Last update - 14:01 03/12/2006
Israeli Arabs seek right to return to villages abandoned in 1948
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondent
According to a position paper written by Mossawa - the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel and presented in a conference in Nazareth on Friday, Israeli Arabs want the right to return to villages abandoned in 1948, educational autonomy and changes to the Israeli flag and national anthem.
The paper, written in close coordination with the Israel Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, was presented as part of the week-long Second Annual Days of Mossawa Festival and Nazareth Film Festival, which ended Saturday.
"Our goal is to achieve a historic compromise with the Jewish community in Israel," Mossawa Center director Jafar Farah told the conference. "The move by refugees of 1948 to their villages will not change the demographic balance or endanger the Jews. Unlike the refugees in Arab states, we are [already] here," Farah said. "The internal refugees [residents forced to leave their villages in 1948 who moved to other Arab communities within Israel] represent about one-fourth of the Arab population in Israel today."
Farah said the paper was spurred by a sense among many Israeli Arabs that they must have their say at a time when many Israeli organizations are working to frame a national constitution.
"We found ourselves in an absurd situation, in which Jews are deciding what is good for the Arabs because the Arab elites are not involved in the discussions. Now the decision makers will have to take our opinion into account," Farah said.
The 10-point position paper emphasizes the need to grant communal rights to the Arab public, including the increased use of the Arabic language; equality and fairness in immigration policy; the correct allotment of national resources; and fair representation. With regard to national symbols, the paper says: "The state's symbols, its flag and its national anthem are emotionally charged, public resources ... the state must give appropriate expression to the presence of Arab citizens in Israel and its historical relationship to the place."
Among the many jurists participating in the conference was Supreme Court Justice Salim Jubran, who said the existing Basic Right on Citizenship law must be amended to complete the constitutional protection of minority groups. He repeated his opposition to the Citizenship Law, which restricts the rights of Israeli Arabs to marry Palestinians.
Another participant, Dr. Raef Zreik, said the position paper does not refer to the Israeli Arabs' position regarding the Jewish majority in the country. He said the Israeli Arabs can officially recognize the right of the Jewish public to a state only as part of an overall peace agreement with the Palestinian people.