Terra Incognita: Unless we address the truth about racist violence from both sides, it will only grow.
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Following tensions in Safed between Arab students and the Jewish community, a claim by an Abraham Fund director that “segregation of Jews and Arabs in 2010 Israel is almost complete,” and an op-ed by Zvi Bar’el that claims “South Africa is already here,” it seems relevant to discuss racism in Israeli society.There are supposedly some rays of hope. Jewish high school students in Sha’ar Hanegev demand to learn the “Palestinian narrative,” and the Center for Educational Technology has come out with a short coexistence film for civics classes in which an Arab and Jew trade places at work.Almost all the stories and coexistence initiatives highlight, perhaps rightly, Jewish racism against Arabs. But the truth whose name is silent is the reality of Arab racism against the Jewish community, one that is greatly responsible not only for the supposed segregation but also for widespread violence.The absence of discussion about Arab racism is a phenomenon of the old Western postcolonial view that only the minority suffers racism while the majority is always the perpetrator. Racism by the minority is “resistance,” “authentic,” “spontaneous,” “hooliganism” or “nationalism.”I WAS witness to the “hooliganism.” Walking to a bus stop across from the Hebrew University, I saw four Arab youths walking in the middle of the street. Every time a car driven by Jews passed, they would jump in front of it, make menacing gestures, laugh and then let it pass. The same day a 57-year-old Jew was stabbed in the Old City by two 20-year-old Arabs who, according to police, went there to stab a Jew.In mid-October in the village of Deir al-Assad in the Galilee, a Jewish woman on leave from the IDF drove into the neighborhood with her Jewish friends looking for a bakery. She was immediately sexually harassed – what the police described as “teased” – by young Arab men. While attempting to leave, a stone was thrown through the car window, fracturing her skull. The police subsequently arrested an Arab man “on suspicion that the [he] was driving the car at the time of the incident and was involved in the assault.”The police concluded that “there is no evidence indicating the assault was motivated by anything other than hooliganism.” The mayor of the village condemned the attack “and underscored the good relations between” its residents and the Jews in nearby Karmiel.AdvertisementOf course it’s not the only story in the news regarding hooliganism and racism. On October 8 Arab children gathered in Silwan for what had become a daily event. Lookouts were posted to watch for cars driven by Jews. When they arrived, the children threw stones at them. On that day, for some reason, a number of cameramen were invited to watch the ritual and good footage resulted. An accident resulted in which a Jewish driver, David Be’eri, struck two of the children.Of course this rock throwing takes place against a backdrop of tensions in east Jerusalem between Jews wishing to live there and Arabs who see their neighborhoods as being invaded by settlers. The “hooliganism” is a daily occurrence, whether it’s in the Negev or Route 65 that runs through Umm el-Fahm.In Jerusalem the Jewish victim of the stoning is called a “settler.”But what is more interesting is a third term that crops up from time to time: “nationalist motives.” In 2007 French-Jewish immigrant Julian Soufir “decided to murder an Arab.”He lured taxi driver Taysir Karaki to his apartment in Tel Aviv, slit his throat and left his body in the apartment.The head of the Yarkon District police investigation unit “suspected that there was a nationalistic motive behind the murder.”MK Ahmed Tibi noted that an “atmosphere of incitement, hatred of Arabs and escalating racism in the country are fertile soil for this crime.”On August 15, 2009, six Arab men from Jaljulya and their Jewish girlfriends, one of whom was a soldier and another a minor from Petah Tikva, went to Tel Baruch beach, north of Tel Aviv. Arik Karp, his wife and daughter were out for a stroll. One of the Arabs harassed them, “baiting them by asking the father to fix him up with one of the women.”Then two others came and assaulted the Jewish women, who managed to escape. The Arabs then beat Arik Karp, whose dead body was found later on the beach, purchased more alcohol and went to a forest where they lit a fire and danced through the night. The case against them is ongoing more than a year later.There was no outcry about racism in the Karp murder.Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu condemned what he called “domestic terrorism.”In the end it is all semantics. There are no “nationalist” motives. There is no “hooliganism.”There is only racism.The one deciding factor in each case was race.Had Arik Karp been Khalid Musa or Taysir Karaki been Ben Cohen they would be alive today, and had David Be’eri or the Jews from Karmiel been Arabs entering an Arab neighborhood no one would have harassed them. In many communities here the evils of the American Old South are alive and well, and the police seem to distort the nature of the crimes in the name of “quiet.”Tibi is right, there is escalating murderous racism, and a lot of it is in his own community.Until we address the truth rather than covering it over with semantics and “coexistence” initiatives, the racism will only grow. Those who put themselves in charge of talking about racism rarely witness its manifestations, and those who know it firsthand will never accept the pie-in-the-sky slogans about ending it.Is there one positive note to this whole story? When the Arab youths on Mount Scopus were harassing Jewish drivers, they were approached by a woman who shouted at them that they should be ashamed: “You are the reason people say terrible things about Arabs!” The woman was Arab.The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.
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