The decision to prevent demonstrations at Balfour Street has enhanced the 2020 uprising against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his failed government. Like mushrooms after the rain, demonstrations have sprung up at every major junction in the country. From the bridges and crossroads all over Israel, the masses are standing up and are shouting “Go.”
We want to be freed from Netanyahu and his corruption and failures. You starved our health system for years. You created a false economy that has now collapsed, and you are taking away our freedoms and our basic rights. You have refused to negotiate with the Palestinians. You systematically entrenched the occupation and have incited against the Palestinian citizens of Israel. You have created hatred against half of the population, attempting to delegitimize us. Enough. Resign now!
We, loyal citizens of Israel, have taken to the streets and we cannot fail. Our demonstrations against our corrupt prime minister must go on and must prevent him from succeeding in canceling his trial as he continues to plot against the rule of law in the country. We must continue to insist that he stand in front of the court of law and face the charges against him, whatever the outcome. People from all walks of life in Israel are joining the protests. The mismanagement of the novel coronavirus crisis and the ensuing economic crash, sending one million Israelis into unemployment, is an act for which he must answer.
The streets are filling up with angry Israelis who love their country. In order to succeed in this grand effort to force the prime minister to resign we need the 20% of the citizens who have not yet taken to the streets to join in.
Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens are among the victims facing the highest repercussions of the COVID-19 crisis. They have now taken the responsible path and have overcome the belief that the virus is make-believe. Their local leadership has taken responsibility, and has joined in the fight of so many of the heroes of our health system, from the Arab communities in Israel who are first responders and on the front lines in the coronavirus wards in every hospital in Israel.
I am sure that their absence from the front lines of the protests is connected to the fact that we are marking 20 years since the October 2000 killings by the Israeli police of 13 young Arab citizens of Israel. In 20 years not one member of the Israel Police or the political leadership that sent them to kill has been brought to justice. Throughout his time in government, Netanyahu has worked overtime to alienate the Arab citizens of Israel. But my message to them is that we are in a common struggle for the soul of this country.
It is easy to understand why the Arab communities have not joined in the protests. We witness the violence of the Israeli police against the Jewish protesters in the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities all around the country, including in the heart of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
IF THE protesters were Arabs, we could have a repeat of October 2000. The police in blue and the green uniformed military police who are now facing civilian protesters against the Israeli government are used to seeing Arab protesters through the sites of their guns.
There is a danger that Arab protesters in Nazareth, Sakhnin, Umm el-Fahm or Rahat would not face the kind of violence-light that we Jewish protesters face in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but something much more fatal. I recognize the danger, but nonetheless, we need the strength of the Arab citizens of Israel on the front lines with us against Netanyahu and his government.
We are in this struggle together – Jews and Arabs. The virus does not distinguish between us. The damage that has been done by this government impacts on us all. We are fighting for our health. We are fighting for our civil rights and our ability to support and provide for ourselves and our families.
Netanyahu and his government have failed all of us – Jews and Arabs alike. Once we force Netanyahu to resign, we will need to form new political coalitions that will represent a majority of Israelis. We will not be able to form an alternative coalition without the participation of the Joint List representing 20% of Israel’s citizens. We will not be able to bring down Netanyahu and his government without the active participation of our Arab sisters and brothers in the struggle for Israel’s democracy.
This is an opportunity to merge forces in protest that must lead to merging forces in a democratic government representing the majority of Israelis who are against racism and discrimination. All parts of Israeli society are taking to the streets against Netanyahu. It is important that we all begin to see the Arab citizens of Israel as equal partners in the struggle for Israel’s soul, for clean government, against corruption and for equality under the law.
This is our common home that we love and we will not give into accepting a corrupt and irresponsible government. We will no longer accept the incitement and hatred. This past weekend I was a victim of that hatred at the protest vigil we are now holding every evening in Kiryat Hayovel in Jerusalem. Drivers in passing cars use profanities that I am embarrassed to put into writing.
The hatred reminds me of what I witnessed during the First Lebanon War in 1982 when protester Emil Grünzweig was killed, or the hatred that we witnessed in the weeks before former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. It is a dangerous time, and the first task to rebuild solidarity in our society is to remove the root cause: Netanyahu.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press. It will soon appear in Arabic in Amman and Beirut.