- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

ABU GHOSH, Israel The Abu Ghosh family elders sitting in the Caravan Cafe last night were sure their almost-entirely Arab town would give a plurality of its nearly 3,000 votes to Shas a party formed and run by religious Jews.
No one was surprised that Shas was doing well in this prosperous village of stone villas where the Labor Party got 40 percent of the vote last time. The real surprise was that a radical Arab party that got no support last time was positioned to finish a close second.
Israeli Arabs nationwide, feeling the severe tensions of two years of the current uprising, were expected to assert their Arab identity over their Israeli nationality in yesterday's elections. But in Abu Ghosh which bears the same name as the clan that makes up much of its population the outcome had more to do with personalities than political posturing.
The Arab party, Balad, is led by Azmi Bishara, who was barred from running by Israeli authorities because of what they considered extreme views until Israel's Supreme Court overruled the decision earlier this month.
"Israel gave … Mr. Bishara lots of free publicity," said Ayisa Abu Ghosh, 62, as he sipped his strong black coffee. "The voters here think he must be good for the Arabs."
The support for Shas stems from practical political legwork.
"They came here, they discussed nicely with us, they made speeches, and they understand the position of minorities like us," Mr. Abu Ghosh said. "Labor failed to send anyone. Perhaps they think we're too small to matter."
Mr. Abu Ghosh said he considers himself an Israeli Arab, not a Palestinian or a Palestinian Israeli. "I was born here, I grew up here, and I work with the Jewish Israelis here, so I can't change."
Attitudes are very different among the Arab Israeli citizens in the far more populous northern areas of Israel, where around 1 million of them live. There, the population has become increasingly radicalized and has much more openly identified itself with the "intifada" started by their fellow Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza.
In Abu Ghosh, however, residents like their status as Israeli citizens and balk at any suggestion that some Arab towns and villages could be ceded to a new Palestinian state in some form of land-swap deal.
"None of [the Arab villages] want to be under Palestinian rule. They would lose all the privileges of being under Israel's democracy, where you can say what you want, and where you can get excellent social welfare, pensions and medical benefits," Mr. Abu Ghosh said.
Abu Ghosh, the only Arab village that still overlooks the road from Jerusalem to the coast, became a key battleground in the 1948 war.
Instead of supporting the Jordanian Arab Legion or the Iraqi army which were trying to drive Jewish forces off the crucial road link to Jerusalem the Abu Ghosh villagers stayed in their homes and offered a nonaggression pact to the Israelis.
The clan already had established friendly relations with a nearby Jewish kibbutz in the 1920s.
"We are the model for how to bring about real peace in the Middle East," said another cafe visitor, Jawdat Ibrahim.
"The West Bank Palestinians who criticize us for getting too close to the Jews should think what they did. They ran away from here and chose violence. We stayed where we are and accepted Israel as a reality."

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