A violent wake-up call in Peki'in

It would be a mistake to view clashes as an isolated incident.

pekiin riots 224.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
pekiin riots 224.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
It would be a mistake to view Tuesday's violent clashes in Peki'in as an isolated incident. What happened in the Western Galilee village should be seen in the larger context of the complicated relations between Jewish and Arab citizens. The "mini-intifada" in Peki'in should also serve as a wake-up call for the establishment that the time has come to address the serious problems facing the Arab sector. The second Palestinian intifada, which began in 2000, not only destroyed the relations between Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but also those between the Arabs and Jews inside the Green Line. Tensions between Israeli Arabs and Jews reached a boiling point during the riots of October 2000, when 12 Arab citizens were shot and killed by the police. Since then, many Jews have stopped visiting Arab communities in the Galilee, Negev and Triangle out of fear for their safety. As far as many Jews are concerned, there is no difference between Nablus and Umm el-Fahm. Perhaps this explains why many of the residents of Peki'in were complaining Tuesday that the police treated them as if they were Palestinians from the Gaza Strip. "They forgot that Peki'in is a village inside Israel and that we are loyal citizens, many of whom serve in the IDF," said one resident. But the problems of the Arab sector did not begin in October 2000. Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Arab citizens have been loyal to the state since 1948, many feel betrayed by an establishment that, they claim, has long employed a policy of systematic discrimination against them in all facets of life. In his report on the October 2000 riots, the head of the State Commission of Inquiry, Supreme Court Justice Theodore Or, warned against the phenomenon: "The Arab citizens of Israel live in a reality in which they experience discrimination as Arabs. "This inequality has been documented in a large number of professional surveys and studies, has been confirmed in court judgments and government resolutions, and has also found expression in reports by the state comptroller and in other official documents. Although the Jewish majority's awareness of this discrimination is often quite low, it plays a central role in the sensibilities and attitudes of Arab citizens. This discrimination is widely accepted, both within the Arab sector and outside it, and by official assessments, as a chief cause of agitation." Unemployment, poverty and lack of public services and infrastructure are only part of the problems that Arab citizens have faced over the decades. Although some progress has been made in the past 10 years, such as the appointment of four Arab ambassadors and an Arab minister, many Arabs are much more concerned about what they believe is an attempt by the state to "disengage" from them. Last year, the Higher Committee of the Heads of Arab Local Authorities expressed these fears when it said in a report, "The official bias [against Arab citizens] is not restricted to symbols such as the Israeli flag, but also to deeper legal issues concerning all Palestinian Arabs; the official definition of Israel as a Jewish state created a fortified ideological barrier in the face of obtaining full equality for the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. We, the Palestinians in Israel, are an integral part of this place. Israel has tried over the past decades to disengage us from this place, not through physical transfer but through intellectual emotional transfer." Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's decision to include Avigdor Lieberman's right-wing Israel Beiteinu in his coalition was seen by many Arab citizens as an endorsement on the part of the government of the idea of "land swaps" between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Lieberman's plan to cede control over Arab villages and cities inside Israel to the PA has strongly been condemned by Arab MKs as "fascist" and "racist." The fact that some Israeli politicians and academics are now publicly referring to the Arabs, who make up almost 20 percent of the population, as a "demographic threat," has also left many Arabs wondering about their future as citizens of the state. Arab MKs and other leaders of the Arab community are also to blame for the growing mistrust between Jews and Arabs. By shmoozing with Hizbullah and Hamas leaders and making fiery statements against Israel, these representatives have prompted many Jews to look at the Arab minority as a "fifth column" and a "cancer" inside the state. What the state needs to understand is that its Arab citizens are fighting for integration, not separation. True, there are some Arab citizens who don't like the state, but the majority - according to public opinion polls - would rather live in Israel than in a Palestinian state. Today, the Arab citizens are demanding more than jobs and budgets; they want recognition as citizens with equal rights. They want reassurance that they will be able to continue living in their state. For them, the battle is no longer over equality - it's about their very existence in the Jewish state. Unless the general attitude of the establishment toward the Arab minority changes, and unless the radical leaders of the Arab community start promoting coexistence rather than hatred, the third intifada will erupt on the streets of Nazareth, Jaffa, Lod, Umm el-Fahm and Rahat. •