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October 10, 2015 | 27th Tishrei 5776

Local Politics II

November 9, 2003
Marc Rosenstein

In 1948, many Arabs fled the new state of Israel during the fighting; just how and why they fled, and how violently they were encouraged to do so, are complex questions still being debated by historians, politicians, and educators. Needless to say, this is not a neutral research topic. In any case, many stayed here, and became citizens of Israel. For the first twenty years, the Galilee was under a military governor, and the Arab citizens' movements were restricted and controlled. Infrastructure and communal governance were more or less frozen. Then, in the late 60's, the decision was made to integrate the Galilee more fully into the state, and the military governor was eliminated, water, sewer lines, and roads were put in place, and Arab municipalities were brought into the orbit of the Interior Ministry -- required to hold state-sanctioned and properly conducted elections and comply with all the requirements for proper municipal administration. Previously, the standard form of village governance was rule by the leaders of the largest (and therefore most powerful) clan. The village chief, patriarch of the largest clan, was called the mukhtar. In the case of Sha'ab, our neighboring village, the Faur clan was dominant, a leading family of those who stayed in 1948, and who remained in control as the population of the village was augmented by refugees from two other nearby villages destroyed in the wake of the war, and by the population of a Beduin village near the Syrian border, transferred by the army to Sha'ab in 1951.

Afu Faur had been the mukhtar, and it was natural for him to become the first elected mayor. He was generally associated with the Labor Party, and followed a conciliatory policy regarding neighboring Jewish communities. Not surprisingly, municipal officials, city workers, school principals, etc. tended to have the last name of Faur. His rule seemed pretty certain, though in the mid-nineties his opponents did manage to get him indicted for petty corruption, but in the end, the charges did not stand up in court.

The tension between the traditional clan system, based on family loyalty, and the way of modern meritocracy is a constant theme running through the past thirty years of Israeli Arab history. It seems that the government tended to encourage the maintenance of the clan system, for it allowed control and prevented development and politicization. Meanwhile, a new generation of modernized, educated potential leaders has arisen who see the system as an anachronism and an obstacle to the development of the Arabs of Israel -- as individuals and as a political community. They are seeking to bring professionalism and meritocracy into village administration, but the clan machine is not only entrenched in the power structure, but represents the positive values of tradition, respect, patriarchy, "doing things our way," as over against the secular, atomistic, hedonistic culture of the west. Thus, what many people see as the key to personal and communal advancement is seen by others as a threat to their identity and continuity. (Not unlike the dilemma faced by the Jews in Europe and North America in the course of the past two centuries.)

Sometimes the modernizers get the upper hand, only to discover a term or two later that they are the electoral victims of traditional backlash; sometimes even a traditionalist village like Sha'ab gets fed up with the highhandedness of the leading clan. And sometimes, what appears to be modernization is really only a disguise on the face of the competing clan. On one hand, this is a local, particular issue, and every village has its own unique story. On the other hand, it seems to me that this struggle in Sha'ab and many other villages is a microcosm of the global conflicts that drive most of our headlines these days.


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