The Arab citizens of Israel constitute twenty percent of Israeli society – a population that has equal rights, but does not share the Zionist dream. But just as there are differences of opinion among Jewish Israelis, Arab-Israeli attitudes towards the Jewish sector, the state of Israel and its institutions not only differ, but often are even polar opposites.
And just there is no cohesive “Jewish sector,” there is also no such thing in Israel as one cohesive “Arab sector” (though I will use the terms for sake of simplicity). Instead, there are several Middle Eastern populations, some of which are not Arab, and they differ from each other in religion, culture, ethnic origin and historical background.
Within the Arab sector of Israel there are a number of ethnic groups who differ from each other in language, history and culture: Arabs, Africans, Armenians, Circassians and Bosnians. These groups usually do not mingle with each other, and live in separate villages or in separate neighborhoods where a particular family predominates. For example, the Circassians in Israel are the descendants of people who came from the Caucasus to serve as officers in the Ottoman army. They live in two villages in the Galilee, Kfar Kama and Reyhaniya, and despite their being Muslim, the young people do not usually marry Arabs.
The Africans are mainly from Sudan. Some of them live as a large group in Jisr al-Zarqa and some live in family groups within Bedouin settlements in the south. They are called “Abid” from the Arabic word for “slaves.” The Bosnians live in family groups in Arab villages, for example, the Bushnak family in Kfar Manda.
The Armenians came mainly to escape the persecution that they suffered in Turkey in the days of the First World War, which culminated in the Armenian genocide of 1915.
The Arab sector can generally be divided into three main cultural groups: urban, rural and Bedouin. Each one has its own cultural characteristics: lifestyle, status of a given clan, education, occupation, level of income, number of children and matters connected to women, for example polygamy (multiple wives), age of marriage, matchmaking or dating customs and dress. The residents of cities – and to a great extent the villagers – see the Bedouins as primitive, while the Bedouins see themselves as the only genuine Arabs, and in their opinion, the villagers and city folk are phony Arabs, who have lost their Arab character.
The Arabic language expresses this matter well: the meaning of the word “Arabi” is “Bedouin,” and some of the Bedouin tribes are called “Arab,” for example “Arab al-Heib” and “Arab al-Shibli” in the North.
The Bedouins of the Negev classify themselves according to the color of their skin into “hamar” (red) and “sud” (black), and Bedouins would never marry their daughters to a man who is darker than she is, because he does not want his grandchildren to be dark-skinned. Racist? Perhaps. Another division that exists in the Negev is between tribes that have a Bedouin origin, and tribes whose livelihood is agriculture (Fellahin), who have low status. A large tribe has a higher standing than a small tribe.
Religions and Sects
The Arab sector in Israel also breaks down by religion, into Muslims, Christians, Druze and ‘Alawites. The Christians are subdivided into several Sects: Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant, and among the Muslims, there is a distinct sect of Sufis, which has a significant presence in Baqa al-Gharbiya. There is also an interesting Salafi movement in Israel, which we will relate to later. The Islamist movement is organized along the lines of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The religion of the Druze is different from Islam, and Muslims consider the Druze to be heretics. Because of this, the Druze keep their religion secret, even from each other and therefore most are “juhal” (ignorant – of religious matters) and only a small number of the elder men are “aukal” (knowledgeable in matters of religion). In the modern age, however, there have been a number of books published about the Druze religion.
The Alawites in Israel live in Kfar Ghajar, in the foothills of the Hermon and some live over the border in Lebanon. They are also considered heretics in Islam, and their religion is a blend of Shi’ite Islam, Eastern Christianity and ancient religions that existed in the Middle East thousands of years ago. Their principle concentration is in the mountains of al-Ansariya in northwest Syria, although some are in Lebanon and some migrated southward and settled in Ghajar. The meaning of the word Ghajar in Arabic is “Gypsy”, meaning foreign nomads with a different religion. In Syria the Alawites – led by the Assad family – have ruled since 1966. That Alawites are considered heretics is the reason for the Muslim objection to Alawite rule in Syria since according to Islam, not only do they not have the right to rule, being a minority, but there is significant doubt as to whether they even have the right to live, being idol worshipers.
About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.
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