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 Sunday, 26 January, 2003, 07:13 GMT
Israeli Arabs struggle to fit in
Israeli Arabs in East Jerusalem
Israeli Arabs are less sure about where they fit in
The BBC's Barbara Plett

At Lion's Gate in Arab East Jerusalem, bus after bus pulls up and drops off passengers.

Those on board are Palestinians - but they are not from the West Bank or Gaza.

They are Israeli Arabs, some of whom have travelled for several hours to get here.

For more than two years, since the start of the latest intifada, thousands of them have been filling the narrow cobbled streets of East Jerusalem every day.

Farid Haj Yehje
Farid Haj Yehje organises trips to Jerusalem for Israeli Arabs
They come to shop and to pray - and to uphold the city's Arab culture and traditions.

"It is a religious, spiritual and economic project which is to make them strong," says Farid Haj Yehje, one organiser of the trips to the city.

"We have threats, we have unique circumstances, we are at risk, if we don't stop together, stand as one, the worst is to come."

As Israel goes through another election, the country's Arab citizens feel their vote has never meant less.

I don't see what difference elections will make. I don't think it matters whether I vote or not. It didn't in the past

Amira Abu Zaid
More than one million Israelis are Palestinians who stayed on after the Arab defeat of 1948 and became part of Israel.

They have five political parties with 10 members in the outgoing Knesset.

But since the beginning of the Palestinian uprising, Israeli Arabs are less sure about where they fit in.

They feel alienated from what they see as an increasingly hostile state, and many are rediscovering their Palestinian identity.

Arabs make up 20% of Israel's population. But many feel they are treated as second class citizens, and the sense of alienation is growing.

Makeshift homes

Amira Abu Zaid's makeshift home is built from pieces of metal, wood and plastic.

It is large enough for her and her 10 children - so long as they sleep next to each other on the floor.

Amira Abu Zaid
Amira Abu Zaid's house was knocked down
She lives here because the authorities destroyed her house. It did not have a building permit.

But Palestinians in Israel say it is impossible to get them - and they are being stopped from expanding their communities.

"By destroying my house, the Jews have broken me and my children for life and I no longer trust them," she says.

"I don't see what difference elections will make. I don't think it matters whether I vote or not. It didn't in the past."

The divide between Arab areas like this one and the rest of Israel is widening.

Jews are becoming more afraid their Palestinian neighbours will turn on them.

Some have, most have not.

Vulnerability

The Arabs are also feeling more vulnerable.

The Arab minority in general is feeling they are not welcome, that they are being pushed to the side

Bothaina Dabit
They complain of increasing police harassment and they are angered by attempts to ban their politicians from standing in next week's election.

"Mostly it's the young people who feel hopeless," says Bothaina Dabit, a member of an Arab political party.

"And the Arab minority in general are feeling they are not welcome, that they are being pushed to the side."

Arab politicians are out on the campaign trail, working hard to try to encourage disaffected voters to cast their ballot next week.

It has never been more important, they say; if the Arabs boycott, the right wing will get stronger.

Disillusion

But critics like community activist Amir Makhoul say voting will not make a difference because the system is stacked against them anyway.

"We couldn't use or enjoy our representation in the Knesset. It's not because we are weak and don't know what we want. It's because the system is a racist system.

"The Palestinian community in Israel has become a community at risk, including the members of the Knesset."

Amir Makhoul says Israeli Arabs should strengthen their own institutions and present themselves to the world as part of the Palestinian problem.

The Palestinians in Israel do feel they are at a crossroads. One thing is clear to them - more than 50 years after the foundation of Israel, few Arabs feel at home in a Jewish state.


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21 Jan 03 | Middle East
09 Jan 03 | Middle East
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