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""When given a choice of living under Zionist or Palestinian rule, they decidedly prefer the former. More than that, there is a body of pro-Israel sentiments from which to draw. No opinion surveys cover this delicate subject, but a substantial record of statements and actions suggest that, despite their anti-Zionist swagger, Israel's most fervid enemies do perceive its political virtues. Even Palestinian leaders, between their fulminations, sometimes let down their guard and acknowledge Israel's virtues. This undercurrent of Palestinian love of Zion has hopeful and potentially significant implications.
Pro-Israel expressions fall into two main categories: preferring to remain under Israel rule and praising Israel as better than Arab regimes.
No Thank You, Palestinian Authority
Palestinians already living in Israel, especially in Jerusalem and the "Galilee Triangle" area, tell, sometimes volubly, how they prefer to remain in Israel.
Jerusalem. In mid-2000, when it appeared that some Arab-majority parts of Jerusalem would be transferred to Palestinian Authority control, Muslim Jerusalemites expressed less than delight at the prospect. Peering over at Arafat's PA, they saw power monopolized by domineering and corrupt autocrats, a thug-like police force, and a stagnant economy. Arafat's bloated, nonsensical claims ("We are the one true democratic oasis in the Arab region") only exacerbated their apprehensions.
‘Abd ar-Razzaq ‘Abid of Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood pointed dubiously to "what's happening in Ramallah, Hebron, and the Gaza Strip" and asked if the residents there were well off. A doctor applying for Israeli papers explained:
The whole world seems to be talking about the future of the Arabs of Jerusalem, but no one has bothered asking us. The international community and the Israeli Left seem to take it for granted that we want to live under Mr. Arafat's control. We don't. Most of us despise Mr. Arafat and the cronies around him, and we want to stay in Israel. At least here I can speak my mind freely without being dumped in prison, as well as having a chance to earn an honest day's wage.
In the colorful words of one Jerusalem resident, "The hell of Israel is better than the paradise of Arafat. We know Israeli rule stinks, but sometimes we feel like Palestinian rule would be worse."
The director of the Bayt Hanina community council in northern Jerusalem, Husam Watad, found that the prospect of finding themselves living under Arafat's control had people "in a panic. More than 50 percent of east Jerusalem residents live below the poverty line, and you can imagine how the situation would look if residents did not receive [Israeli] National Insurance Institute payments." In the view of Fadal Tahabub, a member of the Palestinian National Council, an estimated 70 percent of the 200,000 Arab residents of Jerusalem preferred to remain under Israeli sovereignty. A social worker living in Ras al-‘Amud, one of the areas possibly falling under PA control, said: "If a secret poll was conducted, I am sure an overwhelming majority of Jerusalem Arabs would say they would prefer to stay in Israel."
Indeed, precisely when Palestinian rule seemed most likely in 2000, the Israeli Interior Ministry reported a substantial increase in citizenship applications from Arabs in eastern Jerusalem. A Jerusalem city councilor, Roni Aloni, heard from many Arab residents about their not wanting to live under PA control. "They tell me—we are not like Gaza or the West Bank. We hold Israeli IDs. We are used to a higher standard of living. Even if Israeli rule is not so good, it is still better than that of the PA." Shalom Goldstein, an adviser on Arab affairs to the Jerusalem mayor, found likewise: "People look at what is happening inside the Palestinian-controlled areas today and say to themselves, ‘Thank God we have Israeli ID cards.' In fact, most of the Arabs in the city prefer to live under Israeli rule than under a corrupt and tyrannical regime like Yasser Arafat's."
So many Jerusalem Arabs considered taking out Israeli papers in 2000 that the ranking Islamic official in Jerusalem issued an edict prohibiting his flock from holding Israeli citizenship (because this implies recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the holy city). Faysal al-Husayni, the Palestine Liberation Organization's man in charge of Jerusalem affairs, went further: "Taking Israeli citizenship is something that can only be defined as treason," and he threatened such people with exclusion from the Palestinian state. Finding his threat ineffective, Husayni upped the ante, announcing that Jerusalem Arabs who take Israeli citizenship would have their homes confiscated. The PA's radio station confirmed this, calling such persons "traitors" and threatening that they would be "tracked down." Many Palestinians were duly intimidated, fearing the authority's security forces.
But some spoke out. Hisham Gol of the Mount of Olives community council put it simply: "I prefer Israeli control." An affluent West Bank woman called a friend in Gaza to ask about life under the PA. She heard an ear-full: "I can only tell you to pray that the Israelis don't leave your town," because "the Jews are more human" than Palestinians. One individual willing publicly to oppose Arafat was Zohair Hamdan of Sur Bahir, a village in the south of metropolitan Jerusalem; he organized a petition of Jerusalem Arabs demanding that a referendum be held before Israel lets the Palestinian Authority take power in Jerusalem. "For 33 years, we have been part of the State of Israel. But now our rights have been forgotten." Over a year and a half, he collected more than 12,000 signatures (out of an estimated Jerusalem Arab population of 200,000). "We won't accept a situation where we are led like sheep to the slaughterhouse." Hamdan also expressed a personal preference that Sur Bahir remain part of Israel and estimated that the majority of Palestinians reject "Arafat's corrupt and tyrannical rule. Look what he's done in Lebanon, Jordan, and now in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He has brought one disaster after another on his people."
The Galilee Triangle. Nor are such pro-Israeli sentiments limited to residents of Jerusalem. When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government released a trial balloon in February 2004 about giving the Palestinian Authority control over the Galilee Triangle, a predominantly Arab part of Israel, the response came strong and hard. As Mahmoud Mahajnah, 25, told Agence France-Presse, "Yasir Arafat runs a dictatorship, not a democracy. No one here would accept to live under that regime. I've done my [Israeli] national service; I am a student here and a member of the Israeli Football Association. Why would they transfer me? Is that logical or legitimate?" One resident quoted what he called a local saying, that "the ‘evil' of Israel is better than the ‘heaven' of the West Bank." Shu‘a Sa‘d, 22, explained why: "Here you can say whatever you like and do whatever you want—so long as you don't touch the security of Israel. Over there, if you talk about Arafat, they can arrest you and beat you up." Another young man, ‘Isam Abu ‘Alu, 29, put it differently: "Mr. Sharon seems to want us to join an unknown state that doesn't have a parliament, or a democracy, or even decent universities. We have close family ties in the West Bank, but we prefer to demand our full rights inside Israel."
The entrance to Umm al-Fahm, the largest Muslim town in Israel, sports the green flags of the Islamic Movement Party that rules the town, along with a billboard denouncing Israel's rule over Jerusalem. That said, Hashim ‘Abd ar-Rahman, mayor and local leader of the Islamic Movement, has no time for Sharon's suggestion: "Despite the discrimination and injustice faced by Arab citizens, the democracy and justice in Israel is better than the democracy and justice in Arab and Islamic countries." Nor does Ahmed Tibi, an Israeli Arab member of parliament and advisor to Arafat, care for the idea of PA control, which he calls "a dangerous, antidemocratic suggestion."
Just 30 percent of Israel's Arab population, a May 2001 survey found, agree to the Galilee Triangle being annexed to a future Palestinian state, meaning that a large majority prefers to remain in Israel. By February 2004, according to the Haifa-based Arab Center for Applied Social Research, that number had jumped to 90 percent preferring to remain in Israel. No less startling, 73 percent of Triangle Arabs said they would resort to violence to prevent changes in the border. Their reasons divided fairly evenly between those claiming Israel as their homeland (43 percent) and those cherishing Israel's higher standard of living (33 percent). So intense was the Arab opposition to ceding the Galilee Triangle to the Palestinian Authority that Sharon quickly gave the idea up.
The issue arose a bit later in 2004 as Israel built its security fence. Some Palestinians, like Umm al-Fahm's Ahmed Jabrin, 67, faced a choice on which side of the fence to live. He had no doubts. "We fought [the Israeli authorities so as] to be inside of the fence, and they moved it so we are still in Israel. We have many links to Israel. What have we to do with the Palestinian Authority?" His relative, Hisham Jabrin, 31, added: "We are an integral part of Israel and will never be part of a Palestinian state. We have always lived in Israel and there is absolutely no chance that that will change." ""