Ian Lustick, Arabs in the Jewish State: Israel’s Control of a National Minority (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980).
Lustick’s book is the latest in a genre of studies written about Palestinian Arabs by American academics whose commitment to Israel’s future is manifest. These studies, on the whole, present the reader with evidence of discrimination against the Palestinian population in Israel while employing, in the same breath, the state’s official rationale of security and “impending Arab threat.”
Arabs in the Jewish State represents a case where the two edges of this sword are the sharpest. Lustick’s ideological underpinnings are Zionist, yet the data he presents are an indictment of the Zionist idea in practice. In the form of a conclusion Lustick writes:
For the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews, as well as for the political, social and economic elites, the permanent character of the state as an expression of the political will of Jews is not a matter for debate or even speculation. Their vision of Israel is not of a state that is to serve, ultimately, as a neutral umpire between Jewish and Arab ethnonational groups apportioning or competing for its resources, but of an organizational tool in the continuing struggle of the Zionist movement to solve what is seen, more or less vividly, as the international Jewish problem.
Lustick conducted his field research from July 1973 to June 1974, in Israel. He conducted follow-up work during the summer of 1977. Lustick apparently had a ready access — to Israeli circles and sources, then the Labor government. This might explain the slimness of the Arab sources on whom he relied for his interpretation of the Arab situation in the Jewish state. Except for two or three instances, all Lustick’s interviews with Arabs were conducted with those known to be outright collaborators with the authorities.
Although the reader gets the impression that Lustick’s main problematic is the puzzling “failure of Israel’s Arab minority to organize itself,” the author is essentially preoccupied with the system of control imposed on the Palestinian Arab population living under Israeli jurisdiction. The value of the present study is Lustick’s systematic treatment of the practices that have led to the suppression of the Arab population in Israel. He lucidly examines the Zionist perceptions of the “Arab minority,” the theoretical components of the system of control as a framework for analysis, and the effect of each “component of control.”
Lustick anchors these practices in the Zionist definition of the Palestinian people, in the incompatibility between Palestinian independence and Zionist plans, and in the Zionist intolerance of a culturally vibrant and free Palestinian Arab minority in a Jewish state. The author shows that the anti-Palestinian policies of today emanate from objectives set during the very early years of statehood.
The main components in this system of control are “segmentation,” “dependence” and “cooptation.” Through segmentation, Israel succeeded in chopping up the Arab population into clans, religious sects, villagers, Bedouins and so on. “The function of the segmentation component,” Lustick writes, “has been to deprive Arabs in Israel of facilities for united political action, whether involving alliances among Arabs on a countrywide basis or between groups of Arabs and politically significant groups of Jews.”
By examining “dependence as a component of control,” Lustick delineates the processes by which the regime truncated the Arab economic structure and created an overall Arab economic dependence on the Jewish economy. He discusses the successful erosion of the Arab agricultural economic base, mainly through the expropriation of Arab lands. “Dependence has made it less likely that the disunited and isolated segments of the Arab population could, even individually, launch sustained drives for social, economic, or political change.” To complete his discussion of the control system, he presents an exhaustive description of pressures employed to coopt both traditional and non-traditional elites.
This study does not provide new information. Sabri Jiryis, Elie Zureik, myself and others have dealt with all the matters that Lustick examines here. Its uniqueness lies in its source: an American political scientist who has been involved on many levels in Jewish and Zionist organizations, and who does not conceal his love for Israel and his concern for the ”country’s future.“ But what is the value of this type of social science to the Palestinian population itself? The “control system” is discussed in an analytically detached and dispassionate way. Its components — “segmentation,” “dependence” and “cooptation” — acquire cost, are increased or decreased, and are productive or counterproductive. One has to probe deeply before one encounters people. Attempts to break away from, or challenge this dominance and oppression are treated as “aberrations in otherwise ‘appropriate’ structural and/or institutional conditions.” Lustick makes most of his factual errors in his description of these “aberrations.” For example, the Organization of Arab Local Council Chairmen did endorse the program of the Democratic Front in the 1977 elections. That is how the Organization’s chairman, the late Hanna Muways, was placed on the Front’s list. Abna’ al-Balad is described wrongly as “local associations of radical Arab intellectuals” who reject “political alliances with left-wing Jewish groups.” The organization was in fact founded by workers and former political prisoners, and it seeks to cooperate with active Jewish groups in Israel which are anti-Zionist.
A reading of this book should generate, in my view, different questions for those committed to the legitimacy of the struggle of the Palestinian Arab population in Israel for freedom, questions about the nature and legitimacy of the Zionist state and not merely about its embarrassing practices.