From Wadi Ara, Taiba and Tira to Baka al-Gharbiya and Nazareth, throughout Jerusalem and in the Triangle region east of Kfar Saba, Israel’s Arab citizens launched violent demonstrations.
Literally overnight, years of coexistence – sometimes strained coexistence but coexistence nonetheless – deteriorated into anarchy. For the first time since the trauma of the second intifada dissipated, Jewish-Arab conflict is on the verge of spiraling out of control. Just days ago one could see Jewish residents of, say, Sha’ar Ephraim, frequenting markets, restaurants and other business venues in neighboring Kalansuwa.
Residents of Kalansuwa were employed in Sha’ar Ephraim. But all that has changed, and it may not return to the way it was for a long time.
The horrific murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir, evidently by Jewish vigilantes seeking revenge for the kidnapping and execution of Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah has reignited religious and nationalist tensions.
Arabs threw rocks and firebombs throughout the North and Jerusalem. Near Kalansuwa and other locations they set up roadblocks and stopped cars to determine if the driver was Jewish or Arab. At least one Jewish driver was pulled from his car by residents of Kalansuwa, who then set the vehicle on fire. A motorcycle rider from Sha’ar Ephraim was seriously injured.
Israel’s Arabs have legitimate complaints. Land appropriations, especially in the North, continued through the late 1970s until Land Day demonstrations forced the government to stop the practice.
While Israel has created more than 700 Jewish towns and settlements since the establishment of the state, not a single new Arab town has been built, except in the Negev to house Beduin.
A study conducted in 2009 by the Knesset research department found that municipal tax revenues generated by state institutions such Israel Electric Company, IDF bases and government offices amounted to NIS 1.7 billion a year. But just NIS 2.2 million or 0.2% of these revenues went to Arab municipalities, even though Israel’s Arabs make up about a fifth of the population. The state could have easily decided to locate these institutions inside the jurisdiction of Arab municipalities but it did not. Welfare budgets are on average half of the level provided to Jewish Israelis.
In large part because they are poorer than Jewish municipalities and because they lack access to private donations, Arab municipalities receive lower welfare budgets for special education, childcare, elderly care, drug addiction and alcohol abuse rehabilitation and child delinquency and lower education budgets as well. Arab state schools have a dropout rate of 32 percent compared to 8% in Jewish state schools, and Arab students score 20% lower on average in international assessment tests like the PISA.
Arabs are also unrepresented in the public sector; public transportation is not provided equitably to Arab towns; budgets provided to Arabs by the Culture and Sport Ministry and the Religious Services Ministry are proportionally lower than those provided to Jewish Israelis.
All these injustices should have been addressed long ago.
The Or Commission, which investigated the circumstances and causes of the Arab riots that broke out in October 2000, recommended launching a campaign to end discrimination against Arab Israelis. The recommendations were presented in September 2003. Little has been done since.
Yet discrimination suffered by Israel’s Arabs does not justify violent behavior. Throwing rocks and firebombs and resorting to other forms of violence are counterproductive to Arab Israelis’ own cause.
Indeed, Israel’s Arabs cannot be absolved of their share of responsibility for their situation. As a sizable minority, their potential political power has always been great. Yet this potential has been squandered by the radicalization of Arab politics to the point that demagogic Israel-bashing and blind support for the Palestinian cause have taken precedence over all attempts to work constructively with the Jewish political establishment for the practical improvement of Israeli Arab life. As a result, Arab parties and politicians have never been integrated into government coalitions where they can have influence.
Crowds that demonstrated in recent days were not calling to be fairly integrated into a democratic Israeli society. By their actions, it was clear they were demonstrating against Israel as a Jewish state.
It is true that our present government can do much more to reverse past injustices. But until Israel’s Arabs decide to end the mentality of resistance and adopt the mentality of integration, real, lasting coexistence will be far out of reach.