Arab-Jewish tensions rise in Israel

At Tel Aviv’s central bus station, two mini buses on the road are at loggerheads over who has right of way. It is a common enough occurrence, but against the backdrop of the Israel-Lebanon war, this particular spat takes on an extra dimension.

A demonstration in Tel Aviv was attended by Israeli Jews and Arabs
A demonstration in Tel Aviv was attended by Israeli Jews and Arabs

The Jewish driver snaps at the Palestinian driving the other bus: “This is my country, not your country.”

For Israel’s Palestinian population, it is an especially fraught time to be a citizen of the Jewish state. 


Omaima, a teacher from Taiba, says: “All the racial tension and hatred that is always present beneath the surface here is now legitimate and out in the open.”


While any Israeli not subscribing to the mainstream pro-war mood may be considered a traitor, for Palestinian residents, an anti-war position carries an additional burden.


Fadi Shbita, director of the Sadaka-Reut co-existence project, says that there is a demand from the Israeli mainstream that Arab-Israelis take the Israeli side in the conflict.


“The message is that you can be Arab, talk Arabic and have an Arabic culture, but if you live in Israel you need to be on the side of the state.”


Good versus bad


He speaks of a mainstream perception of “good Arabs” and “bad Arabs”, with the categorisation easily shifting from the former to the latter.


In Jaffa, the predominantly Arab city neighbouring Tel Aviv, many say they feel unease at how their relations with Jewish customers and friends are being affected by the conflict in Lebanon.


One Jaffa resident says: “I have lived in the same apartment for 15 years, with Jewish neighbours who were always good neighbours. But now I feel they have changed and are making faces, as though they have a terrorist living in their apartment block.”


Some Jaffa residents say they feel the insults directed at Nasrallah or Hezbollah are also aimed at them.


One man asks: “Am I not an Arab? When they curse the Lebanese, they are also cursing me.”


Mixed feelings 


Another Jaffa local says that although he is greatly pained by the images of death and destruction in Lebanon, he avoids discussing it with Jewish Israelis.


He says: “No Arab can talk to the Jews about it, I have no energy for that.


“I don’t want to start anything with anyone because I don’t know what will happen. I have four children to think about.”


And Jaffa’s Jewish residents have mixed feelings on the subject.


Hazzan Amran, who lives in Jaffa, says: “This war affects everyone living here, Arab or Jew. We don’t feel any different. It’s not important, we are all getting killed.”


One Jewish shopkeeper on Jaffa’s main road says: “Everything is the same and we are still all friends.”


He dismisses the idea that his Arab neighbours may be feeling heightened tension at a time of war with an Arab country.


He says: “If they feel that way, maybe it’s part of their own psychology.


“I don’t accept that feeling – they are from here and live here with us. They are Israelis.”




But one man says of his Arab neighbours: “Deep inside, I think they feel good when there is a Hezbollah attack, they are happy about it.”


Shbita believes that, while there is little support for the war within Palestinian-Israeli society, there is a reluctance to vocalise that or to become active in the anti-war movement, for fear of being attacked.


“If you look at discussions on web forums and on the streets, you can see this can very easily go to a fascist place where the Palestinian population is the fifth column within Israel.”


Several Palestinian residents of Jaffa say they are bitterly opposed to the war but fear reprisals if they speak out: “I worry that if I open my mouth about it in public, the next thing I know there is a police or security service investigation on me.”


Anti-war demonstration


Later that evening, there were no such fears evident at a joint demonstration against the war outside Tel Aviv’s American embassy. Hundreds of protesters, many of whom came from Palestinian or mixed neighbourhoods such as Haifa, Acre and Kfar Yusif in northern Israel, rallied against what they stated to be an American-driven war, chanting: “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.”


Ladkani Yanni, a Palestinian Israeli resident of Kfar Yusif who attended the protest, dodges eggs hurled by opponents and shrugs off any attempts to label him a traitor.


He said: “It is because I am for Israel that I am opposed to the criminals in this government leading the war.


“It hurts that so many people here can’t see the truth and are prepared to die for the sake of propaganda.”


Conversational refuge


Back in Jaffa, many locals seek refuge from the pro-war mood in the Yafa café and bookshop, a co-existence project set up by a Palestinian and a Jewish Israeli.


Michel Alraheb, co-founder of the café, said: “People who come here care about the slaughter in Lebanon and want to talk about it with others.”


The café recently held its third birthday anniversary, which fell on the same day as the Qana deaths in Lebanon. Instead of the usual singing and dancing celebrations the café held a Diwan, the traditional Arab talking space.  


Co-existence projects such as the Yafa café may be surviving the war unharmed but, as always, such ventures are palpably thin on the ground.

Source: Al Jazeera

More from News
Most Read