Terra Incognita: The Israeli archipelago

By SETH J.FRANTZMAN
December 14, 2010 23:22

The Jewish state is a country of islands. Each community, each town, each village, each neighborhood is its own society.




Terra Incognita: The Israeli archipelago

seth frantzman 88. (photo credit: )

Art project: Take one large sheet of white paper and write “Israel” at the top. Do not draw borders.

In the Palestinian territories and on the Golan, place dark green dots on the Palestinian villages and towns. Place orange dots for the Jewish villages and towns (settlements). For the four Druse villages of the Golan, place purple dots. For the village of Ghajer, the lone Alawite village, place a tan dot.

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Inside the Green Line, place red dots for the 268 kibbutzim and dark blue dots for the 500 moshavim.

For all the Muslim Arab villages, place a green dot. For the two Circassian villages, place dark brown dots. For the 17 Druse villages and towns, place light purple dots. For the Maronite village of Jish in the Galilee, place a light blue dot. For the Christian villages, most of which are shared with Druse or Muslims, but several of which are mostly Christian (Kafr Yasif, Eilabun and Mi’ilya), place yellow dots. For the 49 illegal Beduin villages of the Negev, place dark grey dots.

For the 30-40 development towns – home to Russians, Ethiopians and Mizrahi Jews – place grey dots.

For the haredi towns, neighborhoods and villages, place black dots. For Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv, place large empty circles (if you have done this project correctly, they should already have dots in several of them representing the Muslim, Christian and haredi communities).

The map you have drawn is a map of Israel. Of course there are no borders, there need not be. This is not the Israel you commonly think of, the wedge of land between the Jordan and the sea, with or without the Palestinian territories. This is the Israeli archipelago, and it represents much better the reality than the one found on any map. For Israel is more a country of islands, like those found in the Caribbean or the South Pacific. Each community, each town, each village, each neighborhood is its own island. Forget the myth that people “mix” at the university or in the army. For the most part, they do not.

THE REALITY of the Israeli archipelago confronts us on a daily basis. It is a cultural and socioeconomic reality and it transcends many factors in society. A recent article by Israel Harel described the country’s largest city as “the draft-dodging state of Tel Aviv [which]... resembles the haredi city of Bnei Brak in its percentage of draft dodgers.”

He points out that “most of the draft dodgers from Bnei Brak, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv studied at specific educational institutions – the former in a certain type of yeshiva, the latter in certain [secular] high schools.”

It turns out that Tel Aviv is ranked worse than the Beduin town of Rahat in draft statistics compiled by the army. The national religious sector accounts for a massively disproportionate number of officers and combat soldiers in the army. But alongside the disproportionate service is the disproportionate lack of service in the Arab, haredi and wealthy secular Jewish sectors.

Also, almost half of all Jewish women do not serve.

In the final analysis 52-55% of citizens do not do any sort of national service.

Statistics show such shocking dissimilarities among other places in society. Take the murder of women by their husbands and lovers; 18 were killed this year – seven Arabs, three Ethiopians and three Russians.

To put it simply, your chance of dying as a woman at the hands of your partner is not the same in Modi’in as in Lod and Ramle. And two communities don’t even share the same language for the murder of women – the Arab community, by and large, denies that honor killings even happen, while the Israeli Jewish community tends to excuse the killings as a cultural problem for the Arabs.

And suicides; who is killing themselves? Statistics show it is mostly people in towns with economically vulnerable and high immigrant populations. Of the 10 most common places for people to commit suicide, based on statistics from 1998-2004, we find Kiryat Yam, Kiryat Motzkin, Hadera, Kiryat Bialik, Bat Yam and Kiryat Gat. New immigrants from the Soviet Union and Ethiopia made up 32% of all suicides in 2004, which is out of all proportion to their numbers in the population. In contrast, few people in Nazareth or Bnei Brak are at risk of becoming a statistic.

So there are islands of death and wife killings in our society. But those are just a few of them.

THERE ARE islands in the media. The only place one will find people from the poorer or minority communities is on the reality shows (Big Brother, Master Chef, A Star Is Born, etc.); the rest of Israeli TV is dominated, culturally and physically, by a few elite communities.

There are islands of illegality, of squatters on state lands who do not pay taxes. Those are the 49 unrecognized/ illegal Beduin communities in the Negev, not to be confused with the seven legal ones the government built in the 1970s and 1980s. And the island of the foreign workers, stuck in South Tel Aviv, is helped by the islanders from North Tel Aviv who champion their rights.

There are islands of differing taxes for water. While the public was asked to pay extra for water in 2009 due to the shortage, the kibbutzim not only didn’t pay extra, but according to writer Nehemia Shtrasler they don’t even pay the same amount as everyone else for household consumption.

Consider the fracas over the Knesset bill that would allow communities to reject people based on internal criteria, or what is taking place in Safed or Jaffa between the local community and others who want to move there. “Racism! Racism!” we hear. But why is it not racism that 268 kibbutzim have been subjecting potential members to “selection criteria” for 62 years of the country’s existence? There is no greater pastime than pointing fingers at a group and demanding they live with the “other,” while your community fanatically keeps others out.

Israel is an archipelago, each community segregated from the others. Some rely on fences to keep the unwanted masses away, some live on state lands for free, and some are called “racist” in Karmiel or Safed for, oddly, asking that they be allowed to do what the others have done all along, and have an island to themselves. For better or worse, that’s the way it is; the least we can do is demand that those who want to break down the barriers between the islands first tear down the fences around their communities.

The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.


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