As war raged over the heads of residents of this Arab border
village last month, resident Rayek Matar hoped that when the
fighting stopped the country's Arab minority would be viewed as
equals to Israeli Jews after absorbing the same rocket attacks.
But when the building contractor and his lawyer realized that
businessmen in neighboring Jewish towns near Lebanon were eligible
for about 60 percent more government compensation, they decided to
file a petition with Israel's Supreme Court charging anti-Arab bias.
The court will hear the case of Fassuta and three other Arab border
villages next month.
"We're saying, what's the difference between here and there? The
army sat in the middle of the village," says Mr. Matar, referring to
the Israeli cannons stationed at the entrance to Fassuta during the
war. "It's unthinkable that we pay income tax and social security,
and the ones who benefit are Jews, while we aren't eligible."
Israeli politicians were quick to point out during the war that
Hizbullah's rockets didn't distinguish between Jew and Arab, a
statement backed up by the grim statistic that both groups suffered
an almost equal number of civilian fatalities during the war.
Now that the fighting has ended, Israel's Arab citizens say the
government is making a distinction in handing out recovery aid
projected to reach $1 billion.
Instead of fostering a sense of shared solidarity, the war and
the recovery effort is aggravating decades-old tensions between Jews
and Arabs here. Though they became citizens after Israel's
independence, the Arab minority has experienced decades of
institutional discrimination and suffered from a minuscule
Many Israeli Jews, meanwhile, consider the Arabs' sympathies for
Palestinian brethren in the West Bank, Gaza, and Lebanon as
But Israeli Finance Minister Avraham Hirshensohn recently
promised that aid for northern Israel would be distributed
equitably. Taken together with new efforts to reach out to Israeli
Arab towns by diaspora Jewish donors - who want to contribute about
$300 million to the recovery effort - some say there's cause for
"The trend is laudable. It's about time, but we still haven't
seen execution," says Mohammed Darawshe, director of development for
The Abraham Fund, which promotes Jewish-Arab coexistence in Israel.
"The road is still long. Even though they want egalitarian policy,
there are a lot of gaps to close."
Indeed, Arabs and civil rights activists remain skeptical that
the pledge will be translated into policy that would amount to a
reversal of decades of ingrained bias. "Despite laws forbidding
distinguishing between Jews and Arabs, the government still does,"
says Samuel Dakwar, the lawyer bringing the petition to the high
court on behalf of the villages of Fassuta, Aramshe - where three
people were killed from a Katyusha - Meilya, and Jish. …