Commentary

Marginalization of Israeli Arab Community Intensifies after Shooting

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

The shooting death of at least two individuals in Tel Aviv, allegedly perpetrated by an Israeli Arab, has ratcheted up the tension between the Israeli Jewish and Israeli Arab communities. Prime Minister Netanyahu has done little to calm tensions, calling Israeli Arabs a “fifth column.” Meanwhile, various reports indicate that on at least one occasion, Israeli Jewish passengers forced the disembarkation of two Israeli Arabs from an Israel-bound flight. Some Israeli commentators have been very clear about where the responsibility lies, with many of them blaming the current Likud government and its continuing marginalization of the Israeli Arab population. There is, however, considerable concern about the ongoing violence between the Palestinians and the Israelis, with Hamas seen as the only one that could benefit from the ongoing violence.

The Jerusalem Post staff recently reported on an incident on an Israel-bound flight which provides further evidence of ongoing tension, with Israeli Jews returning “from a vacation in Greece with Aegean Airlines on Monday caused a scene when two Arab-Israeli men boarded the same aircraft and drew their attention. This did not fare well with the Israelis on board who turned to the flight attendants and said they would not allow the plane to embark with the two men on board....The Israelis on board continued to make a scene even after the two Arab-Israelis deplaned, demanding that the crew conduct an additional security check....The Director of Amnesty International in Israel Yonatan Gher said the incident on the plane reflected the Israeli government's incitement against the Arab Israeli community following the Tel Aviv shooting attack last week in which two people were killed.”

In an op-ed for Yedioth Ahronoth, Yoaz Hendel suggests that the episode show the endemic discrimination that exists within the Israeli society and that the Israeli government has only itself to blame for the current marginalization of the Israeli Arabs: “The Tel Aviv attack is the result of a national struggle. ... The majority want to live in peace, integrate into the State of Israel, be part of it. That's true. But they have no political power and voice today. They have no support to fight against what is going on around them....The truth is that outside Tel Aviv, there is a serious problem in the Arab sector....Who is responsible for this situation? Only we are. Long years of disregard. The prime minister and interior minister have no one else to blame. They were here two and three years ago too. Even six years ago. This isn't a new problem....The responsibility for fighting radicalization and encouraging the Israelization process lies on the government's shoulders. Netanyahu was right about the existence of a state within a state. But it's his responsibility, not the Arab sector's. He is the sovereign.”

Given that systemic discrimination that exists within the society, it makes Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s recent comments, as Shimon Shiffer notes, somewhat disingenuous and disturbing: “Netanyahu, on the other hand, made a general accusation that Israel's Arabs were in fact a ‘fifth column.’...The loyalty of most Israeli Arabs and their desire to live in Israel are unquestionable, but Netanyahu keeps inciting. Just like he did on Election Day, when he looked straight into the camera and claimed, without blinking, that ‘the Arabs are heading to the polling stations in droves.’ Mr. Prime Minister, have you already forgotten that you were forced to apologize to Israel's Arabs for that miserable comment? All we can do is hope that the prime minister will soon apologize once again to the public he offended. He owes it not only to us, but to the late Alon Bakal, who wanted to live here in a different country, with a different set of values from Netanyahu's.”

But, as this op-ed on Arutz Sheva  by Jonathan Elkhoury indicates, not all agree with this view of the marginalization of the Israeli Arabs: “Israel has many minorities that over the years have become unseparated parts of Israeli society, such as the Druze people - around 122,000, Christians-around 123,000, Muslims - over 1,200,000, the Bahai people around 700, Bedouins around 250,000 and more....Israel is considered one of the safest places in the Middle East for minorities because of its acceptance of freedom of religion....Some say that Arabs are discriminated in Israel, although they get more help in getting into institutions of higher education. Israel is trying to help them succeed in order to garner more possibilities in searching for a decent job. Today you can see more and more Arabs in high positions....Israel doesn’t force you to abandon your identity and your beliefs or your language. You can choose where to live and what to wear. You can choose where to study and what to study and Israel tries to help you succeed.”

Many suspect that the ongoing violence can only benefit Hamas, which, according to Yedioth Ahronoth’s Alex Fishman, is set on undermining the Palestinian Authority and its president: “Rate of shooting incidents has been increasing in recent weeks, alongside a gradual drop in number of riots and stabbing and vehicular attacks. Hamas, seeking to create an escalation that will lead to PA's collapse, is behind institutionalized terror threatening to take over conflict....That is why the Temple Mount issue, which was the greatest motive for the riots, has suddenly disappeared from the PA's discourse in the territories. In general, the PA's leaders and its representatives on the ground are keeping a low profile: They are not encouraging the wave of violence as much, and not inciting as much....The Palestinians still remember Faisal Husseini's warning that the popular intifada must not deteriorate into a military intifada.... It will be a game of weapons versus weapons, and Israel will win. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas understands that, but Hamas doesn’t care. It is pushing for an armed intifada, which is already at our doorstep.”

Writing for the Times of Israel, Avi Issacharoff notes that there are signs that Mr. Mahmoud Abbas is determined to put to rest any fears that the PA is about to crumble or that his authority within the Authority might have diminished: “The speech Wednesday by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas offered nothing new: promises to appeal to international organizations and to put ‘his house’ (the PLO and Fatah) in order, his yearning for elections and his commitment to improve conditions in Gaza, and on and on....The speech had one purpose: to inform the Palestinian public, as well as Abbas’s many challengers, that he intends to stay in power for a long time yet, at least as long as his health permits....Abbas stepped in front of the cameras to inform all the disappointed challengers that he is not only healthy, but does not intend to step down anytime soon....the Palestinian security services have renewed their efforts to disrupt and disperse protests in the West Bank (something they had stopped doing in the first two months of this “intifada”), to arrest Hamas operatives and even to uncover terror cells, since these constitute one of the most serious threats to the continued existence of the PA. The Palestinian security forces continue to demonstrate that they are in control in most places.”

There are some hopeful signs that perhaps the distrust between the Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews can be overcome, with news that a Jewish bus driver resisted calls by several passengers to force the disembarkation of an Israeli Arab, bringing to a full circle this week’s developments: “An  Israeli bus driver garnered praise after refusing demands by passengers on Tuesday to remove an Arab man from her bus whom they thought was suspicious....She said she informed the other passengers that she had no intention of removing the man from the bus and would continue on the route. If they wanted to get off the bus, they were welcome to....The incident came in stark contrast to one several days earlier when a group of Jewish Israeli travelers forced Greek national carrier Aegean Airways to remove two Arab co-nationalists from a flight from Athens to Tel Aviv for fear that the pair could be terrorists.”


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