Beitar Jerusalem’s fans refuse to change

The sign reads "Beitar will always be pure"

The sign reads “Beitar will always be pure” (Reuters)

A version of this piece was published on The Times of Zion on February 6, 2013 under the title “A Self Perpetuating Cycle of Racism“.

Two months ago, I wrote about the rivalry between Beitar Jerusalem and Bnei Sakhnin. In that piece I grappled with the cycle of racism that is perpetuated when Beitar Jerusalem’s management refusal to sign any Arab players placates their most passionately racist fans.

This past Saturday, Beitar’s most racist fans were at it again.

Last week, Beitar Jerusalem signed two new players: Zaur Sadayev and Dzhabrail Kadiyev.  These two men are Chechen Muslims.  Beitar’s owner, Arkady Gaydamak, a Russian born billionaire, recruited them from the Russian Premier League.  For Beitar’s management, the racism of their fans has been difficult to handle.  On one hand, your fans are your customers, and on the other, restricting the potential talent pool harms your team’s performance and the racist reputation takes a toll.

I would sympathize more with the management, but these efforts to bring in players of ethnic or religious minorities are too few and far between. Furthermore, Beitar’s manager, Eli Cohen, told YNet, “There is a difference and it makes a difference between an Arab Muslim and a European Muslim.” It is a twisted sort of racist logic that leads to an absurd hierarchy of acceptability for races and religions. The idea that distinguishing between these two groups should placate the fans only amplifies the fundamental problems with endemic racism in the Beitar Jerusalem organization.

The last time Beitar Jerusalem signed a Muslim player was in 2005.  Nigerian-born defender Ibrahim Nadallah could not finish an entire season on the Beitar roster.  He found the constant stream of racism, prejudice, and incitement intolerable.

The outburst after signing one Muslim was intolerable, so a similar response was expected following the acquisition of two Muslim players. In a response to last week’s signing, Beitar’s fans showed up to Teddy’s Field on Saturday for their game against Bnei Yehuda ready to protest. The signs that Beitar’s fans brought to the game were not emblazoned with supportive slogans or even relevant ones. They chose to display their displeasure with the team’s management rather than support the players on the pitch.  One particularly large poster read, “Beitar will always be pure”.

Three of Beitar’s fans were arrested for their actions in the stands. Those arrests were the only tangible consequences for the aggressively racist behavior.  The Israel Football Association has made no move to pass judgment on Beitar for its fans’ behavior.

Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Sunday, “I was shocked by the racism displayed in the Beitar Jerusalem stands yesterday against having Muslim or Arab players on the team.”  But should he be shocked?  Is this even shocking?

The government of which Yaalon is a member passed a spate of discriminatory legislation targeted at the Arab minority.  It is a fairly intuitive reaction to see a causal relationship between legislation banning the commemoration of the Nakba or removing 70,000 Bedouin Arabs from their homes in the Naqab and the increasing public racism directed at the oppressed minority. In the past few months alone, Arab citizens have been physically assaulted in the streets of Jerusalem, had their holiday decorations vandalized, have been subject to racial profiling on Tel Aviv’s beaches, and have been refused entry into Haifa nightclubs.

The relationship between the government’s actions and the choices of Jewish Israelis is intertwined and competitive. They fuel each other on to greater achievements in hate while reinforcing each other with, on one side, votes and, on the other, a lack of adequate punishment.  The cycle will not stop until politicians like Moshe Yaalon act on their statements. If you are so shocked by the racism displayed in Teddy’s Field, maybe it’s time to curb the racism in the political arena.

Some of you may respond by citing the recent election results and the ostensible victory of “centrist” Yair Lapid.  Unfortunately, Lapid has a similar perspective on the role of the Palestinian minority in Israeli society as his predecessors.  He was quoted recently stating that he would never join a coalition with the “Zoabiz”. He invoked Haneen Zoabi’s name to associate all the Arab parties with her reputation as “the most hated woman in Israel”.

Ami Kaufman grappled with this comparison in +972 Magazine. He quotes a friend, “Is there really a difference between a politician who doesn’t want Arabs on his team, to fans who don’t want Muslims on theirs?” This particular comparison has grown quite popular in the media coverage of the Beitar game.  It’s a positive sign that these two outrageous acts are provoking the media and political elite, but there are no signs that serious consequences will be brought in either case.  Lapid is still going to have his choice of Finance of Foreign ministry in Netanyahu’s new government, and the Israel Football Association (IFA) continues to prescribe palliative punishments.

Yesterday, Tuesday the 29th, the IFA held a hearing for Beitar Jerusalem.  They fined the organization NIS 50,000 for their fans’ behavior at Saturday’s match.  However, fans were still allowed to attend Tuesday night’s game between Beitar and Maccabi Umm al-Fahem. Banning fans from the stadium has been a punishment deployed by the IFA in the past for similar infractions.

Is there any hope to break the cycle? Beitar Jerusalem is currently ranked fourth in the Israeli Premier League and may qualify for competition in Europe. In a metonymical twist, the international attention brought on to Israel’s most racist football club may help pressure Israeli policy makers to protect the rights of the Palestinian minority. But, it may not even be noticed.

Also, if you’re curious, Beitar lost Saturday’s game. The score was 1-0.  That isn’t justice, but it is nice.

15 Israeli and Palestinian organisations warn of far-reaching consequences of Israel’s for obstructions of UN human rights mechanisms

15 Israeli and Palestinian human rights organisations today warned of the far-reaching consequences of Israel’s refusal to fully cooperate with the United Nations (UN). On the morning of Israel’s second Universal Periodic Review (UPR), scheduled for Tuesday 29 January, it remains unclear whether it intends to participate.

This lack of transparency will not only mean that Israel avoids rigorous criticism of its violations of international law, but that the entire UPR system will be undermined by the loss of its two fundamental principles: equality and universality.

In May 2012, Israel formally announced its decision to “suspend its contact with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Human Rights Council (the Council) and its subsequent mechanisms”.

Israel reportedly met with the Council President His Excellency Remigiusz A. Henczel in January 2013 and discussed a postponement of its UPR. However, as no formal request has yet been made, the Council agreed to proceed as scheduled and to consider on the day what steps to take if the Israeli delegation does not attend.

These exceptional circumstances have created uncertainty and forced some civil society organisations to revise or limit their engagement with the review process due to the risk of investing necessarily significant resources into a process that may not take place. Thus, a key component of the UPR process – civil society engagement – has been severely hampered.

Through this uncertainty, Israel and the Council are setting a dangerous precedent on the international stage, one that could be followed by other States refusing to engage with the UN in order to avoid critical appraisals. Israel’s decision to disengage from core mechanisms of the United Nations human rights system has, in effect, resulted in preferential treatment. All but one of the 193 UN Member States have attended their UPR as scheduled; in that single instance the State of Haiti was unable to attend due to the humanitarian crisis caused by the 2010 earthquake. Israel should not receive any benefits or concessions for its efforts to   undermine the system of the UN and, in particular, its human rights system.

To the contrary, the Council should ensure the unobstructed process of Israel’s UPR in accordance with the principles and standards set in the UPR mechanism, thereby reasserting the condition that human rights are more important than political or diplomatic considerations.

Moreover, Israel’s move to suspend cooperation with the Council and the OHCHR must be viewed within the context of its ongoing refusal to respect the decisions, resolutions and mechanisms of the UN. Consecutive Israeli governments have refused to recognise the State’s obligations under international human rights law with regard to the Palestinian population of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), obligations repeatedly reaffirmed in statements by UN treaty bodies.

Israel also rejects the de jure applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention, incumbent upon it as the Occupying Power, in defiance of numerous UN resolutions, the 2004 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the oPt, and countless statements issued by governments worldwide.

In 2009, Israel declined to cooperate with the UN Fact-finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, headed by Justice Richard Goldstone. Justice Goldstone repeatedly called on Israel to engage, to no avail. More recently, in 2012, the UN Fact-finding Mission on Israeli Settlements in the oPt was denied entry into the territory to collect testimonies. The Mission joined a long list of UN Special Rapporteurs and the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, to whom Israel has also refused entry. Furthermore, since his appointment as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights on Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Mr. Richard Falk has not been allowed to enter the oPt to carry out his work.

Within this context, 15 human rights organisations call on the Council to take a firm stand consistent with the seriousness of Israel’s obstructive actions to date.

NGO List

A New Way to Support the HRA

Our Friend,

This past year has thrown many obstacles in the way of our collective strive for human rights.  2012 saw the ACAA protocol passed by the European Parliament and the Haifa District Court’s rejection of the Rachel Corrie’s family’s appeals.  These two developments set dangerous precedents domestically and abroad that will threaten future justice-protection mechanisms. In addition, a spate of discriminatory legislation was passed this past year; the Prawer Plan threatens the livelihoods of Arab Bedouin in the Naqab, the Family Unification Law divides Palestinian families, the Anti-Boycott Law violates freedom of speech, the Naqba Law revokes the Palestinian minority’s right to commemorate a national tragedy. Each law like these that is passed further restricts the human rights of Palestinians in Israel in favor of consecrating the superiority of the Jewish majority. The upcoming elections on January 22 are projected to an extremely right-wing government to power. Most serious of all, the outbreak of violence in Gaza in November portends troubling attitudes from Israeli politicians and marks the most recent in the long line of Israeli violations of Palestinians’ human rights.

The HRA is working as hard as ever to protect and promote the rights of the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel.  We published two reports on issues of discrimination, one about home demolitions and the other focusing on the personal tragedies caused by the discriminatory family unification law.  Our human rights forums and youth outreach programs reached over 10,000 Palestinians living in Israel.  We also started a Twitter feed and redesigned our Intern Blog to make is easier for us to connect with supporters from all over the world.

This year we will be starting long-term projects with many esteemed partners in Israel and the Occupied Territories.  In 2013 we project our programs will reach record numbers of participants.  We hope to further expand our social media presence and to find even more ways to spread the word about human rights abuses in Israel. Our efforts can only be successful with the participation and support of people like you.

We are happy to announce that today it is easier than ever to support our work.  All you have to do is go to the Donate Today! section on our website and click the Paypal button.  You can start the New Year off right by supporting our work and joining our effort to promote human rights in Israel.

“You who stand in the doorway, come in,

Drink Arabic coffee with us


And you will sense that you are men like us


You who stand in the doorways of houses


Come out of our morning times,


We shall feel reassured to be


Men like you!”

-Mahmoud Darwish, exerpt from Under Seige

Mohammad Zeidan

General Director

Arab Association for Human Rights

 

 

Under Siege: One Bedouin Family’s Struggle to Live in Israel

On December 14, 2012, a version of this story appeared on Al-Akhbar English under the title Umm al-Sahali: Life in a Fading Palestinian Village”, and on December 15, 2012, another version of it ran in +972 Magazine.

Left: a brick-paved road and an affluent Jewish community.  Right: A dirt path leading to a Bedouin village.

Left: a brick-paved road and an affluent Jewish community. Right: A dirt path leading to a Bedouin village.

-Paul Karolyi

In the early 1950s, a Bedouin Arab named Atif Mohammad Sawa’ed (Abu Walid) bought a parcel of land from the Shafa ‘Amr municipality, 25 kilometers east of Haifa, hoping to build a home for his new wife and his family. The land he bought lies on a hilltop, no more than two kilometers south of Shafa ‘Amr in the Lower Galilee. It is a beautiful place, and at that time it was uninhabited. From the front steps of the home he built, you can see the shimmering blue waters of the Mediterranean, the urban sprawl of Haifa, and if you look north on a clear day, you can even see into Lebanon.

Haifa and the Mediterranean are seen from the hilltop in Umm al-Sahali

Haifa and the Mediterranean are seen from the hilltop in Umm al-Sahali

As the Sawa’ed family grew, so too did Israel around them. In the early years of Israel’s existence, the government instituted a policy of “Judaization” in the Galilee. On the recommendation of David Ben Gurion, who famously said that traveling through the Galilee did not feel like traveling through Israel, the government seized thousands of acres of land to found three new urban centers for new Jewish immigrants.  In addition to the cities, many new Jewish neighborhoods were founded.  The purpose of the plan was to negate the perceived threats of a demographic imbalance to the Jewish nature of the State.  Though the term “Judaization” has gone out of style, modern politicians still openly speak about defense against the “Arab Threat”.

The Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel have a difficult choice. There is too much poverty to move into affluent, Jewish neighborhoods (the government and the residents of which are actively trying to stymie this anyways, see the “Admission Committees” Law and a long history not selling homes to Arabs), there are too many people already living in Arab municipalities, and the Israeli government refuses to sanction any growth in municipal lands.  The choice is between living in smaller and smaller homes, legal yet crowded; living with neighbors who are actively trying to remove you; or breaking the law by building permit-less homes.

In this time, 25,000 dunam of land, 6250 acres, were expropriated from Shafa ‘Amr. The confiscated land was initially designated for military use but was later developed for Jewish settlements. In 1961 there were around 8,000 people living there, in 2009, that number had ballooned up to over 35,000.  The Israeli government has not allocated enough land to Shafa ‘Amr to keep up with the growth of the population.  In 1962, Shafa ‘Amr was 10,731 dunams, and in 2009, it is still only 19,766.

The lack of available housing in Arab municipalities is a well-documented phenomenon. This is the story of how the restrictions placed on Shafa ‘Amr continue to directly affect Abu Walid and the Sawa’ed family.

For Abu Walid, the restrictions to Shafa ‘Amr’s expansion meant Umm al-Sahali – now a small town whose residents are predominantly Abu Walid’s extended family – became isolated. It remains one of many unrecognized villages in Israel. Two kilometers from Umm al-Sahali, a Jewish town called Adi was established in 1980 as a part of the “Lookouts in the Galilee” plan. The Jewish residents of Adi built stables for their livestock, playgrounds for their children, and all the other expected features of a modern, affluent, residential space. Adi is administered by the Emek Yisrael Regional Council. Its proximity to Umm al-Sahali means that the governmental administration of Umm al-Sahali’s land fell to Emek Yisrael as well, severing the link between the people and the land.

The northern border of Adi is shared with the Shafa 'Amr municipality.  As you can see, Umm al-Sahali is well within the dotted line.

The northern border of Adi is shared with the Shafa ‘Amr municipality. As you can see, Umm al-Sahali is well within the dotted line.

While Abu Walid’s land is in Emek Yisrael, there are no bus lines that take his children to school, there is no electricity in his homes, and there is no connection to central plumbing. The residents of Adi enjoy all these services. In fact, a power line was built through Umm al-Sahali leading from Adi to the central grid. It literally traverses Abu Walid’s land while skipping over his home.

The power lines from Adi lead down into the valley

The power lines from Adi lead down into the valley

In 1994, the situation got worse for Abu Walid’s family when the Haifa District Court ruled that six houses in Umm al-Sahali were to be demolished. Without offering Abu Walid an opportunity to appeal the decision or to make a plea for his case, the government set in motion a plan to remove them from this hilltop. Abu Walid says he is not sure why they want to destroy the houses. At times he hypothesizes that the land is too strategic to pass up “You build a tower here, you can see Haifa University, the Golan, and the mountains in Lebanon.” He vacillates between that opinion and an agricultural option, “maybe they want this land for farms or something.”

Regardless of the murky reasoning, it took four years for the demolition orders to be acted on. In 1998 the notorious rumble of tread on dirt that has become so familiar to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza could be heard on the road leading up to the peaceful hilltop community of Umm al-Sahali.

Something wholly unexpected happened next. The community rallied behind Abu Walid’s family. And not just the Palestinians living in Shafa ‘Amr, but also the Jews living in Adi who had developed close relationships over the years with their neighbors in Umm al-Sahali. So, when the bulldozers started knocking down buildings, people came out in droves. What started as protests turned into riots when the police showed up. Hundreds of people were arrested, and at least 40 were injured in a crossfire of tear gas, rubber covered-steel bullets, and live ammunition. Though the protests eventually stopped the demolitions, three homes were destroyed that day.

Not only did the community turn out to protest the demolitions, but its members stuck around to help rebuild as well. All three homes that were destroyed that day have since been reconstructed.

This home was rebuilt following the demolitions in 1998.

This home was rebuilt following the demolitions in 1998.

In the fourteen years since, the political climate surrounding the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel has changed.  Resistance to Israeli discrimination has grown and the movement has become better organized.  The Palestinian minority’s nationalist spirit was galvanized by the events of October 2000 when IDF soldiers and Israeli police were called in to quell solidarity protests held in concurrence with the Al-Aqsa Intifada.  In the ensuing clashes, twelve Palestinian citizens and one Gazan day laborer were killed.  The murders of the thirteen victims have never been investigated and no perpetrators have been brought to justice.

Since 1998, Abu Walid has been concerned less with national politics, and more concerned with finding suitable housing for his family. Despite petitions from residents requesting permits for new houses and to legalize the rebuilt structures, the Emek Yisrael Regional Council refuses to recognize Umm al-Sahali or allow for its expansion. “There are men, 30 years old, living in the houses they were born in,” Abu Walid said. “They cannot get married or start a family.” The 80 residents of Umm al-Sahali, still predominantly the extended family of Abu Walid, live today in 13 small houses.

Earlier this year, Abu Walid’s son, Sayid Sawaed got married.  Out of desperation, he and his new bride built a small structure out of aluminum siding near his father’s home. They don’t even call it a house because it is not a permanent structure. They prefer a word that translated best as “shack”. The ironic thing about Sayid’s new home is that however shabby and dilapidated the outside appears, the interior is awash in modern luxuries.  He has fitted out his new living space with leather furniture, numerous kitchen appliances, and even a flat screen TV.  The problem is not the money.  They clearly have the money to build proper homes.  The government simply refuses to permit them.

The exterior of Sayid's new home.

The exterior of Sayid’s new home.

Sayid was proud to show off the interior of his home.

Sayid was proud to show off the interior of his home.

The flat screen TV may seem out of place in a rural village with no connection to the power grid, but Abu Walid and his family have figured out other ways to get electricity. At first they purchased large portable generators. Each home was outfitted with a generator and, though it was far from perfect, it was enough. Unfortunately, the city council of Adi had some complaints about the noise from the generators. The city council appealed to the Regional Council and the generators were quickly seized.

Abu Walid told me his story on a tour of Umm al-Sahali. Pointing to a small building in the distance, he said, “Do you see that? That is a stable for horses. The people of Adi have electricity and air conditioning for their horses and we have nothing.”

Abu Walid finds a way around every restriction the Israeli government places on his land. When their generators were seized, the people of Umm al-Sahali outfitted each of their thirteen houses with a functioning solar panel. . They have struggled for fifty years to find these types of creative ways to get around the intrusions of the government.  After the most recent developments; however, the days of resilient workarounds may be over.

One of the many solar panels in Umm al-Sahali.

One of the many solar panels in Umm al-Sahali.

Following the construction of Sayid’s makeshift “shack” in the spring of 2012, the Haifa District Court once again ordered the demolition of houses in Umm al-Sahali. This time seven of the 13 were condemned. Abu Walid, as head of the village, took his brother and went to the Emek Yisrael Regional Council to appeal the decision. They had several meetings with various officials, but the council members, but they defended the court’s decision and sent Abu Walid home.

Unlike in some other unrecognized villages in the Naqab, the government has not offered the Sawa’ed family access to alternative housing. “They must want me to leave. Why should I? I own this land,” Abu Walid says.

My visit to Umm al-Sahali coincided with the planned date of the first demolition.  Since Tuesday, November 14, Sayid and his wife live in fear of waking up to bulldozers with orders to destroy their home. They don’t know when it will happen; it could be a week, a month, or even a year. But they know it is coming.

Abu Walid believes that Umm al-Sahali should be absorbed by the Shafa ‘Amr municipality. With roads leading into town, bus routes near his home, and power lines, Abu Walid could finally get his kids to school on time and keep some lights on at night for them to do coursework. The Shafa ‘Amr municipality is on record approving this plan, and the Arab High Follow-Up Committee supports it as well.

Unfortunately, the Israeli government will never accept this proposal.  It would mean expanding the borders of Shafa ‘Amr and allowing for growth in an Arab municipality. In its refusal to make this prudent zoning adjustment, Israel displays the policy that maintaining a favorable demographic balance is higher on the list of state priorities than the protection of the welfare of its citizens. Abu Walid described how it felt to have his proposal stifled.  He said “I just want freedom on my land.  I don’t care how it happens.  This is an occupation and it should be settled.”

The human rights of 80 people are being violated on because the Israeli government refuses to allow for an expansion of the Shafa ‘Amr municipality. This bureaucratic quagmire in Umm al-Sahali is “Judaization” in another form, just a new way of countering the perceived “Arab Threat”. With these terms in mind, it’s no surprise that Abu Walid insisted, “Umm al-Sahali is like Gaza inside Israel.  We are living under siege.”

“Your Right”: An International Human Rights Day Celebration

hNmK2Yg=_=_م العالمي لحقوق الانسان-معك حق 13.12.12

 

On the occasion of International Human Rights Day this year, The HRA is honored to co-host an evening of cultural celebration.

Next Thursday, December 13, at the Mahmoud Darwish Cultural Center in Nazareth, this evening of artistic expression will include:

-A musical performance from the HRA-sponsored band

-A short theatric presentation

-A performance from rapper Hassan Akabarih

Tickets will cost 30 shekels and they will be available at the door.  Space is limited.

For more information, call the HRA at 046561923

Way More Than a Game: Football in Israel

Nazareth – The rivalry between the Israeli football clubs Bnei Sakhnin and Beitar Jerusalem has transcended mere sport.  These two clubs, one from Israel’s self-declared capital and one from an Arab city in the Galilee with a population of 25,000, are bitter rivals, but they have come to represent rival ideologies as well. From the outside their contests are an athletic performance, though, as usual, to the people involved, they represent so much more.

This year the match between Bnei Sakhnin and Beitar Jerusalem will be held on November 10. With a little over half the season left to play, neither team has a winning record. This match in particular has only moderate significance in terms of league standing, yet both are in mild danger of relegation to the second division. However, Doha Stadium in Sakhnin will most assuredly be full when the “Lions from the Capital” come to town this Saturday night.

To understand the fierce rivalry between these two teams, there is one place to start: Land Day 1976.  In the spring of 1976, the Israeli government decided to expropriate 20,000 dunams (1 dunam = ¼ acre) of land in the Galilee for military use and for new Jewish settlements.  Led by Tawfiq Ziad, father of “poetry of protest”, the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel organized massive protests against the decision.  The protests quickly turned into riots when the IDF was called in to quell the unrest.  Six Arab citizens were killed, hundreds were wounded, and hundreds more were imprisoned.  This was the first time the Arab minority organized mass political protests since the foundation of Israel.

The Land Day monument in Sakhnin

In October of 2000, the Al Aqsa Intifada was raging in Gaza and the West Bank.  Palestinians all over the world were frustrated with the failure of the Oslo Accords and they started pushing back against the Israeli occupation.  Following the wide publication of a video showing the death of Mohammad al-Durra, a twelve-year-old boy killed by a barrage of Israeli bullets in Gaza, Palestinians inside Israel took up the call for change.  In the tradition of Ziad and the 1976 riots, protests and demonstrations sprang up in Arab towns and cities in the Galilee, with a particular frequency in Sakhnin.   Several days of clashes between protesters and the police culminated in the shooting of 12 Palestinian citizens of Israel and a Gazan day-laborer.  The circumstances of the deaths have been the cause of much review and a series of counter-accusations from both sides. Local journalist Jonathan Cook concludes his book on the incident, “Blood and Religion”, with the revelation that the police had a “shoot-to-kill” policy in place and that they regarded the Palestinian minority as “an enemy”. No formal investigation has been held to hold the perpetrators responsible.

The graves of three of the 13 martyrs in Sakhnin.

Since 2000, the 13 Palestinians killed in the protests have become martyrs for Palestinian cause inside Israel.  Every October, Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel flock to Sakhnin to protest the killing of the 13 martyrs and to call for punishment for those responsible. The yearly protests culminate in a march to the Sakhnin cemetery, where three of the martyrs are buried near a memorial commemorating their sacrifice.  In some ways, Sakhnin has become the epicenter of Palestinian struggle for equal rights inside Israel.

October 2012 – Palestinian Arabs protest on the streets of Sakhnin

In those twelve years since the death of the 13 martyrs Sakhnin has found itself the home of not just political unrest, but also a very good football team.

Bnei Sakhnin F.C. was founded in 1991 as the product of the merger of two lesser, local squads. They competed in lower division play until the 2002-2003 season when they earned promotion to the first division.  Despite low expectations and a stadium unfit for the premier league, Bnei Sakhnin continued to grow in prominence. In other words, they won, a lot.

With the acquisition of several key players and manager Eyal Lahman, and the emergence of captain Abbas Suan, they were able to win the National Cup in 2003-2004.

Abbas Suan warming up for Bnei Sakhnin

The success of Bnei Sakhnin drew international attention.  Captain Abbas Suan played for the Israeli national team and was featured in Sports Illustrated Magazine. Their National Cup victory won them the right to be the first Arab team from Israel to compete in Europe.

With success on the pitch, Bnei Sakhnin F.C. and its players have struggled with their symbolic role representing the Arab Palestinian minority. Abbas Suan, having played on the Israeli national team, has a particularly difficult role in the battle of symbolism and identity being waged in his name.  Suan discussed this conflict of interest with Sports Illustrated in 2005, “I represent most of the Arab problems in Israel, problems of land and discrimination. For all the Israeli people I want to emphasize that we can live together, but [the Jewish majority] has to listen to our problems.” Suan refuses to sing the Israeli national anthem before games when he plays for the national team.

[Click here for a short documentary about Palestinian Arabs living in Israel.  Abbas Suan scores for the Israeli national team at 0:17]

The players weren’t the only ones struggling with their new role, external forces began fighting battles over the spirit of Bnei Sakhnin as well. Investors from Qatar initiated a project to build a new stadium in Sakhnin. The $6 million dollar project became a source of embarrassment for Israel, and there was even a formal petition to change the name from “Doha Stadium” to “HaShalom Stadium”.  Sakhnin’s mayor, Mohammad Bashir, stepped in and protected the stadium’s name with the public’s support.  For the Qataris, Bnei Sakhnin championed Arab nationalism.

In 2010, the rise of Bnei Sakhnin was documented in a critically acclaimed documentary.  With “After the Cup: Sons of Sakhnin United”, Christopher Browne, an American, sought to “follow the season after Bnei Sakhnin’s historic win, as they face an unprecedented series of challenges and unrealistic expectations while trying to survive in the Premier League.”  Browne tried to use his film to install a western post-colonial narrative of growing togetherness and acceptance between Israel’s coexisting national groups.

Regardless of the trajectory of assimilation trends, the fact is that many, many issues of discrimination and bigotry still face the Arab Palestinian minority and, for the foreseeable future, Bnei Sakhnin and their egalitarian approach to the game will continue to represent some part of their national spirit as it exists in opposition to the more conservative, racist, and bigoted segments of Israeli society.

If Bnei Sakhnin F.C. represents the aspirations of the Palestinian Arab minority, Beitar Jerusalem represents the exclusive, conservative segments of Israeli society.  Beitar’s identity was forged  in the fires of pre-Israel Zionism, having been established by a conservative leader in 1935. Today, fans at Teddy’s Field – Beitar’s home field so-named for former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek – are famous for their hostility.  They nicknamed the pitch “gehinom” (“Hell”) and their most fervent supporters come from the infamous “La Familia” group, which exists to antagonize Arab and minority players. One year before the founding of “La Familia”, in 2004, the New Israel Fund performed a study to track racism in Israeli football.  Even without the most fervent fanatics, the findings concluded that Beitar Jerusalem’s fans were the most racist against Arab players of any club in Israel.

Beitar Jerusalem fans proudly waving their yellow and black scarves

Other clubs let the free market dictate how to field the best team possible, but Beitar, perhaps simply as a function of subservience to its rabid fans, operates with racist priorities. They have never signed an Arab player. Team officials have only poor explanations for the omission.  After suffering a minor penalty from the Israel Football Association (IFA) earlier this year after a particularly violent bout of racist rage in Teddy’s Field, Beitar spokesman, Assaf Shaked said “We are against racism and we suffer for our fans, But we aren’t going to bring an Arab player just to annoy the fans.” This is a pretty clear case of a delusion-induced causation fallacy.

Various incidents through history illustrate the truth behind Beitar Jerusalem’s reputation.  During a 1974 match with Hapoel Petah Tikva, the Beitar fans stormed the pitch to attack the opponent’s players.  In a 2007 match against Bnei Sakhnin in the Toto Cup, La Familia led chants insulting the Prophet Mohammad.  Earlier this year, hundreds of Beitar fans clad in yellow and black flooded Malha Mall in Jerusalem and attacked the Arab cleaning personnel.  A spokesman for Or-Orly cleaning services described the incident as a “mass-lynching attempt”. Despite the existence of incriminating security camera footage, hundreds of witnesses, and the widely documented chanting of slogans like “death to the Arabs”; no charges were filed against the rioting fans.

[Click here for a video of Beitar Jerusalem fans swarming Malha Mall and chanting “Death to the Arabs”]

Though the hooliganism of Beitar Jerusalem fans is most often directed at Arabs, other ethnic minorities are targeted as well.  Last week’s match between Beitar and Hapoel Tel Aviv erupted into a callous display of racism toward Nigerian-born Hapoel player, Toto Tamuz.  The crowd chanted monkey noises and provoked him throughout the game (“Give Toto a banana”).  In a similar incident two years ago, the IFA penalized Beitar for their fans’ discretions.  This time, Toto Tamuz was treated as the offending party.  He scored a go-ahead goal and celebrated by shushing the crowd.  The referee gave him a second yellow card for his poor sportsmanship.  Following his ejection from the game, the referee called him “a shame and a disgrace” and the IFA suspended him for two games.  The racism of Beitar’s fans is one thing, but the misallocation of punishment in this case, and the reprieve from punishment for the attacks in Malha Mall are much more disappointing.  It signals a systematic and institutionalized disregard for ethnic minorities in Israel and human rights equality in general.

That brings us to this Saturday’s game. The political importance of this yearly match between Bnei Sakhnin and Beitar Jerusalem in Israel’s Liga ha-Al is comparable to the importance of South Africa Springboks’ victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup. If it proceeds calmly with no unforeseen incidents, it may foreshadow the very inclusive togetherness fostered by the Springboks’ victory, which may decrease the public’s tolerance for such suffocating racism.  However, an undeserved penalty or last second goal could set off riots.  Anything could happen.  Though, the Springboks’ victory came after Mandela was elected president.  This game, however, will be played under Israel’s still very much broken Democracy. Israel’s government and institutions are all built to cater to the inherent inequality and racism that manifests in the actions of the Beitar fans.

So set the date on your calendars, November 10, 2012.  A stew of sectarian division and football fanaticism has been brewing and it is set to boil.

UPDATE:  The results of the game courtesy of the Jerusalem Post:

“Betar Jerusalem’s winning streak was snapped on Saturday with a 1-1 draw at Bnei Sakhnin.

As ever, tensions were running high ahead of the showdown between the two bitter rivals in the wet Doha Stadium.

The Sakhnin fans were flying high when Yero Bello gave the hosts the lead in the 14th minute, but Betar picked up a deserved point and extended its unbeaten streak to five matches thanks to Avi Rikan’s goal in the 48th minute.

Sakhnin ended the match with nine players after Bello was sent off in the 88th minute for making an indecent gesture towards the Betar bench while Khaled Khalaila was shown a second yellow (92) for an impulsive foul.”

The JPost article doesn’t go into it, but there were fights outside Doha Stadium after the game.  A particularly rambunctious group of Beitar Jerusalem fans made the trip up to Sakhnin despite the rain storm, including far-right MK Baruch Marzel, famous for organizing protests in support of the law banning recognition of the Nakba. The ejections at the end of the game and Marzel’s attendance with a police escort incited some violence, though no serious injuries have been reported.

Haaretz published poll exposing Jewish discrimination against Arabs in Israel

UPDATE: For a closer look at the results of the poll mentioned in this article, please click here: 2012 Israeli Jewish Public Opinion Info Sheet

 

Nazareth – This past Tuesday, October 24, 2012, the front page story of Ha’aretz ran with the title “Survey: Most Israeli Jews would support apartheid regime in Israel”.  The article and an accompanying piece of commentary were written by Gideon Levy, a known critic of the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.  In the piece, Levy presents the results of a survey conducted by Dr. Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University at the Dialog Polling Center.  The purported purpose of the survey was to discover the positions of Israel’s Jewish population on racism and Apartheid. An English summary of the findings concludes that Apartheid in Israel is possible, specifically that “In case of annexation, most Jews will support Apartheid” and that “Israeli Jews want to discriminate against Israeli Arabs.”

Levy reports that the poll was ordered by the Yisrael Goldblum Fund, a frequent collaborator with the New Israel Fund (NIF); however, the NIF has publicly denied participation. Despite the controversy surrounding the poll’s provenance, the results are simultaneously striking and frightening.

I would like to present some of the findings of the poll to you here. It is my fervent and sincere belief that the numbers that follow are trustworthy and that they quantify, in many cases for the first time, the bleak reality facing the Arab Palestinian minority in Israel.

The poll was conducted between September 9th and 12th of this year.  503 Jewish Israelis participated.

Though the term in question was not specifically defined on the survey itself, 58% of responders accepted the description of current affairs in Israel as “Apartheid”.

33% of Jewish Israelis polled were in favor of legally denying Arabs the right to vote, if the West Bank were to be annexed.  49% want the government to take more care of its Jewish citizens than its Arab citizens.  42% do not want Arab families as neighbors.  42% do not want Arab children in classrooms with their own. 47% support a population transfer of Arabs to the Palestinian Authority.  Only 38% of responders believe that, in no respects, is there Apartheid in Israel today.

Though there was racism against the Arab Palestinian minority from all sectors polled, the ultra Orthodox held the most severe opinions.  70% of self-identified ultra Orthodox favor barring Arabs from voting in the case of an annexation of the West Bank, 82% would support discrimination against Arabs in hiring for government jobs, and 79% will not accept Arab neighbors.

These figures have provoked a massive response from partisans on all sides of the issue from all over the world.  I think that the additional attention to the issue is a positive development, but I encourage readers to see past the polarizing “Apartheid” label to the reality these numbers describe. There is a clear divide in Israeli society and the majority of Israelis clearly see no benefit in bridging it for the sake of the achievement of equal, democratic rights for every citizen. Additionally, I think that this poll illustrates the increasing challenge the HRA faces in its work raising awareness of Palestinian issues in Israel as well as the importance of the work we do in educating the Palestinian youth on human rights values and ways to struggle against the discriminatory practices in a positive manner.

The poll results from Levy's article in Haaretz

Frank Sinatra’s legacy in Nazareth

This article originally appeared at +972 Magazine on 8/29/2012.  You can see it at its original domain here.

Frank Sinatra meeting with the youth of Israel

What is the connection between Israel’s labor union, Jesus’ childhood home and Ol’ Blue Eyes?

By Paul Karolyi

When Christian tourists come through Nazareth on the half day their guidebooks recommend, they take the suggested walk around the old city, see the Basilica of the Annunciation, stop for ice cream, maybe even visit the Souq.  What they do not see is any mention of their favorite crooner from the 1960s – Frank Sinatra does not regularly come up in conversation. This may not be surprising to them, but it would be to him.

1962 was a very good year for Frank Sinatra. He gave concerts in Hong Kong, Japan, Italy, France, Greece, England and one other country that had always held a special place in his heart: Israel.  The World Tour for Children, which he funded personally, ended up raising over $1 million for children’s charitable causes worldwide. Over $50,000 of that money found its way to Nazareth, and it was only the beginning.

Sinatra’s love for Israel was lifelong; He was known for wearing a miniature mezuzah around his neck in memory of a childhood neighbor. And since Sinatra was a practicing Roman Catholic, his tour of the holy land included many significant Christian sites. He came to Nazareth for a week to see holy Christian sites like Mary’s Well and Joseph’s Workshop on his way to the Sea of Galilee, but he was struck by the people he met living in Nazareth.

Here, Sinatra saw an opportunity where his considerable wealth could make a difference.

In the tour documentary, he specifically mentions his support for the “Israel Histadrut Campaign” which, according to Sinatra, “opens the gates of opportunity for thousand of boys and girls.” He bought a parcel of land near Mary’s Well and tasked the Histadrut (the national Israeli labor union) with building the Frank Sinatra Brotherhood and Friendship Center for Arab and Israeli Children; presumably it would serve to open the gates of opportunity.  He donated the profits from his concerts in Israel to build the center and to encourage inter-cultural exchange between the Palestinian Arabs and the Israeli Jews.

Unfortunately, all Sinatra donated was money.  He did not help develop or organize any specific organization to bring his vision of cultural exchange into reality. After presiding over the groundbreaking ceremonies of the Center, he moved on from Nazareth. From that point the property fell, in operational capacity, to the Histadrut.  Sinatra returned to Nazareth in 1965, he was shooting a film in Israel with Yul Brenner, to dedicate the Center and donate a further $100,000, the total fee for his appearance.

In the 1960s the Histadrut was a politically controversial organization, only admitting Arabs as members in 1959. Additionally, Arabs who joined were seen as opportunists because they were living under military rule.

In 1962, George Sa’ad was the Nazarene leader of the local Histadrut branch, which meant managing Sinatra’s $150,000 donation. Sa’ad used the money to establish a non-profit organization intended to organize youth groups and solicit donations to sustain the center.  Yet despite his best efforts, there is no clear evidence of any inter-ethnic, inter-faith, or inter-cultural youth groups meeting at the Sinatra Center.

1967 saw another $100,000 donation from Sinatra to the Histadrut.  His announcement of a further contribution to the Sinatra Center in Nazareth was the climax of a formal four-day conference in Miami Beach, Florida.

Ten years after Sinatra’s first trip, the local chapter of the Histadrut began using the Sinatra Center as office space. When I was there, a representative from the Histadrut offices in the Sinatra Center couldn’t provide any records of George Sa’ad’s efforts to host youth group meetings or to establish community outreach groups in the Sinatra Center.

Even Suhail Diab, spokesman for the Nazareth Municipality, could not explain what happened to Sinatra’s original donation; it was exclusively a Histadrut-managed affair and no official government records remain.

In 2000, one woman, Safa Dabour, unwittingly began bringing Frank Sinatra’s vision back to Nazareth.  She did not know about Frank Sinatra and his donation;  he was just a name on a building with a great location. She founded El Sana, an association with a mandate to “find exciting ways to celebrate diversity and build a better, peaceful society.”  Supplying all her own start-up costs, she purchased development rights to one wing of the Frank Sinatra Brotherhood and Friendship Center for Arab and Israeli Children.  She funded the construction of Cinematheque, the only Arab-owned performing arts facility of its kind in Israel. It is a fully functioning movie theater and stage with an accompanying restaurant and bar.

El Sana has organized inter-cultural projects, including a film workshop for Arab and Jewish youth.  In 2004, the Cinematheque was chosen as one of two satellite hosts for the International Student Film Festival in Tel Aviv.  Students came to Nazareth for conferences and exhibitions that promoted the festival’s cross-cultural aspirations. When explaining El Sana’s programming, Safa says, “I wanted to help make peace for Arab and Jewish youth.”

Shahin Shahin volunteers at El Sana.  He defined his role as a “baytenjan”(eggplant), an Arabic aphorism that references the culinary versatility of the vegetable. He does a little bit of everything at the Cinematheque because Safa is his mother.  He said that, “only the sign remains of Frank Sinatra.  When people talk about the building, it is the Histadrut, never the Sinatra Center.”

Since learning of Frank Sinatra’s donation in 1962, Safa has tried to reconnect her advocacy with the Sinatra foundation.  Safa describes El Sana’s current mission as an unintentional realization of Sinatra’s plan. “The Cinematheque became the fulfillment of Frank Sinatra’s mission because Arabs and Jews come to watch movies.”

Safa and her son have been trying to find out what happened to the original donation, but to no avail.  She began soliciting the Sinatra Foundation as well as the Histadrut office which still occupies part of the Sinatra Center, but has no information regarding the center’s history.  In 2006 she sent a letter asking for information regarding the original donation in 1962 and about the possibility of a new donation in Sinatra’s name to El Sana.  She has sent three letters since and has yet to get a reply.

Frank Sinatra probably ought to have demanded more for his money in the first place. In the meantime, El Sana is actively looking for volunteers to help out with a family festival planned for September.

“Stripping Citizenship” Story Series #5: “Love in the Time of Apartheid”

All this week the Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) has been publishing the contents of its newest report, “Stripping Citizenship”, in serialized updates here and on our website. These stories were reported and written by Samih Ganadri and edited internally by the HRA. Each story intends to display the human consequences of the discriminatory legislation and to show you reality of an often underrepresented minority.  This fifth installment marks the end of our series.

To see the first post including relevant background information and the preface to the report, click here.

So, without further delay, we present the fifth and final story of “Stripping Citizenship”:

Love in the Time of Apartheid

Tayseer Khateeb is a young man from Acre, born in 1973.  In 2002, he visited the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank in order to gather information for his PhD studies about the identity of Palestinian refugees.  He had completed his Masters degree in Anthropology at a German university, and had received a scholarship from a Canadian university for his doctoral studies. Officials in Jenin directed him to the Ministry of Health office, where he met the staff member in charge, Lana Khateeb, who was born in 1978.

What happened between them was like a magnetic field. “I was drawn to her” says Tayseer; “I was drawn to him” says Lana.  Tayseer had planned on returning to the office in Jenin in a week to collect the information that the “staff member” was preparing for him, but he was back the next day. Tayseer said he had returned “not only for the information,” while Lana said, “I was surprised to see him the next day, but I was waiting and expecting it.” I met with each of them separately.

Love in a time of war

His visits continued. Despite the barriers, their love and affection grew deeper, and even while the Jenin camp was, at the time, under a violent military invasion, aimed at striking the resistance to the occupation. They decided to get engaged. At first, Lana’s parents were reluctant to agree to this relationship, because they were concerned for their daughter’s fate. She would have to go to Canada, where Tayseer was continuing his academic studies. Would they return after he graduated? If they did return, who would ensure Lana’s citizenship in Israel? At the time, Amendment No. 1 of the Citizenship Law, which would prevent this, had been issued.

“A love that no barriers, military rifles or laws could prevent,” says Tayseer. He adds, “There is no law in the entire world that can prevent and forbid love.”  It has been ten years since the amendment was issued, and “Palestinian Arabs, on both sides of the border, are continuing to fall in love and get married” said Lana when we met in March 2012. Lana’s family in Jenin is educated, intellectual and progressive, and Lana graduated from university with a degree in business administration. They got engaged with their parents’ blessing in 2003. Tayseer traveled to Canada on his own, planning to return in six months to get married and take his wife back with him. Then, Tayseer’s mother became severely ill, needing to spend days at a time in the hospital. Because Tayseer’s father had died and he was an only child, he returned to Acre to be with his mother.

While Tayseer stopped his PhD studies, his relationship with Lana continued and became even more serious. For months, he spent his time traveling between his ill mother in the hospitals and nursing homes, and crossing checkpoints and traveling on rugged bypass roads to visit his beloved who was besieged in Jenin. How could he marry her and bring her to Acre? Particularly since the occupation only understands the language of the rifle. The law does not understand the language of human communication as it legislates with the language of separation and division.

In 2005, Tayseer found the solution to their problem by taking advantage of a loophole in the law, which allows first degree relatives to visit their family in exceptional cases, such as a serious illness. Tayseer’s mother was very sick. Lana was his fiancée, as they had gotten engaged before he had gone to Canada.  Thus, Lana and her mother were able to get a permit to visit Tayseer’s mother for two days. Lana came to Acre and through advance planning, the wedding hall was ready, and they had their wedding.

The morning after the wedding, the bride left her husband’s house in Acre and returned to Jenin. Tayseer smiles as he is telling me this story, and says: “Where in the world would you find a married couple who got married in the evening and are forced to part ways the next day? Anyway, it is better than her staying with me and finding herself in prison, on the second night of her wedding.”

Over the next eight months, Tayseer visited his wife in Jenin on a weekly basis. Lana could visit her husband in Acre once a month and only for a day or two, depending on the “mercy” of the security forces, and by proving that Tayseer’s mother is still very ill. A wife visiting her husband in their home is not a humanitarian issue that requires violating the law that prohibits people from a “hostile state” from entering Israel.

However, Tayseer is an academic intellectual, and a brave man who does not give up. He took advantage of another loophole in the law, which authorizes the examination of reunification requests (not approval, just consideration) if the wife is older than 25 years old.  He enlisted all his abilities and awareness of his rights, as well as the local and international media, and declared a “war” on the Israeli state and its laws.

Israel, a superpower, is waging a war on a husband and wife, aimed at preventing them from living together. Israel started this war. “We will not surrender nor give up on our right to fight back, to wage a peaceful, empirical and legal war in order to ensure our family’s well-being. We will see who will win.” says Tayseer. Then he adds, “Israel has even distorted our language and our conception. We talk about a war, about battles, victory and defeat while the entire issue is about a wife’s right to sleep next to her husband, to live in her own home. This is reality, not reason. I doubt whether Eugène Ionesco could have imagined or created such absurdity in his literature of the absurd”.

Lana recalls her fleeting visits to Acre to see her husband. She tells me bitter stories of crossing the borders each time, and about one specific incident that happened in Acre. Tayseer’s car had broken down when he needed to bring Lana home on the second day of her visit (in accordance with the duration of the permit). Lana had to stay for an additional day, while Tayseer went to fix the car. While she was at home, she heard a knock at the door; she was not expecting anyone, other than the security forces. Her heart started racing and she began to sweat. She ran into the closet and hid there.  She heard the apartment door opening, and footsteps walking throughout the house and coming towards the closet. She felt suffocated; they would now take her to prison and then back to Jenin. She would not see her husband again after today, and all her hopes of getting temporary residence were ending. Her file would now be tainted with a serious “criminal security” violation, which was remaining in her marital home a few more hours than was allowed. She was suffocating and felt she would die; she lost consciousness, and when she woke up, there was no one in the house. Later, she found out that those who had entered her house were Tayseer’s friends who had come to visit.

In most cases of marriage between Arabs from the Occupied Territories and Arab citizens of Israel, the husband is usually from the Occupied Territories. However, in this case, Tayseer is the citizen. For that reason they cannot presume that he got married in order to live in Israel, or to carry out sabotage, or any other security violation in Israel. Despite these facts, the Israeli authorities refuse to give his wife Israeli citizenship or even temporary residence.

However, Tayseer succeeded in winning his “war” on Israel. In 2006, he secured the right of temporary residence for his wife from the clutches of the Israeli authorities. This temporary residence needs to be renewed annually. Each year, and for three months before the temporary residence expires, the family goes through a painstaking “battle” of reviews and submission of papers. They have to bear the rudeness and intrusion of security personnel into their personal and private affairs, in addition to the disgraceful offers of a relief from state policy in exchange for betraying their family’s national dignity and patriotism. At times it reaches the point where a security officer advises Lana to divorce her husband. These months of grief finally ended with the “victory” for the couple. They won the right to continue to live together, at least temporarily, for another year. That was their situation until today, April 2012.

Tayseer returned to his PhD studies at Haifa University.  His dissertation was on “Identity”.  He now works as a lecturer in the Western Galilee College in Acre, teaching Arab and Jewish students. He also works as a “creative writing” coach in the Jenin Theater. His wife, Lana, lives with him (always temporarily), and they are raising their two children together; their older son, Adnan, who was born in 2007, and their younger daughter, Yusra, who was born in 2008.

Tayseer is constantly busy with his work, his studies and his social democratic activities, to the end of securing full citizenship for his wife. As he is the only provider for the family, the expense of dealing with these issues affects their household financial capacities, but he doesn’t complain. What worries and bothers their family is securing citizenship for Lana, his wife and the mother of his children.

The issue of citizenship constantly concerns Lana; every year, she is fearful they will refuse to renew her temporary residence. Not only that, she says that, in general, when people read about the problem of family reunification, the first thing they think of is the possibility of banishing the spouse. However, the reality is much more complicated and complex; the lives of the entire family changes, as they are tested financially, socially and psychologically. She and her children are always weighed down by the absence of permanent citizenship, because of this racism and discrimination that reaches the extent of apartheid.

Lana, like other spouses, does not have an Israeli ID because she is a temporary resident, which means that she is deprived from the right to work, drive a car, or have social and health insurance. She is “absent”, while “present” in Israel. She is temporary. She is incomplete. She is just someone’s wife. She has no free personal entity that gives her the right to work, be active, productive and a self-fulfilling member in society. This has a social and psychological impact on her, her husband, and their children.

In Jenin, in a somewhat conservative society, which is under occupation and the siege and bombardment of Israel’s Apache helicopters and buzzing bullets, Lana was a free and independent single woman. She used to work, drive her car, and be socially active. She planned to build a career and earn a higher academic degree. Lana says; “Here I am, in my home in Acre with my husband, a prisoner in my own home. I am confined in the house, despite the fact that I am an ambitious person, I have my goals, I have an academic degree, I want to work and be fulfilled. I want to contribute to the household expenses, and the raising of my children. Even our children are affected by the tense atmosphere in which they live as a result of my temporary residence.”

I met the two children, Adnan and Yusra. They love to travel to Jenin and visit their maternal uncles, cousins, and grandmother. Their father Tayseer is an only child, so they do not have any paternal uncles or aunts, and Tayseer’s mother, their grandmother, is in a nursing home. In spite of this, the children are afraid of going to Jenin with their parents. Adnan says, “The policeman, who has a gun, takes my mother from the car.” Yusra says, “I am scared; the policeman doesn’t take us with my mother. He takes her on her own, and I start to cry.”

Tayseer tells me that the security forces at the Jenin checkpoint always take his wife and her bags to a side room, because she does not have an Israeli ID.  He and the children wait for her in the car. His wife is subjected to a humiliating search, and even a more degrading interrogation. She is sometimes gone for a long time, and the children start to cry. How can you explain to them the reason why the police, who are heavily armed with guns, only take their mother? How can you assure them that she will return to them?

Tayseer and Lana have to traverse a painful, bitter and humiliating road, with their scared and crying children in order to visit her family.  Lana’s family lives in Jenin, and like all the people living in the Occupied Territories, are barred from entering Israel. However, for Tayseer’s family, just like other Arab families, it would be inconceivable not to stay in touch with family and relatives, despite the checkpoints and difficulties. Lana says, “Although Jenin is only 50 km away from Acre, my family is forbidden to visit me, and I am forced to cross painful and bitter miles in order to see them.”

Tayseer said to me: “Our problem now is our children. As they grow older, the tragedy grows bigger. The latest media hype about the amendment to the Citizenship Law, in addition to the media’s visits to our house, and the conversations we share, has aroused Adnan’s and Yusra’s attention. I do not know what they have heard or understood, but they are getting more and more attached to their mother. It’s like an illness. When they are at home, they never leave her alone even for one second. They follow her around the house, clinging to her clothes, and when she sits, they sit in her lap and hold her hand.  I think they understand that someone evil is trying to steal their mother away from them. Yusra used to love to go to kindergarten, but now she cries when we wake her up in the morning. She does not stop crying unless her mother goes with her. At the kindergarten’s door, she screams and cries because her mother is going to leave her alone. When she sees her mother at noon coming to pick her up, she jumps with joy, can’t stop talking and hangs on to her mother hugging and kissing her.”

In one of the recent demonstrations to protest the Citizenship Law’s amendments and their codification by the Supreme Court of Justice, I watched Lana as she was shouting, and giving statements to the media about herself and her husband. She said, “Palestine is my homeland, and we did not extort Jewish land, nor visited them against their will. Israel is the one who usurped our lands, and “visited” us against our will and without permission. Acre is my town and my home, this is my husband, and those are my children. There is no law in the world that can change these facts, nor prohibit the love between members of the same nation. If you meet me outside the borders, I shall return.  I am originally from Saffuriyya village; you expelled my father from Saffuriyya in 1948. Today, I will not let you expel me from my home and keep me away from my husband.”

Lana has broken the barrier of fear, and she is no longer hiding in the closet anymore, Tayseer whispered to me and said, “I am originally from “Al Manshiyya” and “Mia’ar” villages.  If Israel wants to deport us to Jenin in order to keep our family together, we will tell them that we will not leave Acre, the town which has become our home, unless we return to “Al Manshiyya”, or “Mia’ar”, or “Saffuriyya”. Will Israel accept this trade-off?!”

Tayseer’s family is not originally from Acre, nor is Lana’s family originally from Jenin. Tayseer’s family took “refuge” in Acre; his mother was displaced from Al Manshiyya village, and his father from Mia’ar. Both villages were destroyed by the Jewish forces and their people expelled during the Nakba in 1948. Lana’s father and many of her relatives in Jenin are refugees from the village of Saffuriyya, near Nazareth, which was also destroyed during the Nakba. Israel has built a settlement called “Tzipori” on the remains of the village, in order to hide the evidence of their crime, and to accommodate the new Jewish immigrants from around the world, who enjoy the right of citizenship on the ruins of the Arab village.

A refugee in his homeland, whose parents are also both refugees, meets a refugee, a daughter of a refugee family in the Jenin refugee camp. They fall in love, get married, have two children, but still they continue on being refugees. There are still barriers and walls preventing members of one family, one nation, to unite. Tayseer’s and Lana’s only fault is that they were born as Arab Palestinians in their homeland.

Will the world believe this unrealistic and absurd reality? The world believed the fictional story: “Love in the time of Cholera” by the writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  So why won’t they believe this real story of Tayseer, Lana and their children Adnan, and Yusra? This story’s heroes are alive. They are the victim, the witness, the novel, and the narrator. Their novel is called: “Love in the time of the Apartheid.”

– – –

For relevant background information and the preface to the report, click here.

To read the first story in our series “The Father is in the Drawer”, click here.

To read the second story in our series “Is there an end to this displacement”, click here.

To read the third story in our series “My Wildest Dream”, click here.

To read the fourth story in our series “The Hidden… The Present … The Family of the Dead… The Living”, click here.

“Stripping Citizenship was reported and written by Samih Ganadri. It was edited and published internally by the Arab Association for Human Rights.  If you would like a physical copy of the full report, please send an email to hra1@arabhra.org.

“Stripping Citizenship” Story Series #4: “The Hidden… The Present… The Family of the Dead… The Living ”

All this week the Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) will be publishing the contents of its newest report, “Stripping Citizenship”, in serialized updates here and on our website. These stories were reported and written by Samih Ganadri and edited internally by the HRA. Each story intends to display the human consequences of the discriminatory legislation and to show you reality of an often underrepresented minority.

To see the first post including relevant background information and the preface to the report, click here.

So, without further delay, we present the fourth story of “Stripping Citizenship”:

The Hidden… The Present

The Family of the Dead… The Living

She refused to give me her name, or any personal information about herself, her husband or her family. She fears that the published information would expose her identity, since she is still living in Israel with her husband and her children. I promised her repeatedly that I would change the information that I will publish regarding her identity, without compromising the facts, so that no one would figure out who she was. She said that she believed me, and agreed to meet with me. But, ‘caution is required’.

She added that even her friends and her husband’s acquaintances know her by different names and varied information. She does not want to be surprised one day by the security forces surrounding her home, in a town somewhere in the Naqab, to be torn away from her husband and her children, thrown in prison, and deported across the border to Gaza if she is identified. Accused of ‘entering and living illegally in Israel’, despite the fact that her husband is an Arab with Israeli citizenship, and she is a mother to Arab children who also have Israeli citizenship.

I jokingly suggested that we name her ‘The dead’. At first, she was afraid, “Dead people don’t speak”. She came around to the joke, though, and said, “I really am dead to life, and so is my family, my husband and children, although we are alive. If the dead heard my story, they would cry in pity and be frightened by this kind of life. They would thank God for his mercy in their death from such a life, a life that requires me to pretend not to exist, to disappear even though I exist, to be dead, although I am alive.” After a sad silence, she said, “Write that my name is ‘the Hidden’ from the ‘dead’ family”.

She is from Gaza. She is an educated and intellectual woman, who graduated from high school with honors many years ago in Gaza. She was planning to study law. While she was in Gaza, she met an Arab man from the Naqab area, who was visiting his relatives in Gaza. (At the time, entering and leaving Gaza was permitted). His relatives in Gaza were her family’s, the ‘dead’ family’s, neighbors.

They both fell in love. She would wait for weeks and months for him to visit his relatives again. The more he visited, the more they fell in love and their attachment grew. They tied the knot in Gaza shortly after Amendment No. 1 of the Citizenship law was issued. However, their love was much stronger than the limitations and prohibitions of the law.

‘The Hidden’ talked impulsively, nonstop. Like a stream of water, sweeping from a high elevation after a heavy rain that doesn’t stop, a mute who has had her tongue untied. A person who has had a rock shifted from her chest, and the silencer removed from her mouth.  Emotions trapped for many years were released, a repressed story that finally found the right to tell itself. During our first meeting, her withered, broken eyes lit up and shone brightly when she started to tell her story.

Suddenly, ‘the Hidden’, started to cry bitterly, “Please forgive me, protect my story and my family.  I am forbidden to speak, so I can stay here with my family, my husband and my children, so I can maintain my right to be a mother and a wife in my homeland.”  I assured her that I would keep her secret. She smiled contently, and as she was saying goodbye, said, “Do not forget that my name is ‘the Hidden’, but my husband’s name is ‘Al Asmar’ (the Dark One), since his skin tone is dark.” Then she suddenly became serious again and said, “What have I done?  I have revealed my husband’s color, so she asked me to name him ‘Al Ashqar’ (the Blond), but I told her I will name him ‘Al Asmar’ (the Dark One).  Tens of thousands of Naqab residents have dark skin. I hope that the reader will forgive me for not telling all the painful, stressful and horrifying stories of persecution and suffering that ‘the Hidden’ and ‘Al Asmar’ have endured, in order to keep my promise of preserving the family’s identity. Their only fault was that they considered the law of love, and the inclusive human right to have a family, above the racist Israeli law of preventing Arabs, living on both sides of the ‘green line’, from their citizenship and family life simply because they are Arabs.

Therefore, I limit myself to relating these brief facts:

  • ‘The Hidden’ received a permit to enter Israel from Gaza for two days under the pretext of visiting a relative who was undergoing a serious operation at a hospital in Israel. She then married her fiancé in the Naqab. She and ‘Al Asmar’ have two marriage certificates; one in Gaza, and another in Israel. She lived temporarily in a village in Israel, but the ‘Erez’ checkpoint (a checkpoint between Gaza and Israel) records show that she returned to Gaza.
  • ‘The Hidden’ maintains infrequent contact with her family in Gaza through her husband “Al Asmar” and her children. On rare occasions, ‘Al Asmar’ and his children receive an official permit to visit Gaza to see his wife, although she is living with them here, in Israel. Naturally, she cannot request a permit to visit her parents in Gaza, because according to official records, she lives there. In addition, her parents cannot request permission to visit their daughter here, because, according to the records, she lives with them in Gaza.
  • ‘The Hidden’ doesn’t work or study in Israel, because she doesn’t have an Israeli identity card, and does not officially live here. Her dream of studying law is lost. All she can dream of right now is finding a lawyer who can help her get citizenship, or even residence here so she can openly live with her husband and children, in their own home.
  • ‘The Hidden’ is a prisoner in her own home. She avoids leaving the house as much as possible. Whenever she hears a police siren passing in her area, or sees people she thinks are suspicious near her home; she locks herself in the closet and hides. She also avoids using public transportation. She avoids going out with her husband and children to any nearby Jewish town, whether it is to shop or to celebrate the holidays in an amusement park. All the masks and disguises she might wear, and all the plans she may turn to will not be able to help her if a policeman asks her for her ID.
  • How does she get treatment when she gets sick? There are many humanitarian and Arab doctors in nearby clinics. Sometimes she uses her friends’ health insurance cards, and gets treatment pretending to be someone else.
  • ‘Al Asmar’ has applied for reunification for his wife many times, but the requests have been denied by the Israeli authorities, on the grounds that Israeli law does not permit this. Reuniting a woman with her husband and children, in one home, is not considered a “special humanitarian case” that the authorities should take into account.
  • ‘The Hidden’ exists. The ‘dead’ family is alive. What this mother and wife fears most is that she would really become hidden, when she is discovered and is deprived from living with her husband and children. She also fears that her parents from the ‘dead’ family will die before they see one another again.
  • ‘Al Asmar’, the husband and father, says that death would be easier than seeing his wife being banished from him and his children. His concerns reached the point where he had refused to meet me, or even talk to me on the phone. He said to his wife, “Tell him to consider me dead in the report he is writing about us.”

I don’t know you, ‘Al Asmar’, but I understand you and your concerns. I hope that you forgive me when you read this report, and discover that I did not keep my word and write that you are dead. Your story is alive, you are alive, and you have to stay alive, sitting on Israel’s and the world’s conscience. ‘Al Asmar’, you exist and are alive, your wonderful, heroic wife ‘the Hidden’ is alive. What is dead is the state’s conscience, what is hidden is the law’s justice. A law approved by the court, which calls itself the “Supreme Court of Justice”, requires those who exist to hide, while present. It requires those living to die, while they are alive.

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For relevant background information and the preface to the report, click here.

To read the first story in our series “The Father is in the Drawer”, click here.

To read the second story in our series “Is there an end to this displacement”, click here.

To read the third story in our series “My Wildest Dream”, click here.

“Stripping Citizenship was reported and written by Samih Ganadri. It was edited and published internally by the Arab Association for Human Rights.  If you would like a physical copy of the full report, please send an email to hra1@arabhra.org.