Walking along a quiet, narrow street in downtown Madaba, Jordan in late September, I’m on…
Israel is the most controversial and complicated country in the world, with so many perspectives about the people, the land, the situation.
One highly unique perspective on Israel that the world never hears about is that of Arabs in Israel who are originally from Syria. Most people don’t realize that this group exists.
A Little Background
There are tens of thousands of Arabs in Israel who are originally from Syria. They are not refugees from the current war in Syria. They are in Israel as a result of another war. In 1967 at the end of the Six-Day War, Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria. The people of the Golan who were living in Syria now suddenly found themselves living in Israel.
Israel offered these Syrians citizenship. Some, members of a political and religious group called the Druze, rejected the offer. Today the Druze are not citizens of any country. Their citizenship is legally titled “undefined.”
However, many other Syrians accepted the Israeli citizenship. I didn’t know about this group until 2016 when, during my annual stint in the Middle East, I met a man originally from Syria who, as a result of the Six-Day War, is now living in Israel and has Israeli citizenship.
This man introduced me to his cousin, also an Israeli Arab originally from Syria. His cousin has a unique perspective on his fellow Arabs in Israel. I asked him to share his thoughts with me. Here is what he says.
Perspective of an Israeli Arab Originally from Syria
Everything got mixed up in my life – being born into a Syrian village in the Golan Heights and being shaped in one way or another by the Israeli culture.
I believe that Arabs in Israel who are from the Golan are very, very unique. You can say In 1967 Israel occupied us. Or you can say you know what? No. I chose to stay here in Israel.
As I grew up of course I was influenced by my community. This is a very logical concept. Everyone is influenced by their community. However, my community was comprised of Syrians, yet we lived in Israel. So our situation was a little unusual.
To Israel, or more specifically to the Jews, I’m automatically perceived as Palestinian and not Syrian. But I am not a Palestinian. Many Palestinians, I think, are really deluded.
They continuously criticize Israel. They keep blaming the Jews for everything. But many Palestinians, those who live outside of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, are actually legally Arab Israelis, citizens of Israel. Tacitly I would say they do like Israel. They do like the government, they do like the freedom they have as citizens of Israel. However, many keep living in the past. They’re not willing to move on. But if they were given two options, which would they choose?
Option 1: Go live in the West Bank.
I think the West Bank, what many people call Palestine, is an awful place for Arabs in Israel, or for anyone – the community itself, the organization, the infrastructure, the government, the corruption. It’s dreadful, the West Bank. It’s really dreadful. Given option number 1, Arabs in Israel would not go live in the West Bank.
Option 2: Stay in Israel.
What if they were told okay, you don’t like Israel? Well, we are giving you a free visa. Just get out of here. I feel like the Palestinians would calm down. I think more than 95 percent would say please let me stay in Israel.
Of course in Israel you have a smell. Like every community in the world has its own smell. But I do believe that Israel is a really good country from its own unique perspective. So many Palestinians in the West Bank, many of them will say in a minute the Israeli government is way better than the Palestinian government because the corruption in the West Bank, it’s so screwed up. It’s a lot of mess, a lot of nonsense.
If I say who really can make a change, it’s not the Israeli government, it’s not the EU. It’s the Palestinians. They have to really move on. They have to really clean up the whole mess in their community, the stuff that they have in their everyday lives. They need to really coexist with the Jews. This is the only way.
They’re not going to be able to kick out 6 million Israeli Jews and have their own land. It’s ridiculous. There’s no way out except for the Palestinians and the Jews to sit together. They have to sit and talk. Otherwise, I do believe in a few years from now if these two groups do not reach a consensus, an agreement, and be open with each other in a massive way, I seriously think the third Intifada is around the corner.
The Palestinians are so screwed up. They have to really change a lot of things. The whole negative part of our situation comes from the Palestinians. To tell the truth, I have a lot of of close Jewish friends. Because I’m Arab in Israel, and because I’m Syrian, this may not seem possible. But it is true.
However, it’s the Arabs who are my community. As an Arab, you can’t say no, you’re not Arab. Otherwise, you’re crazy, right? Although I criticize the Arabs in Israel, the Palestinians, they are not all bad. Both the Palestinians and the Jews have their positive aspects. I am a member of the Arab community, but I really like the Jewish community. This is a difficult situation to be in in Israel. But what can I do?
Written by: Connect the Cultures creator, Sabina Lohr