Umm el-Fahm residents angry and apathetic before elections

Arab MKs' lack of influence, Lieberman's popular anti-Arab Israeli policy are factors in attitude.

Umm el-Fahm  298.88 (photo credit: Orly Halpern)
Umm el-Fahm 298.88
(photo credit: Orly Halpern)
A few days before elections, the name Lieberman causes the people of Umm el-Fahm to draw a long, deep breath. An anger and pain-filled string of words follows. "This man should not be allowed to enter the Knesset because he opposes co-existence [of Arabs and Jews in Israel]," said Mohammed Wajdi, a 60-year-old retiree, as he sat with friends over Turkish coffee at Falafel Abu Ras. "Unfortunately, whoever speaks against Arabs in this country gets more votes." These elections for the Knesset have caused Israeli Arabs to feel more isolated from and apathetic about the state then ever, they say. In the mountain city of Umm el-Fahm that feeling is strong. Part of the reason is the lack of influence the Arab MKs have had in the Knesset. Part of it is the killing of 13 Arab citizens by police during demonstrations in October 2000. And part of it is because of three Jewish political parties actively campaigning to get rid of Israeli Arab citizens. MK Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the Israel Beiteinu party, is one of them and his party is polling around 10 seats. The other two are Baruch Marzel's Jewish National Front and Michael Kleiner's Herut party. Lieberman calls for some Israeli Arab cities and their citizens to be annexed to a future Palestinian state. He has specifically pointed to Umm el-Fahm and its 38,000 citizens. In exchange, he proposes Israel annex Jewish settlements located in the territories. For the people of Umm el-Fahm, who, like most Israeli Arabs consider themselves a part of the state, the idea is abhorrent. Wajdi, a pensioner who plans to vote for Hadash - a Jewish-Arab party based on co-existence, uses stories to express the connection of Umm el-Fahm residents to the state. "In the 1973 war, many people from Umm el-Fahm went to the nearby kibbutzes and brought food to the families there," said Wajdi. "Their sons and husbands were all at war so we went to help them." A few years ago there was a terror attack at a moshav nearby, he said, and the Umm el-Fahm ambulance was the first to arrive at the scene. "And residents rushed there in their cars to help," he added. While many here call for living in peace with their Jewish neighbors, Umm el-Fahm is also home to the headquarters of the northern faction of the Islamic Movement in Israel. That faction is headed by Sheikh Raed Salah, who is an outspoken critic of the state. Some perceive Salah and the northern faction as opponents of the state. Many of the movement's members boycott the elections. The city is also no stranger to radicalism. In 2003, former Umm el-Fahm mayor, Dr. Suleiman Agbariya, confessed to a series of security-related crimes - including contact with a foreign agent, rendering a service on behalf of an illegal organization, possession of funds belonging to an illegal organization and making use of prohibited property - and spent time in jail as a result. However, the movement's spokesperson, Sheikh Hashem Abdul Rahman, actively supports co-existence projects with neighboring Jewish mayors and has recently announced that he will vote in the upcoming election. Sheikh Hashem, as he is known locally, is also the mayor of Umm el-Fahm, and he is outraged by Lieberman's calls for his city to be transferred. "Anyway you describe it, whether the transfer of a person, a village or a city, it's anti-Semitic and racist," Hashem told The Jerusalem Post. "I think such ideas are even fascist. What Lieberman says, he can say tomorrow about the Ethiopians, the Galilee, the Negev, the Arabs, the Ashkenazis - about any group." Like others around the city, Sheikh Hashem considers himself and his constituents Israelis. "We are part of the state," he said. "Who can question our rights as citizens?" Walid Mahajneh, 56, sitting alongside Wajdi, chimed in, "In the end, we are all just people." Repeating the mantra of many Israeli Arabs, Mahajneh said "We were born here in the State of Israel, and we will die here. We are not interested in what's there [over the border]. We'll stay here whether Lieberman likes it or not. It really hurts. I don't know how they even accept him. Across town, Katia Jarrour leaves her drawing class and gets into her silver Mazda to give a lift to a reporter. The 26-year-old mother of two bristles when she hears Lieberman's name. "I believe that Jews and Arabs need to live in peace together in this country and I vote for Hadash for that reason," said the young woman who owns and runs a women's clothing shop downtown. "Lieberman came here less than 30 years ago and entered this country. We did not enter this country. We were born into it and we were raised here. He has no right to transfer our identity. We don't want to be thrown into a Palestinian state. What [Lieberman] says is very upsetting and he has no right to say there should be a new border." Like many other Israeli Arabs, her Palestinian identity does not come into conflict with her Israeli citizenship. "I am an Arab Israeli. I support the Palestinian people, love them and won't give up on them; they are our grandfathers," she said. "But I am an Israeli citizen and I have the right as a citizen not to be deported from the Israeli state because I am an Arab."