Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Sunday, 27 september 2009 | Haaretz


Better than Catalonia

By Alexander Yakobson

In Catalonia the national conflict is easier to live with. Aluf Benn watched a torch procession last week that was held under the motto "Catalonia is not Spain" and felt quite envious such a demonstration could take place without causing undue excitement, as people went on with life as usual.

Indeed, the national struggle in Catalonia is conducted without violence and in a peaceful atmosphere. The struggle in the Basque Country, by contrast, is marked by nationalist violence; the atmosphere is less relaxed. A nationalist Basque party was outlawed for refusing to condemn the terrorists fighting for independence. Not every Spanish example is worthy of adoption.

But something else is worth noting from the sidelines of that demonstration in Barcelona. No Arab town or village in Israel would demonstrate under the slogan "Umm al-Fahm is not Israel," for example. We've heard harsh slogans, but not like that one. Unlike Spain, Israel is not facing cessesion demands from its Arab community. It is Avigdor Lieberman who is raising such ideas, which the Arab citizens reject angrily. It's their right as citizens to reject such ideas, of course, but the interesting, rarely asked question is, why they choose to do so.
"Territory exchanges" are not an option, even theoretically, unless they are part of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. When Umm al-Fahm's residents furiously dismiss the territory-exchange idea, they are denying the option of turning their town into part of an independent Palestinian state, existing peacefully with Israel.

It is not at all self-evident in view of the relations between the two peoples. Not many nation states have received such a vote of confidence from a national minority in the midst of a bitter national conflict.

Granted, they choose Israel by comparing it to the alternative, but everything in life is measured in relation to the alternative. Both Arab-Israelis and Israel emerge from this story looking better than they are often portrayed.

Many in the Jewish community would say this choice stems from the obvious economic advantages of living in Israel. But that's not the whole story. A survey conducted immediately after the fighting in Gaza - when relations between the two peoples were at a nadir - Israeli Arabs were asked if they were "proud to be Israelis." The question sounds almost like a provocation. Yet 45 percent answered in the affirmative. A year earlier 53 percent of Israeli Arabs were proud to be Israelis.

Coming from an Arab citizen such a statement means much more than "I won't move from here and it's good that there is National Insurance" (allocations)" - as the Jews in Israel tend to interpret Israeli Arabs' unequivocal choice in living under an Israeli government. Despite all their reservations, they prefer this to their own people's Palestinian government. It is not at all certain that 45 percent of Catalonians would say they are "proud to be Spanish."

Yisrael Beiteinu's preoccupation with Israeli Arabs' loyalty is tainted with destructive nationalist incitement. The Arab parties, for their part, are making every effort to persuade the Jews that the Arab minority's attitude to the state is exactly the way Yisrael Beiteinu describes it.

The real picture of the relations between the majority and the minority is much more complicated. It has many negative aspects, but positive ones as well, and there is hope for improvement. It is the responsibility of both the country's leadership and that of the Arab community to improve the situation.

Published at the Haaretz

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Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia

Col·lectiu Emma is a network of Catalans and non-Catalans living in different countries who have made it their job to track and review news reports about Catalonia in the international media. Our goal is to ensure that the world's public opinion gets a fair picture of the country's reality today and in history.

We aim to be recognized as a trustworthy source of information and ideas about Catalonia from a Catalan point of view.
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Col·lectiu Emma - Explaining Catalonia