Monday, August 2, 2010

Ethnic Cleaning: the fate of Arab Israelis in Israel

The Israeli Declaration of Independence declares that "[The State of Israel] will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions; and will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations."

Unfortunately, it lied.

Nearly 20% of Israel's citizens are not Jews.  They are Arab.  And yet, despite claims that "Arab Israelis are citizens of Israel with equal rights,"every human rights group we spoke to in Israel (most of which were Jewish) declared that the Arab citizens of Israel are consistently discriminated against, and many live in a constant state of fear.  

Just to be clear, I am not talking about the Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories.  I am talking about the Arabs living within the borders of Israel itself, who are supposedly recognized as full citizens by the Israeli government. 

One example of this disparity is the difference between the law of return (which makes it illegal for an Arab Israeli to return to their pre-1948 land) and the right of return (which gives every Jew, regardless of citizenship, the right to settle in Israel).

They also receive significantly less public services (i.e. money for schools, health care, road cleanup, etc.) than their Jewish counterparts, despite paying the same amount of taxes.  

One of the Jews we talked to at B'Tselem (the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) cited this as one of the main reasons he got involved with the organization: I have eyes, he said.  I grew up seeing the way we lived, and seeing the way our Arab neighbors lived, just across the street.  I knew they paid the same taxes, and I couldn't understand why they were treated so differently.  

But this is all just an introduction, for what I actually wanted to share, which is Max Blumenthal's article, "The 'Summer Camp Of Destruction:' Israeli High Schoolers Assist The Razing Of A Bedouin Town."

The thing that really struck me in this account of the demolition of a Bedouin village in the Negev (which took place on July 26th) is the fact that the Arabs involved were Israeli citizens.

But instead of being protected by their government and neighbors, they were surrounded by gloating volunteers, celebrating the destruction of an Arab community in their midst.

A number of villagers including Abu Madyam told me the volunteers smashed windows and mirrors in their homes and defaced family photographs with crude drawings. Then they lounged around on the furniture of al-Arakib residents in plain site of the owners. Finally, according to Abu Matyam, the volunteers celebrated while bulldozers destroyed the homes.
“What we learned from the summer camp of destruction,” Abu Madyam remarked, “is that Israeli youth are not being educated on democracy, they are being raised on racism.”
Blumenthal highlights the disturbing reality that many of these volunteers are teenagers, officially working for the Israeli police.   
Not only are they being indoctrinated to swear blind allegiance to the military, they are learning to treat the Arab outclass as less than human. The volunteers’ behavior toward Bedouins, who are citizens of Israel and serve loyally in Israeli army combat units despite widespread racism, was strikingly reminiscent of the behavior of settler youth in Hebron who pelt Palestinian shopkeepers in the old city with eggs, rocks and human waste. If there is a distinction between the two cases, it is that the Hebron settlers act as vigilantes while the teenagers of Israeli civilian guard vandalize Arab property as agents of the state.
Blumenthal's concern echoes that of the Arab Association for Human Rights, who we met with in Nazareth.  Unlike other organizations (B'Tselem, Al Haq, etc.) working for Arab rights in the Occupied Territories, these were Israeli citizens working for human rights for Arabs in Israel.  The director informed us that his great fear is that, while the situation in the Occupied Territories will eventually be resolved, one way or another, the situation for Arabs in Israel will just continue to deteriorate, because they are invisible.  
Most do not even know they exist.  The terms Israeli and Arab are thought to be mutually exclusive.   
While the individual suffering is heartbreaking, it is the trend (and legal precedence) that is truly terrifying.  As Blumenthal states, "The spectacle of Israeli youth helping destroy al-Arakib helps explain why 56% of Jewish Israeli high school students do not believe Arabs should be allowed to serve in the Knesset."   
Take a moment.  Read that again.  More than half of Jewish youth (the next generation of leaders and law makers) do not believe that Arab citizens should have a voice in the law-making of their country.  
They want the minority silenced. 
As for the present condition of Israeli democracy, it is essential to consider the way in which the state pits its own citizens against one another, enlisting the Jewish majority as conquerers while targeting the Arab others as, in the words of Zionist founding father Chaim Weizmann,“obstacles that had to be cleared on a difficult path.” Historically, only failing states have encouraged such corrosive dynamics to take hold. That is why the scenes from al-Arakib, from the demolished homes to the uprooted gardens to the grinning teens who joined the mayhem, can be viewed as much more than the destruction of a village. They are snapshots of the phenomenon that is laying Israeli society as a whole to waste.
This is America's democratic ally in the Middle East.

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