The Galilee predates any known old texts and all holy books. Driving through the winding roads of villages and cities of the Galilee is a voyage through the history of a land and its people. Visiting the Galilee in the company of Palestinian Historian Johnny Mansour was an eye-opener. Throughout our day trip he pointed out plenty of evidence about what he and other scholars describe as the old Zionist plan of “Judaizing” all aspects of Palestinian life by removing as many signs of Arab Palestine and replacing them by the new face of Israel and its mainly European Jews who migrated there after 1948. “It’s a well calculated and dangerous practice,” says Mansour. In addition to pushing Arabs out or squeezing them into areas and neighborhoods, it consists of changing names of places from Arabic to Hebrew, uprooting the native olive trees and planting in their stead the larger and greener kinds of trees that “recreate the sense of home for the masses of European Jews migrating to Israel.” According to Mansour, this all began after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and continues to this day.
The result of which is a betrayal to nature itself. It creates confusion as to what really was here, what was uprooted and what was implanted. While the nature is undoubtedly richer and greener for it, its true identity is lost in the politics of who was here first and who are the true original inhabitants of the land. History teaches us this reality: It does not matter who was there first or who conquered the land and when. In the most pragmatic terms, what matters most is the present and who truly belongs to the land and who is rooted in it versus who was implanted in it. While history repeats itself, it also teaches us that things change constantly and nothing remains the same forever.
Arabs today make up about fifty percent of the population of Northern Israel. They represent twenty percent of the entire population. All research points to a demographic equality and perhaps future superiority of Arabs that is causing major concerns to Israel. Settlements in the Galilee are a reality but they are not of the same clout as the ones in the West Bank or Jerusalem. For one, those settlements are surrounded by successful and prosperous Arab villages and cities that continue to grow at a steady rate. Many Palestinians are actively building homes in their villages and towns and some are even choosing to live there and commute to the city for work and back. On the other hand, Israel is running out of settlers to fill the Galilee with. Signs are abound with all kinds of discounts and offers almost begging people to buy homes in the newly built settlements. It is quite obvious that Israel has hit its ceiling in the amount of Jews it can lure back to Israel to populate these settlements. The Galilee is a perfect example of that: Vast land, enough for all Palestinians across the world, sitting idle at present waiting for a resolution, waiting..
The Arabs of 1948 have taught me a lesson: Their ancestors submitted to the Israeli takeover of their land. They became Israeli citizens not by choice while most of their counterparts became refugees in neighboring countries. They struggled by just remaining in their land and protecting it. They resisted by keeping their Arabic language and their Palestinian identity intact despite all efforts to wipe them out. They are armed with their patience and determination.
Perhaps being on the inside has given them the lucidity to think and act differently. They don’t have to worry about “returning” because they never left. Being Israeli citizens gives them an edge because they can operate within the system and by merely existing and growing, they become a threat to be reckoned with just as much as the threats coming from the military or political resistance.
The fact that Israel does not impose the military service on its Arab population is the biggest indication of the state’s racism against the Arabs. The fact that most Arabs don’t serve in the military is a clear indication that the large majority of Arabs in Israel have not lost their true Palestinian identity. I might even argue that they remain the most authentic of all Palestinians and the most focused because they stayed in their land while others have been fighting for more than sixty years to return.
While on the surface or to the outside world, things might look like life as usual, deep inside Arab-Israelis still see Israel as the occupier and Israel still treats them as the occupied.