No lessons learned

More than a decade has passed since the October 2000 clashes. There is good reason that this period has become known as ‘the lost decade’ for Arab-Jewish relations in Israel.

Burial of a young Arab man in October 2000 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Burial of a young Arab man in October 2000 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For the Arab public in Israel, the October 2000 clashes remain an unresolved case. Thirteen families who lost their loved ones, joined by the entire Arab community, still ask out loud how it is possible that lethal fire was opened on demonstrators yet justice never prevailed. After all, tense, and occasionally violent, demonstrations were not invented by the Arab public: protesters have repeatedly blocked roads in Jerusalem, and settlers in Amona threw rocks at police officers, yet no one ever conceived of ordering sniper fire in response to those actions.
The arsonists of the Tuba Zanghariya mosque sought to rekindle the violence that we experienced in October 2000. The Arab public dreads incidents like this, which could ignite a new round of violence and trigger the use of excessive force against the Arab public, after which retrospective justifications for the violence would be crafted, just as they were 11 years ago. The provocative and threatening headlines in the press in anticipation of the Palestinian declaration of independence at the UN, and reports of preparations for riots, simply faded away: the vast majority of the Arab public preferred the course of nonviolent protest, if at all.
On another equally significant level, government ministries are trying to prevent dialogue and discourse on the grave events that occurred in October 2000. At the beginning of this week, Channel Two reported that the Ministry of Education prohibited school principals from discussing the October 2000 clashes with their pupils. Several months earlier, ministry supervisors were sent to schools to compile lists of teachers who failed to show up for work on Land Day. So, instead of civics studies in Israel touching on genuine issues of concern that affect Jewish-Arab relations and facilitating open-minded discussion, there is a tendency to impose silence and sanctions against whoever initiates a discussion and discourse about the pain of the Arab public or, more generally, about the relationship between the state and its Arab minority.
MORE THAN a decade has passed since the October 2000 clashes, and there is good reason that this period has become known as “the lost decade” for Arab-Jewish relations in Israel. Beyond the critical issue of doing justice with regard to the grave shooting incidents, Israeli governments have perverted the recommendations of both the Or Commission and its successor, the Lapid Committee. Arab public sentiment feels that the recommendations evaporated into thin air as result of systematic evasion of the challenge to develop a comprehensive, structural solution to the institutionalized discrimination affecting the Arab public since the establishment of the State. The Trajtenberg Committee similarly failed to pick up the gauntlet, preferring to avoid the issues that are critical for the Arab public. Instead, the government of Israel promotes sporadic projects, each with merits of its own, designed to realize the economic potential of integrating Arab citizens in the economy and to diminish social differences based on OECD criteria. This, obviously, is insufficient and inadequate.
Increasing awareness of the principled need to integrate the Arab community into the Israeli economy (and the inept implementation of this principle) is joined by an increasing tendency to exclude Arab citizens from the physical, social, cultural and political mainstream arena. Members of Knesset perfunctorily pass laws that abuse the rights of Arab citizens and mark them as second-class citizens. The fact that there is a majority in the Knesset that favors marginalizing the country’s Arab minority, and shrinking the democratic arena in which it exists, seriously undermines the Arab minority’s ability to attain fair, effective representation for itself in Israeli politics.
And this is perhaps the most dangerous of all the changes that have occurred since October 2000: at a national level, many members of the Arab public in Israel no longer find any point in playing the political game. Arab turnout for the 1999 elections was 78 percent, but within 10 years dropped to a mere 52% in the 2009 elections. It’s not as if Arab citizens don’t appreciate the significance of voting: 88% voted in the local elections in November 2008. On the national level, however, they are distrustful of the most basic of democratic principles— one person, one vote. When no one listens to your voice, what’s the point of voting? When 10% of the country’s citizens conclude that their votes are merely “for the record,” it signals no less than the acute failure of our democratic system.
In order to change the downward turn that the relations between Jews and Arabs have taken since the October 2000 Clashes, the government and the Knesset must take several critical steps: a decision must be made to prosecute the perpetrators of the fatal events of October 2000; the recommendations of the Or Commission and the Lapid Committee must be implemented methodically; the democratic arena shared by Jews and Arabs must be opened and a democratic discourse must be initiated; the tense, fragile fabric of Arab-Jewish relations in Israel and the sphere of Jewish-Arab coexistence must become topics of open-minded discussion; mechanisms must be developed to ensure proactive and effective participation of representatives of the Arab public in Israel’s political system. These steps may open a new leaf for Arab-Jewish relations in Israel.
The writer is Co-Executive Director of The Abraham Fund Initiatives, a nonprofit organization that works to promote integration and equality of Jews and Arabs in Israel.