Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 created a unique situation and an ongoing identity dilemma for the Arab minority in Israel. More than 100,000 Palestinian Arabs remained inside the borders of the newly-born state and subsequently became Israeli citizens. However, they remained nationally, culturally and religiously tied to the outside Arab world. These Israeli Arab citizens have since been torn between four circles of ethno-religious and national identities: Israeli, Palestinian, Arab, and religious (Muslim, Christian or Druze).
Israel's Declaration of Independence articulates equal rights for all citizens, but makes no reference to non-Jewish national or collective rights. Over the past few decades, Arab national identity has come into greater focus, generating growing collective awareness among and about Arab citizens. Two significant recent milestones in this awareness are:
- The Events of October 2000 in which demonstrations held by Arab citizens in identification with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip turned violent. Investigations of the violence and its causes led to greater recognition of Arab citizens’ collective identity and awareness of the need to address Arab citizen relations with the Jewish majority and the state.
The “Future Vision Documents,” four positions papers published between 2006-2007 by prominent Arab leaders and think tanks, aimed to define and promote Arab citizens’ unique national identity and rights while connecting them to their history and national affiliation with the Palestinian people.
According to various polls and research, a significant portion of Arab citizens in Israel presently define themselves as Palestinian citizens of Israel who belong to the wider Arab world and Palestinian people. Thus, Arab leaders, activists and academics as well as a number of Jewish leaders talk about the need to recognize Arab citizens as a national or indigenous minority deserving collective rights. At times demands are also made to challenge the Jewish identity of the state and transform it into either a “state of all its citizens” or a “bi-national state.”
Likewise, there have been periodic attempts to strengthen the Jewish identity of the state, such as enshrining the Jewish character of the state as a Basic Law, that are perceived as challenges to to the Arab minority’s status as equal citizens.