Archive for Yitzhak Aharonovitch

Israeli Arabs deserve better

Posted in Activism, History, Israel, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Palestine with tags , , , , , , , on 14/09/2009 by 3071km

Written by Seth Freedman

Date published: Monday 14th September 2009

Source: The Guardian

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Israeli Arabs deserve better

Israel’s Arabs are right to call for a strike. Their sense of disenfranchisement is a problem too serious to ignore.

The announcement that the Israeli Arab leadership is calling for a general strike next month demonstrates the further deterioration of relations between the authorities and the beleaguered Arab citizens of the state. The 1.3 million Arabs living within Israel’s borders have never had the most cordial of relationships with the country’s rulers, and in the wake of the hard-right coalition’s election victory the gulf has grown even wider – culminating in the symbolic protest set for 1 October.

The date chosen is no accident: it marks nine years to the day since 13 Israeli Arab demonstrators were shot dead by Israeli police during a previous general strike – a set of killings that left societal scars that remain unhealed almost a decade later. The government’s latest set of proposals – such as the plan to ban the word “nakba” from school textbooks, and to link schools’ funding to their success rate in sending students to enlist in the army – have rubbed salt into wounds that continue to fester throughout the Arab community, culminating in the decision to down tools and speak out against their treatment.

The sense of disenfranchisement felt by the Israeli Arab minority is, according to academic Bernard Avishai, a problem too serious to be swept under the carpet by Israel’s leaders. Action must be taken, he urged, “to prevent a terrible intifada”, fearing a mass explosion of tension that will dwarf anything that’s gone on “in Gaza and the West Bank”.

“Israeli Arabs live in townships on the edge of Israeli cities; their intellectual elite go to Israeli universities and assimilate, while those not in those circles join drug gangs and jihadist cults.” He said that the Israeli Arab community expects to be treated as “full citizens of this country, nothing less” and unless this happens, tensions will spill over onto the streets.

The anti-Arab bias of senior Israeli politicians and military figures is well documented, and causes far more concern to the Israeli Arab community than the equally insidious behaviour of radical settler leaders and their cohorts. Unsavoury as the likes of Baruch Marzel and his merry men may be, their actions can in part be dismissed as the rantings and ravings of extremists living on the fringes of society. However, when similarly racist and discriminatory calls to arms emanate within mainstream Israeli society – from the upper echelons of power all the way down to street level – it is little wonder the Israeli Arab leadership take the situation so seriously.

Last month, foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman took aim at Ahmed Tibi, an Arab member of the Knesset and leader of the Arab nationalist party in Israel. “Our central problem is not the Palestinians,” declared Lieberman, “but Ahmed Tibi and his ilk: they are more dangerous than Hamas and [Islamic] Jihad combined.” Such incendiary talk is nothing new for Lieberman; in November 2006 he ratcheted up tension by comparing Israeli Arab nationalists with Hitler and his henchmen: “The heads of the Nazi regime, along with their collaborators, were executed. I hope this will be the fate of the collaborators in the Knesset.”

His proclamations are, quite rightly, denounced by those who recognise the menace latent in his words. “When the foreign minister says that, ordinary Israelis understand that he is calling for me to be killed as a terrorist,” said Tibi in relation to Lieberman’s recent outburst. “It is the most dangerous incitement.” Politicians lead by example, and Lieberman knows full well the impact the statements he makes can have on the man on the Israeli street.

Israeli Arabs have good reason to believe that they will never be fully accepted by Israeli society, despite assertions to the contrary on the part of more conciliatory and diplomatic members of Israeli officialdom. The proof is not simply the unabashed racism of the likes of Lieberman and Aharonovitch, nor the paucity of state provision of basic services in Arab towns and cities compared with the funding given to their Jewish counterparts.

Rather, the malaise is far more entrenched and permanent than isolated incidents of prejudice. The very fact that Israel is and plans to forever remain a Jewish state – and wouldn’t tolerate the election of an Arab prime minister or ruling coalition, despite all the claims that the system is truly democratic – gives the lie to any suggestion that Israeli Arabs can ever have an equal footing in Israeli society, or that the country is genuinely a state for all its citizens.

Against such a backdrop, the fears of the Israeli Arab community are entirely understandable. That the community has opted for peaceful demonstration against the status quo by way of general strikes, rather than violent resistance in the vein of their peers in the West Bank and Gaza, is a fortuitous state of affairs for the rest of Israeli society. But the longer their grievances are left unheeded, the more likely the dam is to eventually burst, and Israel’s rulers would do well to heed the caution of both Avishai and the Israeli Arab leadership. Israeli Arabs deserve better from those ruling the roost in Israel, as do Israeli Jews by extension – though if past performance is any guide to the future, the division and discrimination is doomed to continue for many years to come.

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Israel’s Arab Citizens Call General Strike

Posted in Activism, Everyday life in the West Bank, History, Israel, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Palestine with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 09/09/2009 by 3071km

Written by Jonathan Cook

Date published: 9th September 2009

Source: Dissident Voice

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Israel’s Arab Citizens Call General Strike

by Jonathan Cook / September 9th, 2009

The increasingly harsh political climate in Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government has prompted the leadership of the country’s 1.3 million Arab citizens to call the first general strike in several years.

The one-day stoppage is due to take place on October 1, a date heavy with symbolism because it marks the anniversary of another general strike, in 2000 at the start of the second intifada, when 13 Arab demonstrators were shot dead by Israeli police.

The Arab leadership said it was responding to a string of what it called “racist” government measures that cast the Arab minority, a fifth of the population, as enemies of the state.

“In recent months, there has been a parallel situation of racist policies in the parliament and greater condoning of violence towards Arab citizens by the police and courts,” said Jafar Farah, the head of Mossawa, an Arab advocacy group in Israel. “This attitude is feeding down to the streets.”

Confrontations between the country’s Arab minority and Mr Netanyahu’s coalition, formed in the spring, surfaced almost immediately over a set of controversial legal measures.

The proposed bills outlawed the commemoration of the “nakba”, or catastrophe, the word used by Palestinians for their dispossession in 1948; required citizens to swear loyalty to Israel as a Zionist state; and banned political demands for ending Israel’s status as a Jewish state. Following widespread outcries, the bills were either watered down or dropped.

But simmering tensions came to a boil again late last month when the education minister, Gideon Saar, presented educational reforms to mark the start of the new school year.

He confirmed plans to drop the word “nakba” from Arabic textbooks and announced his intention to launch classes on Jewish heritage and Zionism. He also said he would tie future budgets for schools to their success in persuading pupils to perform military or national service.

Arab citizens are generally exempted from military service, although officials have recently been trying to push civilian national service in its place.

Mohammed Barakeh, an Arab member of the parliament, denounced the linking of budgets to national service, saying that Mr Saar “must understand that he is the education minister, not the defence minister”.

The separate Arab education system is in need of thousands of more classrooms and is massively underfunded – up to nine times more is spent on a Jewish pupil than an Arab one, according to surveys. Research published by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem last month showed that Jewish schools received five times more than Arab schools for special education classes.

Mr Netanyau, who accompanied Mr Saar on a tour of schools last week, appeared to give his approval to the proposed reforms: “We advocate education that stresses values, Zionism and a love of the land.”

Mr Barakeh also accused government ministers of competing to promote measures hostile to the Arab minority. “Anyone seeking fame finds it in racist whims against Arabs – the ministers of infrastructure, education, transportation, whoever.”

Mr Barakeh was referring to a raft of recent proposals.

Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister and leader of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, announced last month that training for the diplomatic service would be open only to candidates who had completed national service.

Of the foreign ministry’s 980 employees only 15 are Arab, a pattern reflected across the civil service sector according to Sikkuy, a rights and coexistence organisation.

The housing minister, Ariel Atias, has demanded communal segregation between Jewish and Arab citizens and instituted a drive to make the Galilee, where most Arab citizens live, “more Jewish”.

The interior minister, Eli Yishai, has approved a wave of house demolitions, most controversially in the Arab town of Umm al Fahm in Wadi Ara, where a commercial district has been twice bulldozed in recent weeks.

The transport minister, Israel Katz, has insisted that road signs include placenames only as they are spelt in Hebrew, thereby erasing the Arabic names of communities such as Jerusalem, Jaffa and Nazareth.

Arab legislators have come under repeated verbal attack from members of the government. Last month, the infrastructures minister, Uzi Landau, refused to meet Taleb al Sana, the head of the United Arab List party, on parliamentary business, justifying the decision on the grounds that Arab MPs were “working constantly here and abroad to delegitimise Israel as a Jewish state”.

Shortly afterwards, Mr al Sana and his colleague Ahmed Tibi, the deputy speaker of parliament, attended Fatah’s congress in Bethlehem, prompting Mr Lieberman to declare: “Our central problem is not the Palestinians, but Ahmed Tibi and his ilk – they are more dangerous than Hamas and [Islamic] Jihad combined.”

Mr Tibi responded: “When Lieberman, the foreign minister, says that, ordinary Israelis understand that he is calling for me to be killed as a terrorist. It is the most dangerous incitement.”

Israel’s annual Democracy Index poll, published last month, showed that 53 per cent of Israeli Jews supported moves to encourage Arab citizens to leave.

Mr Farah said the strike date had been selected to coincide with the anniversary of the deaths of 13 Arab citizens in October 2000 to highlight both the failure to prosecute any of the policemen involved and the continuing official condoning of violence against Arab citizens by police and Jewish citizens.

Some 27 Arab citizens have been killed by the police in unexplained circumstances since the October deaths, Mr Farah said, with only one conviction. Last week, Shahar Mizrahi, an undercover officer, was given a 15-month sentence for shooting Mahmoud Ghanaim in the head from point-blank range. The judge called Mizrahi’s actions “reckless”.

This week, in another controversial case, Shai Dromi, a Negev rancher, received six months community service after shooting dead a Bedouin intruder, Khaled al Atrash, as the latter fled.

Mr Farah said the regard in which Arab citizens were held by the government was illustrated by a comment from the public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, in June. During an inspection of police officers working undercover as drug addicts, the minister praised one for looking like a “real dirty Arab”.