Israeli Arabs respond to the Egyptian uprising: "People sent SMSes saying congratulations and writing 'Free Egypt.'"
By BEN HARTMAN
“The day that [Hosni] Mubarak stepped down, people sent SMSes to each other all over the country, saying congratulations and writing ‘Free Egypt’ and ‘Free Palestine’ and other things. It was all spontaneous; people were happy.”Speaking to The Jerusalem Post days after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down on February 11th after three decades in power, Jafer Farah, director of the Mossawa Center – The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens, described the elation and hope that the historic moment presented for Arab citizens of Israel.“What happened in Egypt is very encouraging and it’s important that Arabs in Israel see the importance of freedom for people in the Arab states,” Farah said, adding “we think the time has come for the Arab people to have freedom and to enjoy the wealth of their countries, whether it be from oil, tourism, anything. They don’t need to live in poverty anymore.”Farah said that while the repression of the Egyptian people under Mubarak was far more severe than that suffered by Arab citizens in Israel, there are similarities nonetheless.“Repression was far more intense and deep in Egypt but we have a feeling that what we have here are limits on our freedom, and we [Arabs in Israel] have very limited representation here. We don’t feel like full partners in the Israeli democracy.The Arabs are partners when it comes to paying taxes, but not in the leadership of the country.”Farah clarified that the revolution in Egypt was encouraging for Palestinians for three reasons.Advertisement“It showed that also in the Arab world the people have power and that those who think they can rule them forever will be disappointed. Second, it changes the balance of power in the region, and shows that if Israel wants real peace with the people of the region, it must deal with the people, not just the dictators ruling them.” Finally, Farah said, the revolution will make the world begin to view the Arab people with more respect and not just as a source of oil that must be corralled and ruled over with an iron fist.Farah said that he didn’t think Palestinian people would look at the events in Egypt and try to emulate them against the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, saying that if people were to rise up against the PA it would be over their handling of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, not over issues of democracy.Like Farah, Arab citizens of Israel who spoke to the Post this week described the events in Egypt as cause for celebration, and reason to believe that a new democratic wave may be sweeping the region.Again and again they said democratization brings with it the promise of an improvement in the quality of life for the region’s residents and greater justice for the Arab people, including the Palestinians.On February 2nd, the day after Mubarak gave a speech vowing to hold elections in six months in which he would not run, the Islamic Movement in Israel issued a statement entitled “The Islamic movement: A thousand salutes to our people in beloved Egypt” which stated “in this occasion we would like to notify our people in Egypt that we support your freedom to choose the form of rule and leadership you want, therefore no one has the right to rob you this choice, whoever he is.”The statement continued “we hope that your revolution will be a starter and incentive to demise all kinds of oppression and occupation inflicted on Muslims and Arabs, especially in Palestine, Jerusalem and the Aqsa mosque.”“Abu Shams” a 30-year-old Nazareth resident who asked not to be named, took part in two solidarity marches in the city in the wake of Mubarak’s fall, because in his words “the Palestinians who live here identify with their brothers everywhere in the Arab world living under dictatorship.”When asked why a number of participants at the Nazareth demonstrations carried pictures of former Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, Shams said the onetime Egyptian ruler was “almost the only person in the Arab world who said that the people have honor and you can’t treat them like pieces of meat. He was a patriot; he loved Egypt, the land and the people.Up until today he is a symbol of the national project of the Arab people, he’s also the most anti-imperial figure who fought against those foreign elements that stole from and exploited the Arab people.”Shams said that support for the protest movement in Egypt doesn’t have to be confined to Arabs in Israel, and that Jews can also find common cause in struggles like the January 25th movement.“The rising prices of gas, bread, and other items are part of what made the people go out into the street in Egypt and Tunisia. Here in Israel we are paying some of the highest prices in the world, and the regular citizen feels this….We are asking that there will be changes in the daily life of people. We don’t know what this means, but we want to work and I want to know that I will have food for me and my son at home, this is what we understand.We understand that there are people responsible for the poverty, a small group of people in the country.”Abu Shams spoke of discrimination against Arabs in the workforce and the legal system in Israel and under the occupation in the West Bank. He also added that in some ways, the leadership of Israel closely resembles that of other countries in the Middle East.“In all of the Middle East, the countries are ruled by the army and it’s not a secret that the Israeli leadership, so many of them top members of the armed forces, isn’t that different than that of the rest of the countries in the Middle East.”Mohamed Zidan, Chairman of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, an independent political body that organizes political activities of a number of Israeli- Arab groups, agreed that the events in Egypt were inspiring and expressed his hope that they herald the approach of similar events throughout the region.“We offer our blessing for what happened in Egypt and we hope that it will be a precedent and will bring real freedom to all the people in the region, including the Palestinians.”Zidan said he hopes the new leadership in Egypt will be one “based upon on freedom for all of the people and social justice, and will also have a serious role in the cause of peace and will work towards a greater unity of the Palestinians”.Zidan added that working towards peace would include serious changes in Egypt’s approach to Israeli and US security requests, among them the lifting of their support for the blockade on the Gaza Strip.The diverse range of Egyptians who supported the protest movement, from the left-wing to the Muslim Brotherhood, encouraged Zidan that the Palestinian people could reach a greater togetherness and end the political strife within Palestinian society.“Egyptians under Mubarak and the issues facing the Palestinians are totally different situations but we hope that what happened there will push the issue of peace and of brotherhood of the Palestinian people within the Palestinian leadership,” adding that the result could encourage Hamas-Fatah reconciliation.According to Maath Musleh, 25, a Palestinian resident of east Jerusalem who worked for two years as a social media specialist for the United States Consulate General in Jerusalem, the revolution “came as a happy surprise that gave hope to Palestinians because Egypt is the most influential Arab country.”Musleh posited that the watershed event should encourage and strengthen peaceful Palestinian political activism.“Egypt’s revolution inspired Palestinians, as it inspired other Arabs. It gave Palestinians hope that freedom is possible after all. Thus, we’ll notice an increase in the Palestinian youth gatherings and movements. It also taught Palestinians that you don’t need to belong to a party to have the power to change. This specific lesson will empower the positivity in the Palestinian community. The continuity is also a key here. Egyptians stayed in streets for 18 straight days until Mubarak fall down. Protests here happen weekly; thus, it’s less efficient. I believe this is another change that we will be witnessing in the protests that happens here. We will witness more continuity.”A supporter of a “one democratic state solution” to the Mideast conflict, Musleh said that while “the Zionist regime” should fear the events in Egypt, the Israeli people don’t have reason to worry, and that in the wake of the changes on the ground in Egypt, they should get used to the idea of reaching out to the people of the region directly.“Israelis should not be scared. But they should start working. You can’t blame everything on security anymore. It’s not applicable anymore to settle for security measures. You need to reach out to the Arabs and talk to them. And I don’t mean governments talking to governments. I mean people talking to people. And follow the talks with real work, because also talks are not enough anymore.”When asked if what happened in Egypt could take place in Israel, Musleh seemed skeptical, saying “the situation here is different, you can’t imitate Egypt’s revolution unless we witness a greater Jewish involvement in these protests; especially the Jewish youth. And again, they need to set clear demands and goals.”
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