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Ha'aretz, October 4, 1998

Because it isn't in the public's interest

By Gideon Levy


Four citizens of Israel spent two nights last weekend rotting in the detention cells of Jibril Rajoub's preventative security mechanism, and throughout the country, nobody twitched. Not one soul raised a peep in protest. MK Rafik Haj-Yihyeh, who happens to be their neighbor, was the only one to take an interest in their fate. Israel's usually clamorous prime minister, minister of defense and right-wing leaders had not barely a word to say on this occasion despite the blatant breach of Israel's agreements with the Palestinians.Why? Because these four citizens were Arabs. That fact suffices to turn them into utter nonentities. Do we really have to go into what would have happened on this occasion if the foursome had been Jews? If one single Jewish settler had been arrested by the Palestinian Authority?

About 500 Israeli citizens were wounded last week by the rough way the police and border police handled the demonstrations in Umm al-Fahm. Children streamed blood in the schools; young and old alike were shot at and beaten. Not one word disturbed the surface of Israel's tranquillity. It seems that Israelis only take an interest in the fate of the traffic on Wadi Ara Road (which passes by Umm al-Fahm) en route to their holiday travels.

Another resident of Umm al-Fahm, MK Hashem Mahameed, was wounded a few months ago in Hebron by a rock thrown by a settler lady. The police closed the file on the case because "it wasn't in the public's interest." But what happened (and thank heavens that it did) to the man who tossed tea, at the very same place, on Jewish MK Yael Dayan? He was sentenced to three years in the slammer.

The commander of the police's Northern District, Major General Alik Ron, last week called the Islamic Movement in Israel an "evil movement." Is it really necessary to predict what would have happened if that same police commander has used the same term to a Jewish counterpart of this religious movement? And finally, what would have happened if former Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak had decided to appropriate agricultural lands in Hadera or Gadera instead of those belonging to Umm al Fahm?

The Jewish population of Israel does not want to hear anything touching on Israel's non-Jewish citizens, and certainly not about their troubles and sorrows. Israeli Arabs are not evident in any area of Israeli life. Television talk shows, political appointments, you name it - not one Arab is to be seen although they comprise one fifth of the population. Umm al-Fahm is at most where Beit Bad is located and olive oil is made, and Israeli Arabs are perceived as one giant hummus restaurant. Their crowded conditions, abandonment by the establishment, national humiliation and cultural elimination barely arouse a flicker of interest anywhere.

Did anybody recall last week that not a few refugees from Lajun, Batimat, Khozobi and Boishat, which were once the names of villages in the area that no longer exist, also dwell in Umm al-Fahm? Jewish towns were built on the ruins of those towns, leaving their former residents to make do as best they could in their misery. Did Chief of Staff Shahak remember that he was appropriating land from people who had already lost their whole world, and most of their lands, once before?

In a situation like this, violence is the only way that Israel's Arabs can draw attention to their troubles. They can sit day in and day out shouting in protest tents set up in the contested lands, but nobody could care less. Only the language of the rock and the burning tire, or perhaps a Molotov cocktail or two, speak to the Israeli establishment.

In Israel, however, the result of civilian Jewish violence is not the same as that perpetrated by Israel's civilian Arabs. The very same day the demonstrations erupted in Umm al-Fahm, another frustrated group of citizens, Jews this time, were protesting north of there. But it never occurred to anybody to shoot the protesters from the towns on Israel's northern front line. Umm al-Fahm was alone in turning into a war zone.

Channel Two, typically, hurriedly sent off its military correspondent (!) to the trouble site, although the conflict involved not one single soldier. A demonstration by Arabs? War! Anything goes in war, so be it; and the same for occupation. The state will teach its Arabs a lesson or two in Jewish civics: What the residents of Ofakim can get away with, or the ultra-Orthodox on Bar-Ilan Street in Jerusalem, or the residents of settlements along the northern border is strictly off bounds for them. Alik Ron and his cops will show them that Israel is a nation for Jewish demonstrators only.

This situation is actually bad news for Israel. When a sovereign nation treats one of its sovereign areas like an occupation zone, say Zone B, to use the words of Ahmed Tibi, and treats its own citizens like an enemy only because of their nationalist affiliation, then one must expect the residents of that area to behave accordingly. In other words, Commander Ron's policemen, and mainly the people who sent them, revived a terrible scenario last week that we have experienced before: with their brutality, they returned the town of Umm al-Fahm to the late, unmourned days of the military occupation, and forced its residents into the embrace of nationalism. If they persist in their methods, they could yet return the people of Umm al-Fahm, and all of us, to the borders of 1947 and the plan to split the country.

Does that sound too harsh? Those authorities who torment these people, who have been astonishingly, often inconceivably, loyal to the state, and appropriate more and more of their lands, shoot their children and spray gas on their aged, are personally shoving them willy-nilly toward extremism and nationalism.

Let us not forget that Umm al-Fahm is only five minutes away from the Green Line. They passed through the Intifada in a silence that infuriated their brothers across the line. But an Israel that insists on treating them like an occupied population is doomed to find itself with a Wadi Ara region turning into an occupation zone. And the fate of occupation zones, Commander Ron and his senders should be reminded, is to become free one day.



(c) copyright 1998 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved

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