against Arabs in land, resources, and cultural rights.

September 2019

 The Likud promotes a bill that would authorize the placement of cameras in polling stations, based on the false claim of massive voter fraud in Arab localities. The real goal is to suppress Arab turnout and political participation.

May 2021

 Violent disturbances rock Israel during Operation Guardian of the Walls and in the wake of clashes between the police and Muslim worshipers on the Temple Mount during prayers on the last Friday of Ramadan. Three citizens are killed in the riots, hundreds are wounded, and there is extensive property damage.

May 2022

 The Likud launches an “Abbas Tax” publicity campaign, falsely asserting that the Bennett-Lapid Government had transferred 53 billion shekels to Mansour Abbas. Reacting to Ra’am’s and Abbas’s achievements in negotiations with Lapid, Benjamin Netanyahu alleges that “Bennett is continuing his fire sale of the State to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Shura Council.” Bowing to pressure by his extremist partners on the far right, Netanyahu abandons his earlier support for economic investment in the Arab sector, embodied in Resolution 922 of 2015.

December 2022 

Itamar Ben-Gvir is named minister of national security. During his tenure since then, there have been 244 victims of crime and violence in the Arab sector, the highest toll in the last decade.

June 2023

 A report by the Central Bureau of Statistics shows significant disparities between Jews and Arabs in higher education, security, and quality of life.

October 2023

 Dozens of Arab citizens of Israel are among the victims of the Hamas massacre. Three days later, the minister of national security warns against “Guardian of the Walls 2”—a repeat of the violence that accompanied that operation—and calls for arming Jewish civilians. In a severe infringement of freedom of expression, the police and High Court do not permit demonstrations in the Arab sector. More than 100 days after the start of the fighting, however, there have been no violent incidents or clashes involving Israeli Arabs. Many are demonstrating solidarity in all various ways.

November 2023

 A survey conducted about a month after October 7 finds that Arab citizen’s identification with the state is at an all-time high.

November 2023

 MK Ahmad Tibi of Ta’al pledges to use his connections in the Arab world to assist the families of the hostages.

In the aftermath of the massacre on October 7 and the war that ensued, many Israelis began to fear that in addition to the fighting in Gaza and the North, hostilities would soon break out on a third front—among the state’s Arab citizens. This fear was fueled by none other than Israel’s Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir. Since he was appointed to that post a year ago, Ben-Gvir has proclaimed that Guardian of the Walls 2 is just around the corner—meaning that an intifada by Arab citizens is only a matter of time; he also called for a new Operation Defensive Shield in East Jerusalem. Ben-Gvir clearly does not fear an outbreak of violence—rather, he hopes for such a scenario and increases its likelihood through his irresponsible behavior towards the Arab public. Immediately after October 7, Ben-Gvir repeated his earlier claims that a Guardian of the Walls 2 scenario is looming. Through his statements and actions since the start of the war, such as enabling unrestrained distribution of weapons to civilians, he has been doing everything possible to ignite another front.

Immediately after October 7, Ben-Gvir proclaimed that a Guardian of the Walls 2 scenario is looming. Through his statements and actions since the start of the war, such as enabling unrestrained distribution of weapons to civilians, he has been doing everything possible to ignite another front.

Ben-Gvir is not alone. The assertion that Arab citizens of Israel are a fifth column, potential supporters of terrorism, and guilty of treason until proven otherwise, is far from new. Israel’s Arab citizens are a minority who face discrimination fueled by incitement and delegitimization of their political representatives, and by the ongoing national conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. In recent years, precisely against the background of Arab citizens’ increased integration into Israeli society, the right has doubled down on its “fifth column” charge. It asserts that, at the moment of truth, when Israel finds itself at war with Arab countries or with the Palestinians, Arab citizens of Israel will inevitably identify with the enemy and turn against the country. When the Bennett-Lapid coalition was the first to include an independent Arab party, Ra’am, its members were immediately denounced as “supporters of terrorism”—including by right-wing commentators on mainstream media outlets. These suspicions mounted in the wake of the violence between Jews and Arabs in May 2021, during Operation Guardian of the Walls, which sparked national and religious tensions further fueled by incitement in both Hebrew and Arabic. Right-wing politicians like Itamar Ben-Gvir hitched a ride on these tensions in order to promote their careers. Since October 7, Ben-Gvir and his associates have done everything they can to foment clashes between Jews and Arabs in Israel and to “prove” that Israel’s Arab citizens will stand against the state in wartime. But Arab citizens have demonstrated just the opposite: the common welfare of all Israelis is more important to them than it is to Israel’s Minister of National Security.

Despite the plans of Ben-Gvir and other members of Netanyahu's government, today, more than three months into the war, Arab citizens of Israel have not streamed to join Hamas or erupted in violence. In fact, Arab citizens have displayed laudable moderation, responsibility, and restraint. They share in the pain of all Israeli society about the massacre on October 7, even though many Arab citizens of Israel have family in Gaza.

To date, Arab citizens have displayed laudable moderation, responsibility, and restraint. They share the pain of all Israeli society about the massacre on October 7, even though many of them have family in Gaza.

This is no coincidence. The leaders of the Arab sector, on the national, local, and communal levels, have been making great efforts to keep things calm and prevent extremist elements, both Arabs and Jews, from thrusting the country into chaos and violence.

For example, immediately after the massacre, Ra’am Chairman Mansour Abbas condemned Hamas, called for the release of all the hostages, spoke strongly against the violent Palestinian struggle, and called on the terrorist organizations to lay down their arms. The chairman of Hadash, Ayman Odeh, also condemned Hamas as well as the attempt to ignite another front inside Israel, and called on Arab citizens to show restraint.

Solidarity watches were formed in mixed towns. A joint operations center of Jewish and Arab organizations, which provides food packages to families in the South, was created in Rahat. Immediately after October 7, the Kafr Qassem municipality announced that it would take in families who had been evacuated from the Gaza periphery.

We must not forget that, like all other Israelis, the Arab public itself was impacted by the events of that day. Arab citizens like Youssef al-Ziadna and Amer Abu Sabila, both from the Bedouin community, showed great bravery and saved many Israelis during the Hamas assault. Al-Ziadna, a minibus driver, risked his life to save 30 people who had been at the Nova Festival; Abu Sabila was killed when he tried to protect civilians in Sderot. No fewer than 19 Bedouin citizens of Israel were murdered on October 7. Two of the six other Bedouin citizens abducted, Aisha al-Ziadna and her brother Bilal, have been released.

But individual stories do not reveal the full picture. A survey conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute about a month after the outbreak of the war found that Arab citizens’ identification with the State of Israel was at a higher level than ever before. A survey conducted by the Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, published in early December, focused on attitudes among the Arab public in Israel. It found that 66% favor the inclusion of an Arab political party in the coalition after the next elections and that a majority have a positive view of Arabs’ participation in Israeli efforts at public diplomacy. It also found that the importance Arab citizens assign to their Israeli identity had increased. According to a second survey by the Israel Democracy Institute, 87% of Arab citizens support their sector’s participation in civilian assistance efforts during the war, and most think that Hamas's action do not faithfully reflect Arab society or Islam.

A survey conducted about a month after the outbreak of the war found that Arab citizens’ identification with the State of Israel was at a higher level than ever before. A survey published in early December found that 66% favor the inclusion of an Arab political party in the coalition after the next elections. According to another survey, 87% of Arab citizens support their sector’s participation in civilian assistance efforts during the war.

Despite the efforts to paint Arabs as an internal enemy, ignite another front, and trigger a civil war, and despite the tension and sensitivities, since October 7 Israel’s Arab citizens have shown great responsibility and solidarity with Israeli society in general. They identify with the Israeli collective and feel they are part of it. That is precisely what terrifies right-wing politicians.

The attempt to portray the Arab public as a fifth column and then turn them into one serves a clear political goal—reducing the political representation of 17% of Israelis in order to ensure continued right-wing rule and justify the discrimination against them.

First, it turned out that the grass had not actually been mowed. Periodic military operations failed to prevent Hamas from building a vast tunnel complex, amassing arms, and significantly enhancing its operational capabilities. While Netanyahu and his allies were confident that there was no need to hurry and that time was on Israel’s side, Hamas used this time to train its people and increase its military prowess.

On October 7, Netanyahu’s security doctrine was shown up as a dangerous delusion. “The quietest decade in the country’s history,” as the Netanyahu years were known until then, turned out to be nothing more than a precursor to the most murderous and bloody day since Israel’s establishment.

Arab citizens of Israel must live with a complex identity. On the one hand they are part of the Palestinian people and identify with the suffering of their relatives and their people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; on the other hand, they are citizens of Israel, live alongside Jews, and have a strong sense of belonging to the country. Israeli Jews sometimes find this complex identity hard to digest. The continuation of the occupation and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the need to keep fighting against terrorism, and the actions of extremist elements, both Arab and Jewish: all of these perpetuate the tension. Nevertheless, Arab citizens are part of the State of Israel. All hopes for a better future for our society and political system pass through increased cooperation between the liberal Jewish sector and the country’s Arab citizens. The right-wing’s attempt to exploit the massacre of October 7 in order to drive a wedge between Jews and Arabs has failed.

Third, the defense measures that Israel built have proven to be useful but have led to dangerous complacency. The barrier around Gaza, the Iron Dome system, and the reliance on technological superiority along the border created a false sense of control and security, which crumbled along with the entire IDF defense apparatus on October 7.