Amid the specter of increasingly aggressive nationalistically motivated hate crimes against Arabs by radical Israelis, hundreds of Arab and Jewish protesters converged in Jerusalem Sunday night to condemn the phenomenon and to demand greater government action.
Holding signs in Arabic and Hebrew beseeching police enforcement against ‘price-tag’ attacks, a cross-section of Israeli society – including several left-wing MKs and community activists – attended the demonstration adjacent to the Prime Minister’s Residence.
Ibtisam Mahameed, a middle- aged mother from the Arab village of Fureidis near Zichron Ya’acov, said her community and numerous other nearby Arab villages have been repeatedly defaced with graffiti and other forms of vandalism over the last six months.
“I want to be able to go to my mosque to pray, and I love Jews, I love Israelis, but [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu is not responding to what is happening in my village,” she said. “This is not good for me or my family, because we want to live in peace, but it keeps happening.”
Property damage and anti-Arab graffiti have been reported in Jaljulya, Umm el-Fahm, Akbara, Kafr Kasim, Baka al-Gharbiya and Yokne’am.
Muhammad Halil, a 16-year-old from Fureidis who attended the protest, described the powerful fear the attacks have engendered within his peaceful community.
“They make me afraid to live in a country with terror,” he said. “Netanyahu must come up with a solution and stop this.”
Their sentiments were shared by a number of sympathetic Israeli supporters who said they were outraged that the attacks continue without arrests.
While conceding that the crimes have been propagated by a small fraction of radical Jews, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, president of Rabbis for Human Rights, said the government must nonetheless react with a heavy hand.
“So often throughout history terrible things happened when good people were silent,” he said. “It’s good that there is only a small number of people doing this and that our national leadership has condemned it, but what is happening is a desecration to God’s name and antithetical to everything the Torah stands for.”
Ascherman continued, saying that “we must say ‘talking is not enough – we demand results.’” Vered Goldfarb of Jerusalem echoed Ascherman’s sentiments, adding that a lack of outrage among Israelis will result in a “boomerang effect.”
“I think when people are silent we encourage negative behavior, and it’s going to boomerang against all of us,” she said. “In the first chapter of Isaiah he brings a prophecy that our external religious behavior is worthless unless we bring justice to our society. I think that’s relevant today.”
Moreover, Goldfarb cautioned that if the problem is not effectively addressed, it will continue to spiral out of control.
“This is more than vandalism,” she said. “This is dangerous because it has no limits.”
Eli Cohen, a student from Seminar Hakibbutzim, the nation’s largest college of education, said he and several of his classmates felt compelled to travel from Tel Aviv to attend the protest to condemn the ongoing harassment.
“We came here to show our support against acts of terror and to ask the government of Israel to enforce the law against these terrorists,” he said. “As educators we feel it is our moral duty.”
Meanwhile, Oded Hon Honigwachs, a child of Holocaust survivors, drew parallels to the hate crimes with Nazi Germany.
“I see a link between what Germans did to Jews and what religious Israelis are doing to Arabs,” he said. “This is just the beginning, and if we don’t stop it, it will get worse and worse.”
In response to the spate of “pricetag” attacks in the North, Netanyahu held a meeting with Arab, Beduin, Druse and Circassian Likud Party activists on April 30, during which he condemned the vandalism as “outrageous.”
“We will catch those responsible,” Netanyahu said. “This is a central goal for us because [the acts] go against our nature and our values.”