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The world will judge the Jewish state by what it will do with its Arab population.
- Chaim Weizman, Israel's first president
Stroll through Upper Nazareth (Jewish) and Lower Nazareth (Arab). Walk the streets of the Jewish neighborhoods of Ramle and Lod, and then visit the Arab neighborhoods. Compare Jewish Ma'aleh Adumim to the garbage dump behind it that houses Beduin. In each locality, enter the schools, play in the parks, go into the medical clinics and community centers.
The differences between the Jewish and Arab communities are like day and night. Jewish citizens enjoy the light; Arab citizens suffer the darkness.
It has become routine policy - an "unrecognized" Beduin community in the Negev is demolished. Such action always seems to follow on the heels of another unrecognized Arab village being discovered in the Galilee - perhaps also destined for destruction. All this should be viewed against the backdrop of approximately 70 illegal Jewish settlements, which technically should fall under the category of unrecognized Jewish enclaves and thus be earmarked for demolition. (It should be noted that the Defense Ministry and the IDF have decriminalized unauthorized Jewish construction in the West Bank.)
Because of the lack of recognition of certain Arab villages, there is no infrastructure, which means that an estimated 100,000 Israeli Arabs live without running water, electricity, telephone lines, sewage systems or gas, as well as proper education and health services. There are no access roads. Attempts by residents to improve their conditions are met by strong government reactions - forced evacuation, demolition orders, trials and incarceration.
THE OPPOSITE is the case with unrecognized Jewish settlements, which, despite their illegality, enjoy the advantages of any Jewish town in Israel proper. Such blatant inequity constitutes a gross violation of human rights. Discrimination against Arab citizens in this country is increasing, particularly in public places. The Association of Civil Rights in Israel has documented this phenomenon for years.
Recently, Israeli Arabs have begun challenging the legality of such discrimination in some of the following cases: denial of entry to a water park; denial of membership in a country club; denial of access to a recreation area near the Kinneret; denial of use of a kibbutz pool; and denial to live in certain communal towns in the Misgav region by the local communities' exclusively Jewish admission committees, along with excessive security checks at the airports and the unequal distribution of government funds that favors the Jewish population.
There is a frightening reality taking hold in this country - anything goes, as was the case when during this month, seven years ago, 13 Israeli Arabs, participating in a pro-Palestinian demonstration, were killed by our (their) police force.
And now, despite the High Court's temporary postponement of a decision on the Jewish National Fund's claim that land it owns is solely for Jews, the Knesset will soon call for a second reading of a proposed law to circumvent any judicial ruling that would either reject the JNF's position or accept a compromise solution.
Support for such a law crosses all political lines, save the Arab parties and Meretz. But worse, we, the citizenry, say nothing. There is no outrage, no protest, no embarrassment. We have become acquiescent partners with our cowardly legislators in not protesting racist measures against our non-Jewish minority.
OUR SILENCE echoes the words of another time: "Look, they are much too numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them, that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us" (Exodus 1:9-10).
And, when we realize that to "deal shrewdly with them" will not work, because "the more they are oppressed, the more they will increase and spread out" (Ex. 1:12), we will "ruthlessly make life bitter for them..." (Ex.1:14).
We are recreating the very system of tyranny from which we fled. Our collective suffering as slaves taught us that social injustice is evil, and the greatest social injustice is the abuse of power as symbolized by ancient Egypt. Is this what our return to our ancestral homeland after 2,000 years of statelessness has come to - a pharaonic abuse of power that sees a Jewish state devoid of its values, its integrity, its history - a state consumed with defending its body, not its soul?
It is not difficult to envision the consequences of our discriminatory behavior: a third intifada.
Stone-throwing in Wadi Ara will be child's play compared to what our authoritarian actions will sow: More underground cells like the Galilee Freedom Brigade that sent Ahmed Khatib of Kafr Manda to carry out an attack in the Old City this past summer.
The issue at stake is not only the fair treatment of Israeli Arabs, but the character of a Jewish state. Israel cannot maintain any semblance of moral authority based on an ideology of oppression. Should this assault on democratic freedoms continue, I would hope that long after I have departed this world, my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will take to the streets to protest a nation that sustains itself through repression and domination.
"A free and civilized society is distinguished from a barbaric and oppressive society by the degree to which it treats a human being as a human being," said Israel's Supreme Court in 1999. Unless we treat our Arab citizens as human beings - equally and justly - they will for certain "join our enemies in fighting against us."
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