Israeli Arabs protest in Haifa (archive)
Israeli Arabs protest in Haifa (archive)Flash 90
The riots in mixed cities in May laid bare an underlying tension and weakness in Israeli society: the violent alienation of members of the Arab community.

There could be a mistaken and damaging instinct to paint the situation with too broad a brush; in other words, to conclude that the actions of the rioters reflected consensus among the Arab community. The visceral reaction would then be one of rebuke, rejection and a hardening of the fault lines between Israeli Jews and Arabs.

However, as the recent case of the escaped terrorist prisoners from Gilboa Prison clearly showed, there was no rooting section for them among Israeli Arabs. To the contrary, there were numerous reports of Arab citizens providing information to security authorities.

This must be seen as even more indicative of the mindset of Arab Israelis than the actions of the rioters.

Like the “Middle Israel” of Jews who are thoroughly Zionistic, though not ideologically oriented, I believe there is a strong representation of “Middle Arab Israel” among Israeli Arabs. This is the Arab silent majority, who see themselves as Israeli, and who would prefer living in a Jewish State of Israel than in a dystopian Muslim state, which might not respect their religious convictions (or the lack thereof), as Israel does.

These Middle Arabs want very much the same things as do Middle Israelis: safety, security and opportunity. Unlike Middle Israelis, whose desire for security is mostly externally focused, the security concerns of Middle Arabs are almost completely internally focused.

Crime is rampant in the Arab community, and Middle Arabs are often caught in the crossfire. Even when not, they often become hostages to warring gangs, who feel no restraint in punishing those who they believe are opposing them.

This is a frightful state of affairs that has the potential to become far worse, especially if Arab violence starts being aimed at Jews as it was recently against young Jewish families in the "mixed population" cities of Lod, Ramle and Akko where young national religious families had made their homes for altruistic and Zionist reasons.

With this powder keg state of affairs, the astute Jewish response should not be for further isolation, but, rather, further integration.

There have been numerous attempts at integrating Arab citizens in the past. These were largely undertaken by Left wing Israelis, who often acted out of a sense of guilt. The unsurprising result was a situation where Arabs accused and Jews apologized, thus ensuring well deserved failure.

Lately, however, there have been initiatives undertaken by Israelis with impeccable Right wing and Zionist credentials, who are eager to work with Arab citizens who understand that integration is a reciprocal process.

The foundational basis of these integration efforts is the Arab acceptance and embrace of a Jewish and Democratic State of Israel. Not a state of its citizens nor a federation, but the Israel that we have now, that was brought into existence in 1948.

The explicit Arab agreement is that Israel is their home, that Israel is where they want to build their future and that Israel is the legitimate and indeed sought after place where Arab aspirations can be fulfilled.

The Jewish understanding is the recognition that Arab desires and demands for acceptance and integration are, in this agreed upon framework, legitimate and desirable. It is in fact the full flowering of Zionism to work to integrate and to promote the welfare of Israel’s Arab citizens.

These initiatives are grassroots, and incremental in their agendas. By that I mean, that they recognize the vulnerability of these efforts to charges of disloyalty, so they are aimed at creating legitimacy and credibility in Arab communities, rather than embracing an all-encompassing political platform.

The Arab leaders are community leaders, not politicians. They are citizens of standing, who have consistently demonstrated their interest in the welfare of their communities, who see in these efforts the opportunity to provide tangible benefits for their fellow Arab citizens.

The youth outreach, scholarship programs and efforts at training Arab professionals for serving on corporate boards undertaken by Atidna, a joint Arab-Jewish collaboration, are good examples of incremental, grassroots credibility building efforts designed to show that collaboration and partnership can lead to near term tangible benefits and results.

These initiatives are privately undertaken and funded. For now, however, the thrust of the effort must come from our government. Here, the government must recognize that the demands for greater security and safety in the Arab community are not only legitimate, but also indeed mandatory.

The effort to provide more visible police protection with more police stations in Arab towns and villages should not be regarded as political pandering; rather, it is a foundational need that any government must provide its citizens. It is not only the right policy, but it is also a smart one, since the benefits coming from increased Arab security and safety will far outweigh its costs.

Like the grassroots private initiatives, government efforts should be incremental, tangible and non-ideological. Security, safety, parks, schools and the greater ability of existing Arab towns to experience natural growth are all consensual issues that should not be the source of a Left-Right tug of war.

Government moves should also come from strength, not from appeasement. We have the right to demand that our Arab citizens be, well, citizens, having a vested interest in the welfare of Israel.

Ironically, we cherish and fulfill the Zionist vision by acknowledging and accepting those non-Jews among us who want to share the Zionist destiny, to throw their lot in with ours in the name of building and perfecting our nation.

Douglas Altabef is the Chairman of the Board of Im Tirtzu, Israel’s largest grassroots Zionist organization, and a Director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at [email protected]