Israel’s Arabs feel backlash

Muhammad al-Saadi is afraid to speak his mind. As an Arab citizen of Israel he is discriminated against by his government and unable to support his ethnic brethren in Palestine.

An Arab Israeli woman mourns a relative killed by Israeli police
An Arab Israeli woman mourns a relative killed by Israeli police

“Allow me not to say anything, every Arab will say the same thing (about Israeli discrimination),” said al-Saadi, whose two daughters have been convicted of helping a Palestinian resistance bomber.

Like 1.2 million other Arabs living under the shadow of institutionalized discrimination, his fears are justified.

His daughters are the victims of a new law directed at Arabs that punishes anybody who supports any “terrorist” organisation working against the Israeli army.

The prominent Arab leader Azmi Bushara is now facing a charge of  supporting “terrorism” based on this law.

Leaders chastened

Until the law came into effect, Arab leaders in Israel repeatedly described the Palestinian resistance as legitimate under international conventions allowing an occupied people to use all means of struggle against occupiers.

“After this law came into effect last year, no Arab Israeli leader was prepared to say that the Palestinian resistance is legitimate,” said Yusri Khaizeran, a Hebrew University Druze (an Arab Islamic offshoot group) student preparing his doctorate on the status of his people in Lebanon and Israel.

Khaizeran is among those who believe that the Arabs in Israel are moving towards an inescapable confrontation with the country’s Jewish leaders. “I do not say it will happen tomorrow, or in few months, but I expect it to happen in 10 years from now.”

Conditions for Israel’s Arab minorities are deteriorating rapidly, making empathy with the Palestinians across the border greater than ever – something which has terrified the Israeli rulers.

Arabs cornered

Arnon Sofer, a professor of Geography at Haifa University, proposed recently that a new law should be passed preventing Arabs from having more babies.

As Palestinian resistance has become stronger over the course of the current Intifada, so Israel’s government led by prime minister Ariel Sharon, minister of communication (now transportation) Avigdor Lieberman and minister of justice Tomy Lapid, have moved to corner the Arabs in Israel, hitting them with a wave of discriminatory policies.

About 15,000 people, many of them already married and waiting for their spouses from the Palestinian territories to  join them, are affected by a retrospectively applicable law banning marriage between Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Arabs inside Israel.

Some Israeli commentators would have the government take even more extreme measures.

Arnon Sofer, a professor of Geography at Haifa University, proposed recently that a new law should be passed preventing Arabs from having more babies. He also suggested that the government should prevent Arabs from building  more than one-floor houses.

Such attitudes have reduced to dust any faith the non-Jewish minorities had in the Israeli state.

“The Arabs in Israel have lost their faith in any Israeli government. They became careless about the politics and elections in Israel,” said Khaizeran. “The word alienation is the most accurate word which portrays our feelings.”

Second class citizens

The feelings of discrimination have given them common cause with their ethnic and religious kin across the Green Line, the now UN-recognised border separating Israel from the Occupied Territories.

The Orr commission found government prejudice and police incompetence killed Arab Israelis

The Orr commission found government prejudice and police incompetence killed Arab Israelis

Even before the new measures were enacted, Palestinian Arabs in Israel were a class apart.

The three villages with the highest unemployment rate in Israel are all Arab. The unemployment rate among Arab Israelis is 35%, three times that of Jews. Arab per capita income is half that of Jews, and twice as many Arabs live below the poverty line. Infant mortality is twice as high among Arabs as Jews.

The education ministry spends half as much per Arab child as per Jewish child. The Arab municipalities receive just two-thirds of the level of government funding that Jewish areas get which has affected the quality of Arab schools, infrastructure and social services.

These frustrations boiled over in October 2000 when as the Intifada gathered momentum, the Palestinians in the “1948 territory”, referring to the borders set after the war of that year, took to the streets in angry protest.

Thirteen were gunned down by Israeli police and troops in a state response the Orr Commission’s official inquiry this year described as characterised by “prejudice and neglect”.

Despite the obvious similarities, Hasan Jabareen, head of Adala, an Arab Human Rights Group in Nazareth, is careful not to equate the two Arab communities too closely.

“Of course, there is a difference. There (in the West Bank and Gaza Strip) the Israeli army kills people and expels activists and destroys houses, here we suffer from discrimination. There, the women give birth at checkpoints, here our women give birth in hospitals.”

But, he added, “As long as the occupation continues (in the West Bank and Gaza Strip), our relations with the government of Israel will continue to be negative.”

The fight back

“We, the Palestinians of the inside, are in the first front line in defending al-Aqsa mosque”

Kamal al Khateeb,
Islamic leader in Israel

The continuation of the Intifada, the deterioration in economic conditions, the discriminatory policies have provided a climate for moving some Arab Israelis from discontent and alienation to outright solidarity with uprising.

The Arabs have crossed the edge of fear, openly supporting a Palestinian state, and insisting in providing assistance to their ethnic and religious brethren in the occupied territories.

“I said it many times. We, the Palestinians of the inside (1948 areas) are in the first front line in defending al-Aqsa mosque,” said Kamal al-Khateeb, a prominent leader in the Islamic movement in Israel, referring to the holy Jerusalem site claimed by both Muslims and Jews.

“We expect to face hard times, but it does not matter, we should preserve our Islamic identity,” al-Khateeb said.

Five Arab Israeli Islamic leaders, including the leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Sheikh Ra’id Salih, are accused of supporting Palestinian prisoners and the families of dead activists and of having contacts with Islamic charities in Qatar and Europe.

“One of the charges against Sheik Ra’id Salih is having contact with Dr Yusuf al-Qardawi,” the famous Islamic scholar based in Qatar. Qardawi has issued a fatwa, a clerical pronouncement, which approves of “martyrdom attacks.”

Strong bonds

“Israel wants to destroy our Palestinian identity. We are living in Israel but our bonds with Arab and Islamic nations are strong,” said al-Khateeb, Salih’s deputy in the Islamic movement.

An Israeli policeman pushes an Arab Israeli who was giving food to Palestinians in Nablus

An Israeli policeman pushes an Arab Israeli who was giving food to Palestinians in Nablus

His movement’s aid efforts for the West Bank and Gaza Palestinians has faced Israeli obstacles. Up to 100,000 parcels of food and clothes supplies have been collected by the Islamic movement since May.

“But the delivery of these quantities has been delayed by the military checkpoints,” al-Khateeb said.

The Arabs in Israel pay $335,000 every month for needy Palestinian families in an orphan adoption programme supporting 12,000 children in the occupied territories.

They supply thousands of school bags every year. The food donations double and even triple when there is a lengthy clampdown on Palestinian towns and also during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Israel has prevented the movement from building new houses for homeless families whose houses crushed by the Israeli army in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

These repressive measures designed to exclude Arabs from Israeli economic and political life, are a barely disguised form of apartheid.

Quiescence has not helped their plight, but it remains to be seen whether it is desperate enough to cause the pressure cooker to explode in sympathy for the Palestinian resistance.

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