In the Shadow of National Conflict: Inter-Group Attitudes and Images of Arab and Jews in Israel

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This article examines the changing nature of mutual images of Arabs and Jews in Israel. The relationship between Jews (over 80 percent of the population) and Arabs (who, together with Druze, comprise 19 percent of the population) in Israel have undergone significant changes since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, in response to internal socio-economic developments within Israel, the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and armed confrontations between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

The paper suggests that historic events systematically challenge existing perceptions, images and stereotypes, and trigger their modification and adaptation. However, the breadth of potential change of perceptions and images is bounded, we argue, by a defined set of themes that constitute a narrative against which Jews and Arab Israelis calibrate their outlooks.

Part One presents a brief historical survey of the status of Arab minority in Israel, focusing on government policies, the national identity dilemma, the process of "Israelization" and "Palestinization," and internal politics and ideological changes within the Arab community in Israel. This historical context serves as the framework for the analysis of mutual Jewish-Arab perceptions in Israel.

Part Two presents theoretical remarks on the issue of "Otherness" and "the Other," including a review of the Jewish-Israeli national ethos, including its conceptualization of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In this paper this ethos is considered a foundation for Jewish-Israeli perceptions of Arabs in Israel.

Part Three introduces a historic review of cultural products--works of literature, film, and textbooks--which reflect the interplay between the Israeli-Jewish national ethos and historic events, and the resulting changes in Jewish-Israeli perceptions of Arabs in Israel.

Part Four presents findings of public opinion polls conducted among Jews and Arabs from the late 1960s to date, which similarly illustrate the impact of historic events on changing mutual perceptions of Jews and Arabs in Israel.

In the conclusion, we summarize how Jewish Israeli perceptions of Arab Israelis and vice versa, grounded in the national Israeli ethos, reflect internal and external historical turning points in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Arab Minority in A Jewish State--A Historical Perspective (1)

The 1948 War created a unique situation of an Arab minority in the Jewish State of Israel. Israel was thus established as a Jewish State, but not exclusively so. In 1948 the Arab population was 150,000, and grew to approximately 1.4 million in 2006, including Arab residents of East Jerusalem.

The 150,000 Arabs who chose to stay in their homes and become Israeli citizens, remained, at the same time, emotionally, nationally, culturally, and religiously bound to the outside Arab world. This necessarily resulted in a sharp crisis of national identity, due to split loyalties, the Arabs being torn between Israel and the Arab world.

Israel, for its part, was also faced with a difficult dilemma: how to synthesize between, first and foremost, the needs of the Jewish-Zionist State of Israel, on the one hand, and the concept of liberal democracy which implied equal status to all state's citizens, Jews and Arabs alike, on the other. In practical terms, Israel adopted a dual policy, underlined by two contradictory, perhaps even diametrically opposed, considerations. One was reflecting the "Jewishness" of the state. It was security-oriented and viewed the Arabs as a potentially "enemy-affiliated minority." The security consideration manifested itself in the institution of a military government regime in areas densely populated by Arabs, which lasted for eighteen years (1948-1966), and vast expropriation of Arab lands.

The second consideration drew upon liberal and democratic principles. The Declaration of Independence promised that Israel will uphold "full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex [. …