Opinion: At the beginning of the 60s, when all the Arabs under Israeli rule had the right to vote, Menachen Begin chased them with sweet talk and grandiose promises, and then the West Bank was conquered and everything changed

There is a surprising agreement between Israeli academia, which is in part at least left leaning and non-Zionist, and the Israeli right-wing.

They both attribute very little significance to the occupation of the West Bank territories in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Menachem Begin
Menachem Begin


Both the radical sociologist and the settler, who don’t agree on many things, believe that June 1967 wasn’t such an historic turning point, if at all.

Both believe that the expansion of borders and Jewish settlement in the West Bank are a natural continuation of Israel’s action pattern and the Yishuv (pre-state Jewish community) that came before it during the British mandate – clinging onto every piece of land possible while pushing away the Arab population that interferes with this expansion.

This approach makes a lot of sense. One cannot deny that the Zionist movement demanded Jewish ownership over all parts of Palestine, even across the Jordan River.

The right sees itself as the successor of the first pioneers and the academics tend to forget that until December 1966, barely half a year before the beginning of the “occupation”, Israel ruled over 80% of its Arab citizens under martial law that highly resembles IDF’s rule over the West Bank today.

They are right – the small, good ol’ Land of Israel wasn’t good enough for everyone and it would be wrong to think that the settlers were the ones who invented the dispossession of the Palestinians.

However, there is one major difference between the version of Israel established in 1948 and lasted only 19 years to the Israel that came after 1967 – voting rights for all.

True, pre-1967 Israel was established while displacing hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, but those who managed to stay within the country’s borders were granted a citizenship, sometimes even while risking their own lives.

It should be mentioned that the martial law until December 1966, including the Arabs’ right to vote for parliament, were under heavy inspection and suffered from coercion.

But the question remains, what was the significance of all Israeli Arabs having a right to vote? Well, one example is the treatment the Arabs received from the Herut party, the predecessor to today’s governing Likud party.

There is a file lying around in the Jabotinsky Institute archives in Tel Aviv, which is titled “Elections for the 5th Knesset: campaign posters”. It contains Herut’s finest propaganda posters, with some of them referring to the Arab society in Israel.

These posters reveal a reality completely different to today’s reality. They seem as a genuine attempt to woo the Arab voters in Arabic.

1959 Herut election campaign poster (Photo: Courtesy of the Jabotinsky Institute) (Photo: courtesy Jabotinsky institute)
1959 Herut election campaign poster (Photo: Courtesy of the Jabotinsky Institute) (Photo: courtesy Jabotinsky institute)


One poster stated that then-governing party Mapai (the predecessor to the Labor party) hadn’t even one Arab member, while in Herut “there is no difference between a Jewish member and an Arab member”.

The poster was signed off with an appeal to the voter: “If you want to replace the government, you have no other option but to vote for Herut and in doing so, you can stop tyranny, fight corruption, raise justice and eliminate false information.”

Herut’s propaganda attacked Mapai and other left-wing parties that directly or indirectly supported the preservation of the martial law and stressed the fact that Herut party leader Menachem Begin had actively opposed it in the Knesset since 1959.

It is hard to say if Begin did this as a liberal or out of utalitarian interests to weaken Mapai among the Arabs. But it doesn’t even matter.

The circumstances in pre-1967 Israel made a clear interest for the right to promote Begin’s liberal teachings.

Everything changed gradually after the occupation of the West Bank. These territories, excluding East Jerusalem, were not annexed by Israel and their legal status was defined as “temporary.”

Meanwhile, every single Israeli government has seen the territory as a legitimate settlement zone, which means that in practice, the territory has become a part of the country but its citizens were not granted equal rights.

And so, as the years went by, a link was created – which today looks obvious to us – between those who require settlement in the West Bank and those who think it’s all right for there not to be equality and not everyone can vote.

It’s no wonder that just a few decades later, right-wing parties, not just Likud, cast doubt on the legitimacy of the Arab vote in the Knesset elections. It didn’t have to be this way.

As reported by Ynetnews