Israeli arabs take part in a protest in Acre earlier this week..
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
By tomorrow or the next day, after the dust has settled and the lava has cooled, we’ll forget everything.
Why should we try to remember anything if we can succeed in forgetting it all? We’ve forgotten about the 1996 Western Wall Tunnel incident and we’ve forgotten what happened in October 2000. So why would we want to remember the summer of 2014? We might forget, but they – the Israeli Arabs – won’t. Again and again we’re surprised by the upsurge of violence, but they aren’t.
In recent riots, 13 Israeli Arabs lost their lives. As a result, the lives of Israel’s Arabs have become much more difficult.
The level of education has sunk even lower, unemployment has grown, poverty has deepened, violence has increased, illegal construction has expanded, public transportation is faltering and healthcare is basic at best.
But that’s not all. No, there’s much, much more.
What would we say if tomorrow we were given the option of being “transferred” to a Palestinian state that has not yet been established? After we refused, would we be mocked? “You see?” They would ask us. “You like it here with us...”
Or how would we feel if the minimum number of votes necessary to win a seat in the Knesset was raised, all in the name of “good governance”? Wouldn’t it seem like Israel was trying in every way possible to harm Arab representation in the Knesset? And what about other legislative proposals, such as VAT exemptions on apartments for specific populations whose sole purpose is to exclude Israeli Arabs from receiving these benefits? And why was the issue of Israel being a Jewish, yet democratic, state brought up again right now? This was probably the worst possible timing. And what about Palestinian prisoners on hunger strikes being forcefed, which violates prisoners’ most basic rights. Israeli Arabs feel discriminated against as a result of each of these actions.
After the riots in 2000, a committee was of course formed to investigate the situation in the Arab “sector.” (What a degrading word that is.) This was an elegant way to convince protesters to simmer down, but all you have to do now is go outside and see what’s happened since then. Did the committee take its conclusions and use them to create a comprehensive plan that wasn’t implemented? Some 1.5 million Arabs live in and are citizens of Israel. What role do they play in the government and in the public sector? How are they portrayed in the media? Are they involved in cultural events? Music? Literature? Of course, we all know they are well represented in Israel’s soccer league, but why don’t they sing the words “Eretz Zion vi-Yerushalayim” when our national anthem is played at games? Just a few days ago, Mossad chief Tamir Pardo announced that the Palestinian issue is the biggest danger facing the State of Israel.
I assume he meant potential danger, since we’re not actively dealing with these gigantic problems or our people’s distress.
I agree with this assessment.
The status of Israeli Arabs is completely different from that of Arabs living in the territories and in Gaza. They live with us, speak Hebrew and know the country well.
They could, if they wanted to, and if the volcano that is our country were to explode, could cause us an incredible amount of pain and suffering. So far, the Israeli police has not had to use force to disperse demonstrations and there have been almost no casualties. But no one doubts that the day will come when our luck will run out and our worst nightmare will become a reality.
We don’t need any more proclamations such as “we must weed out the terrorists from our midst” that are made by government ministers and members of Knesset.
Temptations in the form of additional funding for villages in financial straits or superficial band-aids that are designed to hide the huge rift that divides Israeli society are not the answer.
We need a campaign that will actually help propel Israeli Arabs forward, that will help them connect with the central axis of society. They could benefit greatly from an egalitarian society. As far as I can see, the government has not spent one minute considering these possibilities. It is busy hoping that with time we will forget that the Israeli Arabs exist.
It’s possible that everything will “turn out okay” in the near future.
Just as this wave of violence suddenly erupted, it could peter out just as quickly. If we choose to view these recent events as unimportant, superficial occurrences, then the illusion that everything is okay will continue.
But anyone who is willing to take a good look at what’s really happening in the Arab sector (and I believe that Tamir Pardo and Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen are) will understand that this abatement that we’ve been experiencing is coming to an end and the next round of fighting is just around the corner. It’s no longer possible to pretend that “everything will be okay” in the end as Israelis traditionally like to do.
We’ll continue to drive out to Arab villages to pick up workers, to get our cars fixed, to buy cheap groceries, to eat good food and mostly so that we can keep ignoring the signs of the brewing storm.
For a change, let’s keep an ear to the ground and take notice of the approaching disaster. If we don’t deal with it now, the situation will just get worse.
The author, a Labor MK and a former Israeli spokesman at the UN, serves as chairman of the Knesset Lobby for US-Israel Relations, and is a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Translated by Hannah Hochner