- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

UMM EL-FAHM, Israel In this border town populated almost exclusively by Israeli Arabs, the citizens are determined to remain Israelis.
In poll after poll, most Israeli Arabs say they would object strongly to their towns being incorporated into the West Bank in any land swap if and when a Palestinian state is created.
Now, though, the citizenship status of some Israeli-Arab residents of Umm el-Fahm is in jeopardy.
An Israeli government ministry is threatening to strip two Arabs of their citizenship for assisting Palestinian militants. Such a move would further damage ties between the country's Jewish and Arab communities in the nearly 2-year-old Palestinian uprising.
In another incident that raised Israeli suspicions about loyalties, two young Israeli-Arab women from the area were arrested last week after failing to alert police when a suicide bomber advised them to get off a bus that he blew up 20 minutes later, killing nine.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai said eight days ago he wanted to strip two Umm el-Fahm men of their citizenship and a third of his residence rights for helping Palestinian attacks on Jews. The unprecedented step was endorsed immediately by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, while Labor Party leader and Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and his party colleague, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, denounced the plan.
Before Mr. Yishai can proceed, Israel's Supreme Court must rule on the matter and is widely expected to reject it.
"The feelings of Jewish Israeli people are moving [against Palestinians]. One of the things that could happen is they would expel us, either individually or collectively," Hammam Hussari, an Israeli Arab living in this northern city, told Agence France-Presse.
Before the uprising began 22 months ago, good relations prevailed between Jews and Arabs in northern Israel. Many Jews went to shop, eat and drink coffee in Arab villages especially on Saturdays, when many Jewish shops and restaurants would be closed. Since then, many Israeli Jews have felt uneasy or endangered in Arab villages and towns, and official and unofficial Jewish boycotts have been called.
Meanwhile, Israeli Arabs stayed away from major Israeli shopping areas and the huge malls that used to attract both Arabs and Jews. The only booming part of the Israeli economy is the Arab-built trade outlets and malls to which Israeli Arabs now flock, even though they are subjected to extensive security and searches in shopping centers frequented by Israeli Jews.
They say they mainly fear Palestinian suicide bombers, whose weapons do not discriminate between Jews and Arabs. Two Israeli Arabs died in a Aug. 5 bus bombing, and Israeli-Arab students were among the scores injured, though not among the seven killed, a week earlier in a bombing of the student cafeteria at Jerusalem's Hebrew University.
Mr. Hussari, a civil engineer, and others like him read the tough talk by Mr. Yishai and Mr. Sharon as further evidence of an assault on the status of Israel's 1.1 million Arabs.
Police shootings left 13 Israeli Arabs dead in October 2000, when youths overturned cars and threw Molotov cocktails in support of the Palestinian uprising. The threat to Arabs' Israeli citizenship this month has deepened the mistrust.
"This is the case of a systematic and overall attack on Arabs in Israel in the last year and a half," said Ahmed Tibi, an Israeli-Arab communist in the Knesset, Israel's parliament.
"It is aimed as a whole to delegitimize the whole Arab minority in Israel and our very existence in the country," Mr. Tibi added.
In the interview with AFP, Mr. Hussari echoed the Arab legislator's sentiments. He said Israel is taking revenge on the Arab community for Palestinian attacks and holding them responsible every time a suicide bomber or gunman slips across Umm el-Fahm.
"Anytime any [militant] passes through, they are accusing us. They want Umm el-Fahm to be their watchdog because the government and army fail to watch the border and then they blame us," he said.
Standing on a hill, the 40-year-old building engineer pointed to a dirt road cutting through thick pine trees, the only line marking the border here with the West Bank, where Palestinian militants are said to slip into Israel before undertaking suicide bombings on nearby coastal cities like Hadera and Netanya.
Mr. Hussari then pointed about 500 yards away to the small West Bank village of Anin, where the call to prayer from the local mosque filled the valley and could be heard in Umm el-Fahm.
The West Bank town of Jenin, considered a haven for armed Palestinian factions, is only a dozen miles from here. Mr. Hussari, like many Israeli Arabs, still has relatives in West Bank towns like Jenin. He found it painful that his family was divided among those who stayed in Israel and those who lost their homes in the 1948 conflict that resulted in the partition of British-ruled Palestine and creation of Israel as a Jewish state.
"The people here are part of the Palestinian people. We are Palestinian and part of the Palestinian tragedy," he said. "When they are shelling Jenin, they are shelling part of us."
But Mr. Hussari said he firmly opposes Palestinian bombings and shootings in Israel, and doubts many Arabs support armed groups like Hamas or Islamic Jihad.
Despite media reports that the number of attacks involving Israeli Arabs has jumped from 25 in 2001 to 40 in the first half of 2002, police say the spike corresponds only to the overall rise in violence during the uprising.
"We have seen situations where Arab Israelis have helped terrorists . There have been examples of it. But it is definitely not a phenomenon. It's not something that has become routine," said police spokesman Gil Kleiman.
Mr. Hussari vows to keep his citizenship and stay in the town where his family has lived for more than 100 years. "This citizenship is not a favor from the Israeli state," he said. "The Israeli state came to us. It is our natural right to have [Israeli] citizenship."

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