Channel NewsAsia

A people divided: The Arab Israeli dilemma

More than 1.5 million Arabs who live inside Israel are finding themselves with increasingly divided loyalties.

HAIFA: As Israel and Hamas continue to battle it out, the divisions appear very clear cut.

The Israeli army is at war with Gaza militants, but not so clear are the thoughts and wishes of the more than 1.5 million Arabs who live inside Israel who are finding themselves with increasingly divided loyalties.

One such Israeli Arab is Sahar Hijazi who is studying communications at Haifa University. Since the Gaza war started she has found it increasingly difficult to communicate with anyone inside Israel. She said: "If you say you are an Israeli, they would say you are a traitor for your own cause. If you say you are Palestinian, you are a traitor for your own country.”

It is a conundrum many Israeli Arabs find themselves in. Around 20 per cent of the country’s population is Arab and most are fully integrated into Israeli society, but the Gaza conflict is casting a very bright light of scrutiny on Israel’s Arab community.

"There is the issue, an emotional issue, that people here have relatives on the other side,” said Jammal Mansur, an Israeli Druze. “They can’t say publicly that they support Israel and its actions. The majority of Arabs - if you ask them privately - will tell you they want to live under Israeli law."

But former Druze member of the Israeli Knesset Eyoob Kara is not shy to speak up. He insists most Israeli Arabs support the Israeli operation in Gaza. He said: "We are part of everything that go here. We are Arabian, but we support Israel. I'm feeling very proud that I lost two brothers in the war for Israel and I was an officer in the army of Israel. We support the Israeli army and all the defence organisations."

But for other Israeli Arabs like Sahar Hijazi the situation is not so clear cut. "You are not accepted anywhere. You are alone - a category that doesn’t belong to anyone. I hope I can belong. But it is not going to happen," she said.

With Israel's operation in Gaza, it is certainly not going to happen anytime soon. This latest round of fighting has re-ignited old wounds among Israel’s Arab population. Not quite Israeli and seen by some Palestinians as traitors, they are often in the firing line - citizens of a country at war with their Gaza brothers.