A March 15, 2006 column in Ha’aretz entitled “Something Not Hard to Define” by Yitzhak Laor, a frequent contributor to the Israeli newspaper, parroted clichéd and false propaganda charges regularly leveled by Israel’s detractors regarding treatment of Arabs in Israel. Laor is editor of Mita’am, A Review of Literature and Radical Thought and indicative of his extreme identification with Israel’s adversaries was his June, 2006 participation in an event in Dublin, Ireland with the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign at which he denounced Israeli policies. He’s quoted in The Irish Times saying: “I’m ashamed of my country, of my government and of the violence of the Israeli state.” In the Ha’aretz article, he asserts that:
Since 1950, the Arabs who remained inside Israel have lived on 3-3.5 percent of the land in the country. Most of their lands were expropriated. Of that 3-3.5 percent, some 2 percent was earmarked for residential purposes and 1 percent was left for agriculture. Most of the Arabs were forced to become day laborers. No industry was ever established in their villages. Industry in Israel – whether in the private or public sector – was always built with state assistance.
But the most important issue involves the numbers that cannot be disputed: Today 1,340,200 people live on those very lands that were granted to them when they totaled 160,000 and were pushed off their lands.
The “3-3.5 percent” charge is thoroughly deceptive. First, it ignores key facts: In Israel, 79.5 percent of land is owned by the government, 14% is privately owned by the Jewish National Fund, and the rest, around 6.5%, is evenly divided between private Arab and Jewish owners. Laor’s number refers to the portion of land privately-owned by Arabs, which is comparable in size to the privately-owned Jewish areas, even though there are four times as many Jews as Arabs in Israel. Laor also disregards Arab access, again like that of the Jews, to government-owned land. Even JNF land, which was purchased historically for Jewish use, is in practice available to Arabs.
But there were other gross errors. The charge that “most” of the land owned by Israeli Arabs was “expropriated” is fiction. The land belonging to Arabs who fled in 1948 was expropriated, but those who remained in Israel retained theirs. The claims regarding restrictions on residential and agricultural use are once more out of context and distorted. For instance, the most recent Statistical Abstract of Israel provides figures on the extent of agriculture in the Arab sector as of 2002. It shows more than a half million dunams under cultivation, or 15.2% of the total — not as Laor alleges 1%!
Similarly, in charging Arabs were forced to become “daily laborers,” Laor again characterizes a trend toward urbanization – occurring across the globe – as a particular affliction wrought by cruel Jewish Israelis upon Arabs. Moreover, according to Professor Arnon Soffer, a specialist in Arab affairs and demographic trends, in America 2.5 percent of the labor force are farmers, a figure comparable to Jews in Israel, while among Israeli Arabs 5 percent are in farming.
Equally ludicrous is Laor’s charge that “no industry was ever established in their villages” and that industry has always developed with government assistance. In reality, industrial parks are commonplace in Arab towns, including , Baqa al-Garbiya, Um al-Fahm, Sakhnin, Yirka, Nazareth, Acco and myriad other communities. Imad Younis, founder of Alpha Omega, a successful Nazareth biotech company, Tamim Yassin of Obek Gaz and Ali Kadmani of Kadmani Metal Works are among successful Israeli Arab businessmen invisible to the columnist. Much development is private but government assistance also plays a part, as in such enterprises as “industrial estates.”
Indeed, a December 2005 Jerusalem Post story reports “the Arab sector experienced a surge in entrepreneurial activity in recent years” and notes that some 7 percent of Intel’s hi-tech workers in the country – or 500 engineers – are Arab. According to employee Nabil Sakhran: “Many of the Arab engineers are among the technological leaders in the company, and are in senior managerial positions.”
Though Laor’s caricatures of Israel may be divorced from reality, they feed the enmity of the country’s detractors and may turn unsuspecting readers as well to believe the worst.