- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2006

MARJ EL-KRUM, Israel — Israel was reminded again yesterday that its Arab citizens are as vulnerable as anyone in the week-old war on Hezbollah when a rocket crashed into the city of Nazareth, claiming the youngest Israelis yet killed in the fighting — Rabiyeh Abed Taluzi, 3, and older brother Mahmoud, 7.

Although Jewish Israelis overwhelmingly back the war, there is widespread criticism of the government among Israeli Arabs, who feel caught in the middle.

Arab Israelis make up one-fifth of Israel’s population but constitute one-half of the residents in the northern part of the country where Hezbollah’s Katyushas are landing. Haifa, the primary focus of the attacks, is the one major Israeli city where Arabs and Jews live side by side.

Residents of Marj el-Krum said about seven rockets landed in the 13,000-strong village last week, slightly injuring one person and damaging houses as well as the local cemetery.

“Both sides are guilty — Israel and Hezbollah,” said Farhan Farhat, who heard the rocket explosion just after sitting down to watch the 3 p.m. television news on the Al Jazeera satellite news channel. “They should come down from the tree and sit together. It’s those of us who are down on the ground who are paying.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Israeli Arabs are among the country’s most dovish citizens, sympathizing with Palestinian brethren in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and watching critical news coverage on Arabic channels.

But they are fiercely protective of their status as Israeli citizens and are quick to dismiss accusations of dual loyalty that are made routinely by Israeli Jews.

“The Lebanese, the Syrians and Hezbollah — do they send me money?” said Hassan Sirhan, the owner of a kitchen ceramic tile workshop in Marj el-Krum. “These rockets don’t know the difference between Jews or Arabs.”

But Mr. Farhat said Israel erred by choosing military might over negotiations after Hezbollah kidnapped two soldiers a week ago. By failing to make peace with its Arab neighbors, Israel has contributed to the bitterness in Lebanon on which Hezbollah feeds, he said.

“Doesn’t Israel hold prisoners as well? They should talk. All we want is peace,” he said. “My wife isn’t sleeping at night. Today, there was a siren at 6 a.m. and my kids came into bed with me crying. Isn’t that terrorism?”

Sabbeh Mahmoud, an employee in the ceramics shop, said Israel has killed too many Lebanese civilians. “And they don’t know where is [Hassan] Nasrallah?” he asked sarcastically, referring to the Shi’ite cleric who leads Hezbollah.

The attacks on northern Israel also have revealed that the country’s Arab citizens routinely get shortchanged when it comes to public services.

One week after the Marj el-Krum strike, residents are still waiting for government tax assessors to inspect the damage to estimate how much state compensation the victims are due. The tax authorities arrive on the scene immediately after rocket attacks in Jewish cities, Israel’s Channel 2 television news reported.

None of the Arab cities in the north seems to be connected to the public siren system that gives residents critical seconds to look for cover before the rockets strike.

“They only give you a siren after you get hit,” Mr. Farhat joked.

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