The belated admission by Israel that one of its citizens was last seen entering Gaza 10 months ago, and that little is known of his fate since, has caused outrage among the country’s small community of Ethiopian Jews. Avraham Mengistu’s family, able to speak for the first time after a gag order imposed since September was lifted, accused the government and security forces of foot-dragging and racism.
Barack Obama used an Israeli TV interview last week to gently rebuke Israel’s prime minister, warning Benjamin Netanyahu that his security obsessions made him able only to “see the worst possibilities”. The Israeli prime minister has proved himself a master of mining the rich seam of fear that dominates Israeli political discourse. He understands it is the source of his power.
Rauf Hamdan admitted to one small consolation as he sat in his mourning tent, nearly a week after his son was gunned down in the street by Israeli police. “At least his death was caught on camera. Otherwise the police would accuse me of lying when I said that he was executed in cold blood.”
The killing of a 22-year-old Arab youth by Israeli police has highlighted tensions that have been building rapidly between the Israeli authorities and the country’s 1.5 million Palestinian citizens. Their treatment as an enemy derives from an ideological viewpoint that regards the Palestinian minority as the state’s Achilles’ heel: an opening for Palestinians in the occupied territories to undermine the state’s Jewishness.
A letter signed by 43 veterans of an elite Israeli military intelligence unit declaring their refusal to continue serving the occupation has sent shockwaves through Israeli society. The implication of their revelations is that the success of Israel’s near half-century of occupation depends on a vast machinery of surveillance and intimidation, while large numbers of Israelis benefit directly or indirectly from industrial-scale oppression.
Israel’s large Palestinian minority is facing an unprecedented backlash of incitement and violent reprisals as Israeli Jews rally behind the military operation in Gaza, human rights groups have warned. Palestinian citizens have been accused of being “traitors” and a “fifth column” for criticising the attack on Gaza, in a surge of ethnic hatred by the Jewish majority not seen since the outbreak of the second intifada 14 years ago.
As recent events show, neither Israelis nor Palestinians are above a culture of hate. As long as Israel’s belligerent occupation continues, their lives together will be predicated on bouts of violent confrontation. But that does not mean Israeli and Palestinian culpability is equal. The reality is that Israelis do not need to seek revenge on their own account. The Israeli state, military and courts do it for them.
In some parts of Israel, voters in Tuesday’s elections will be casting a ballot not on how well their municipality is run but on how to stop “Arabs” moving in next door, how to prevent mosques being built in their community, or how to “save” Jewish women from the clutches of Arab men. According to analysts and residents, Israel’s local elections have brought a tide of ugly racism to the fore, especially in a handful of communities known as “mixed cities”, where Jewish and Palestinian citizens live in close proximity.
While Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies on the far right were castigating an amusement park called Superland for separating Jewish and Arab children, they were busy backing a bill that will give Israeli Jews who serve in the army a whole raft of extra rights in land and housing, employment, salaries, and much more. Superland’s offence pales to insignificance when compared to that, or to the decades of state-planned and officially sanctoned discrimination against the country’s Palestinian minority.
With Europe’s most talented young footballers preparing for the kick-off of the under-21 championships, Israelis are celebrating the biggest footballing coup in their history. But criticism from global statesmen such as Desmond Tutu has bolstered the recent launch of a campaign by Palestinian groups and European and American solidarity activists for a sporting boycott of Israel, modelled on the international campaign that targeted apartheid South Africa.
“You know why Israel’s leaders can’t make peace?” a Palestinian friend asked recently. “Because if the conflict ever ended, Israeli Jews would start tearing out each other’s throats.” But any Palestinian who hoped the protest movements emerging in Israel might signal the beginning of Israeli society’s disintegration should think again. There are plenty of reasons to doubt that most Israeli Jews are ready to break free of the militaristic and nationalist thinking that has dominated Zionism for decades.”
Israel’s increasing integration into European competitions, despite its refusal to revive peace talks with the Palestinians, respect human rights and halt illegal settlement, is, according to critics, contrary to sporting values and should be met with international opposition of the kind faced by apartheid South Africa.
Israel’s large Palestinian minority is often spoken of in terms of the threat it poses to the Jewish majority. Palestinian citizens’ reproductive rate constitutes a “demographic timebomb”, while their main political programme – Israel’s reform into “a state of all its citizens” – is proof for most Israeli Jews that their compatriots are really a “fifth column”. But who would imagine that Israeli Jews could be so intimidated by the innocuous Christmas tree?
Jews must not rent homes to “gentiles”. That was the religious decree issued this week by at least 50 of Israel’s leading rabbis, many of them employed by the state as municipal religious leaders. Jews should first warn, then “ostracise” fellow Jews who fail to heed the directive, the rabbis declared. The decree is the latest in a wave of racist pronouncements from some of Israel’s most influential rabbis.
Gideon Levy, a columnist for the Israeli daily Haaretz, last week declared Safed “the most racist city in the country”. The unflattering, and hotly contested, epithet follows an edict from Safed’s senior rabbis ordering residents not to sell or rent homes to “non-Jews” – a reference to the country’s Palestinian Arab citizens, who comprise a fifth of Israel’s population.
Measures designed to benefit Jewish school-leavers applying for places in Israeli higher education at the cost of their Arab counterparts have been criticised by lawyers and human rights groups. The new initiatives are viewed as part of an ongoing drive to demand “loyalty” from the country’s large minority population of Arab citizens. Critics have termed the measures, including a programme to provide financial aid exclusively to students who have served in the Israeli army, a form of “covert discrimination”.
A rabbi from one of the most violent settlements in the West Bank was questioned on suspicion of incitement last week as Israeli police stepped up their investigation into a book in which he sanctions the killing of non-Jews, including children and babies. Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira is one of the leading ideologues of the most extreme wing of the religious settler movement.
Two Israeli Arab brothers have won $8,000 in damages from Israel’s national carrier, El Al, after a court found that their treatment by the company’s security staff at a New York airport had been “abusive and unnecessary.” Abdel Wahab and Abdel Aziz Shalabi were assigned a female security guard who watched over them at the airport’s departure gate for nearly two hours, in full view of hundreds of fellow passengers, after they had passed the security and baggage checks.
A leading Arab human-rights lawyer in Israel has suggested a novel and provocative approach to dealing with routine discrimination practised by Jews against Israel’s Arab minority: Arabs should start discriminating against Jews. Hassan Jabareen, director of the Adalah legal centre, proposes several examples of reverse discrimination the Arab minority might easily adopt: restaurants could deny Jews admission, Arab communities could refuse to put up roadsigns in Hebrew or bar Jews from buying homes, and Arab libraries could refuse to stock books on Jewish history.
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