Peres and Braverman call for equality for Arab citizens

Forty people demonstrate outside iftar dinner.

Iftar dinner 311 (photo credit: Yossef Avi Yair Engel/Beit Hanassi)
Iftar dinner 311
(photo credit: Yossef Avi Yair Engel/Beit Hanassi)
Last year, when President Shimon Peres hosted a Ramadan iftar break-fast dinner for Arab notables along with Muslim diplomats and MKs, he spoke of the need for Israel’s Arab communities to be accorded full equality.
He also spoke of peace and the importance of resuming negotiations with the Palestinians.
The script was more or less the same this time, and the comments of representatives of the Arab communities on Tuesday night were likewise an echo of last year’s.
What was slightly different was the noise of a demonstration from across the road from Beit Hanassi, where around 40 angry people had gathered to voice their opposition to the iftar dinner on a day in which the unrecognized Beduin village of Kafr al-Arakib had been razed for the fourth time by the Israel Lands Administration.
The land has been designated for a Jewish National Fund Park.
The demonstrators were protesting not only the destruction of Beduin homes near Beersheba, but also the demolition of Arab homes in north and east Jerusalem.
They accused the government of racism and discrimination and urged iftar invitees to ask the president what he thinks.
The demonstrators accused Peres of collusion with the government, shouting, “On the one hand you host Arabs and on the other you destroy their homes.”
When The Jerusalem Post asked Peres to comment, he said it was time that the Beduin problem was resolved and that the government should formulate a viable policy rather than continue destroying homes.
He was also of the opinion that demolition work should not have been carried out during Ramadan.
In his address to the guests, who this year included academics, soldiers and bereaved parents along with Egyptian Ambassador Yasser Reda and South African Ambassador Ismail Coovada, Peres drew a parallel between Ramadan and the Hebrew month of Elul. They are both periods of introspection, religious reflection and efforts to promote a general sense of tolerance, goodwill and mutual respect, he said.
Peres urged Jews and Arabs to work together in this spirit for the common good, and to do their utmost to promote peace, because it was only through reconciliation and mutual recognition that peace and a two-state solution could be achieved.
He was hopeful that direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority would begin immediately after Ramadan ends on September 8 and said he knew that both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas were in favor of direct negotiations which would help them to move forward and negotiate in a courageous manner in which each side would make compromises.
On the equality issue, Peres said the government was obligated to provide Arabs with the same rights to which all citizens – regardless of religion or race – are entitled.
He was concerned not only about housing and job opportunities but also about educational opportunities.
He wanted to give every Arab, Druse and Beduin youth access to university or college education.
Sheikh and Qadi Iyad Zahalka, the director of the Shari’a courts in Israel, said he appreciated the dialogue between Peres and the Arab communities and that he hoped that such talks would lead to equality in terms of budgetary and land allocations, building permits, academic studies and religious problems.
“We know that President Peres and Avishay Braverman, the minister for minorities, are doing a lot to try to amend the situation, but the road is still long,” Zahalka said.
Sallah Suleiman of the Union of Local Authorities said fiscal restrictions have been imposed on Arab local councils, of which 13 were closed down by the government for financial mismanagement.
In essence this was a punishment for non-collection of rates and taxes. But it’s very difficult to meet the rates and taxes quota when 40 percent of the adult population is unemployed, Suleiman said.
In some Arab councils, employees had not been paid for seven months and more because there was simply no money – and the government had not come to the rescue, he said.
People sitting at a table of representatives of the Negev began to shout at this point, because Suleiman had failed to mention the demolition of Beduin houses. Running with the ball, Suleiman said that in the past, the government had always appointed someone who knew nothing of Beduin culture and tradition to deal with the Beduin problem, which was why there had been no progress.
If the government appointed a Beduin, the problem might be resolved, he suggested.
Braverman said that time was running out for direct negotiations with the PA, and urged Peres to use all his influence with Netanyahu and Abbas to get them to start talking to each other. “It should not be talk for the sake of talk,” he stipulated. “They have to talk to each other in order to come up with a solution.”
Referring to the state’s Declaration of Independence and its articles of equality, Braverman said Israel has not lived up to the specifics of the Declaration, but that he had already begun putting into motion actions on issues such as housing, employment and higher education.