This Journey is a lot more intellectual work than I think any of us imagined. Each day is packed with visits, lectures and discussions that tend to overload one's brain. But, that's why we're here.
In this short post I want to try to summarize some points about the issue of civil equality in Israel. As I wrote in the previous post, we visited and met with people at organizations that are working for civil equality - read that as civil rights for Arab Israelis.
We've learned some basic facts:
1. About 1.3 million Palestinians are Israeli citizens.
2. Palestinian Israelis live inside the borders of Israel; these are not the Palestinians in Gaza or the West Bank.
3. Palestinian Israelis face discrimination in both personal and institutional ways.
4. There appears to be general agreement within the Jewish community of Israel that discrimination exists and it is an issue that will need to be dealt with.
We met with people from three different groups working on issues of civil equality. Givat Chavivah is a center that conducts educational programs, including face-to-face experiences for Jewish and Arab teens. Neve Shalom~Wahat Al Salam is a community of Arabs and Jews that live and work together, including a shared school where children are taught in both Hebrew and Arabic. Sikkuy, Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel, is an advocacy group that works at the government and business levels on institutional issues of discrimination.
As Americans, these dicsussions were meaningful at several levels. Our understanding of Israel in regards to the issues of Arab citizens has been heightened. But we have also thought and talked about issues in the United States regarding discrimination against our fellow citizens.
From the information we've received on this issue, it appears that a variety of organizations are working to improve the situation for Palestinian Israelis in education, employment, and greater inclusion in society. I see this as more than a civil equality issue. I see direct connections to national security, international relations, and Israel's strength as a nation.
Like everything in the Middle East, the issue of Palestinian Israelis' status in Israel is complex and not easily resolved. One need only look at the United States, where civil rights issues took center stage several decades ago, and yet today there is much progress to be made in the area of civil rights for ethnic groups within our society.