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New York Times
24 Feb 2024
Ofer Dagan

NextImg:Opinion | A Special Anguish Among Palestinian Citizens of Israel

As the rest of the world watches the Gaza war with horror, one community is following it with a particular kind of anguish: the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

They are connected by family ties, language, culture and history to their fellow Palestinians in Gaza — while living, working and studying side-by-side with Jewish Israelis in the very country that caused their people’s misfortune.

Palestinian citizens of Israel are no strangers to seeing their country of citizenship bring force to bear on Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, and their own history is rife with systematic discrimination and little recognition of their collective identity. Israel’s war in response to the devastating attack by Hamas on Oct. 7 has led the Israeli government to ratchet up those social, economic and legal pressures, putting an already vulnerable people in an especially thorny place and threatening the fragile links between Jewish and Palestinian citizens.

That is a terrible mistake.

Most of Israel’s two million Palestinian citizens, who make up about 20 percent of the national population, hold on to their Palestinian identity, language and culture. At the same time they speak Hebrew, participate in Israeli politics to varying degrees and are generally acquainted with Jewish and Israeli culture. They hold a unique position, as perhaps the only group that continues to form friendship, partnership and solidarity ties — albeit often flawed and partial — with both the Palestinians across the border and the Jewish citizens of Israel.

That delicate position provides a rare commodity in the region: the ability to see a broader and more nuanced picture and serve as a bridge to a long-lasting solution to the war and the larger conflict. The links between the two groups could be a model for a different future in the area, and a stronger Palestinian voice in Israel could increase the demand for a just and humane resolution to the war, helping both peoples. The Palestinian citizens of Israel are worth listening to.

Many Palestinians in Israel were filled with revulsion on Oct. 7 as Hamas attacked the Israeli towns near the border and murdered and brutalized their inhabitants. They also suffered their own casualties: Seven of the 240 people kidnapped and taken to Gaza were Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and more than a dozen Palestinian citizens were killed in the Hamas attack or by rockets fired from Gaza since that day.

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