Israel, a land where justice applies only for the Jews

Among the 8 million residents in Israel, Palestinian Arab minority makes up about 20,7% of them. More precisely, their population in the April 2013 was estimated about 1,658 million. Palestinian community consists mostly of those who remained behind on the year of Nakba (1948), when approximately 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes and land taken by the Jewish forces in order to make a way for a Jewish-majority state and their descendants.

Projections based on the Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics predicted that by the year 2025, Palestinian Arab minority in Israel will constitute about 25% of the country’s population. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel used a phrase “demographic bomb” to describe this phenomenon, noting that if the percentage of the Arab citizens rises above its current level of about 20%, Israel will not be able to maintain its Jewish demographic majority. Even when Israel’s politicians claim at the international level that they consider Palestinian Arab minority as equals, such expressions and thoughts show that majority of them is trying to exclude Palestinian Arabs and sees them as a threat to their existence.

More about the public opinion concerning the Palestinian Arab minority can be seen in this poll:

Discrimination is even built in to the legal system. Israeli government regularly enacts laws which excludes, ignores and harms them. Since the establishment of the state, Israel has relied upon these laws to ground their discriminatory treatment of the Palestinian Arab minority, continue their unequal status and unfair treatment. There are three ways in which the laws can harm the Palestinian Arab minority: direct legal discrimination against non-Jews within the law itself, indirect legal discrimination through “neutral” laws and criteria which apply principally to Palestinians, and finally an institutional discrimination through a legal framework that facilitates a systematic pattern of privileges to the Jewish population.

Such laws have remarkably increased since the 2009, when elections for the 18th Knesset brought to the power one of the most rightwing government coalitions in the history of Israel. Members of the Knesset immediately introduced a flood of discriminatory legislation that directly or indirectly targeted Palestinian Arab minority in Israel. These new laws and bills which still continue to emerge, exclude Arab citizens from the land, turn their right of the citizenship from a conditional privilege, undermine the ability to participate in the political life of the country, criminalize political expression or acts that question the Jewish nature of the state and privilege Jewish citizens in the allocation of the state’s resources.

More about the laws that discriminate the Palestinian Arab minority can be found at the Adalah homepage:

Since the legislation and the state itself publically approve or even endorse the discrimination of the Palestinian Arab minority, Jewish population regards such excluding laws and behavior as normal. Here are three examples that have recently run through the media, showing how the discriminating laws turn to direct behavior that harms the Palestinian Arab Minority.

Case nr 1.

Israel’s largest bank, Bank Hapoalim refused to allow Arab customer to transfer his bank account to the branches in the Jewish neighborhoods. Channel 10 conducted an experiment to show the discrimination of Arabs in the Israeli’s society. An Arab man, entered a Tzur Yigal Bank, which is a branch of the Bank Hapoalim in the Jewish neighborhood and requested to transfer his account from the Arab branch to theirs. Though he had a steady income and his account had never been in overdraft, the branch manager turned him down. Minutes after Ibrahim left, a Channel 10 investigator entered and requested to move his account from the Ra’anana, a Jewish city, to the branch in the Tzur Yigal. The branch manager had no problem with it. Over the course of 24 hours, Channel 10 conducted a similar experiment in five other branches. In two of them, the racially mixed Haifa and in the branch next to the Tel Aviv University, Arab clients were allowed to transfer their accounts. In three others, an Arab applicant was refused to make the transfer, while the Jewish client did not have any problems with it.

Case nr. 2.

An Israeli public swimming pool refused to allow an entry to a group of children with cancer because they were Arab. According to the video report from the Israel’s Channel 2, Dr. Gali Zohar wanted to surprise a group of twenty Bedouin children with cancer, with a fun day at the pool in the Mabuim village. He called to the swimming pool to agree on time and managers even promised to admit the children free of charge. Everything was fine until the managers realized that the children were Arab descant and cancelled the arrangements. According to them, allowing the Bedouin children in to the public swimming pool would be a “problem.” Adding that although the families of Mabu’im do not have an issue with the Bedouin children, they still have a problem with the ‘sector’ (a term commonly used to describe the whole Arab community in the Israel).

Video report from the Channel 2 (Israel):

Case nr. 3.

A popular Israeli amusement park Superland, in the Rishon Lezion, segregated between the Jews and the Arabs although it claimed to be open for everybody. A Jaffa school teacher wanted to buy tickets to the amusement park for the Arab students, when park’s management declared that the Arab and Jewish children have to come at the separate days. He was told that the amusement park is open for the Jewish schools on certain days and for the Arabs on different one. Although Arab and Jewish schools are separate, the racial segregation in public facilities like in the parks or by the pools are not mandated by the law, still the Palestinian Arab minority of Israel have to face constant discrimination.

Three cases presented above only proves the overall attitude among the Jewish community. It should also be noted that these examples are not exceptions, but humiliations and difficulties that they constantly have to face while being under the Israeli legislation. Despite their large proportion in the Israeli population, people from the Palestinian minority are still treated as a second class citizens. Many of them even feel that society at large treats them as enemies. Even the country’s definition as “Jewish,” points out that it is for Jews and for Jews only. Therefore others, like the Palestinian Arab minority, do not have a place in it and definitely do not have the same rights as Jews whose state it is. In spite of the Israel’s ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its promise to protect all of its citizens against discrimination, for the Palestinian community, the equal rights are still being denied only because of their national belonging.


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.

The Israeli Elections in Nazareth: a Beginner’s Guide


Israel has caught election fever.  Last October, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that he was rescheduling the next national elections for January 22, 2013.  Since that day, parties from across the political spectrum have jockeyed for position in the public’s favor.

Recent polls confirm what many Israelis have known for years.  The religious right is gaining influence.  In fact, the single biggest story of this election has become the meteoric rise of settler-hero and conservative icon Naftali Bennett.  He advocates the annexation of areas in the West Bank and he favored a ground invasion of Gaza during Operation Pillar of Cloud. Netanyahu and the new Likud Beitenu party he formed with Avigdor Lieberman are still projected to win handily.  However, Bennett has pledged to join a Netanyahu-led coalition after the election, so each percentage point he climbs in the polls wins him more influence in the future ruling coalition.

As in all aspects of public life, the veering Israeli political discourse has very little presence in Nazareth, the capital for Arabs in Israel. Palestinian Arabs would never vote for Naftali Bennett’s Habayit HaYehudi party (“The Israeli House”).  He comes from an ideological school similar to Meir Kahane, the radical rabbi whose most famous scion, Baruch Goldstein, famously murdered 29 Palestinians in Hebron in 1994. Needless to say, Bennett’s rise does not mean an end to the increasing flow of discriminatory legislation, which has further abused the rights of Palestinians in the last few years. The democratic process functions, but Palestinian citizens have such extreme positions (relative to the mainstream discourse) they have been pushed from political viability.

Naftali Bennett gives a speech at a campaign event.  A recent profile in the New Yorker described Bennett as "the face of the next generation of Religious Nationalism"

Naftali Bennett gives a speech at a campaign event. A recent profile in the New Yorker described Bennett as “the face of the next generation of Religious Nationalism”

Winners and losers are chosen by Jewish Israelis, but in Nazareth the elections are still a big event. With all that in mind, what do national Israeli elections look and feel like in Israel’s largest Arab city?

First things first, how do Israeli elections even work?

When an Israeli citizen walks into her voting station on Election Day, she will see a ballot with a list of parties on it, not names.  That is because Israel has a proportional representative system.  Each party chooses a “list” of candidates that best represent their collective beliefs and people vote for a list.

Traditionally, lists are comprised of candidates from a single party, but in the past multiple parties have submitted joint lists.  This is the case with current Likud Beitenu list.  Netanyahu’s Likud and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu agreed to run on a joint list for this election. Citizens vote by list and the amount of seats a party wins is based on their list’s percentage of the vote.  Parties like Shas, Likud Beitenu, and Yesh Atid are projected to win a large percentage of the vote, so they publicly campaign with long lists of candidates.  For example, Likud Beitenu is polling at 28.8%, which would earn them 34.5 seats in the Knesset.  That alone is not enough for a ruling majority.  After the election, there will be a period of negotiations that will form a ruling coalition.  So, despite Netanyahu’s party only capturing 34 out of 120 total seats, he will be able to organize a coalition of right wing parties and run the Knesset with over 70 members of the Knesset (MKs) behind him.

For the Palestinian minority, the minimum requirements are a more relevant function of the proportional representation system.  You see, there are many more political parties in Israel than those currently holding seats in the Knesset.  These are parties that win less than 2% of the popular vote. There are three Arab parties with seats in the current Knesset: The United Arab List (Raam-Ta’al), The National Democratic Assembly (Balad), and The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash). Each of these three promotes non-Zionist views and purports to serve the needs of the Palestinian minority.  Ta’al and Balad are purely Arab lists where Hadash is an Arab-Jewish communist party.  In the current Knesset, the United Arab List has three seats, Balad has three, and Hadash has four.  So, when the Arab parties campaign, they have much shorter lists than Likud-Beitenu.  Hadash, for example, has seven faces depicted on their campaign posters.

I thought 20% of Israel’s citizens were Palestinian, why aren’t Arab parties winning more seats?

It’s true, there are 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, yet their favored parties only win ~9% of the Knesset’s seats.  The numbers don’t add up.  American readers may be quick to explain away the dissonance with apathy. The real reason why there are not more Arab Knesset Members is the Arab boycott.

The history of Palestinian citizens’ voting trends mirrors the history of the Arab/Israeli conflict.  In the beginning – from the war in 1948 to the war in 1967 – Palestinian citizens lived under martial law. There was a separate court system for them, curfews were in effect, and travel permits were a necessity.  Even under those strict rules, the early secular Zionists awarded many Palestinians living in Israel citizenship. The peak voter turnout for the Palestinian minority was 1955 when 90% of Arabs voted.  From 1955 to 1981 there was a gradual increase in Palestinian voting, then a gradual increase from 1981 through 2001.

The percentage of Palestinian citizens of Israel who vote in Israeli elections over the Israel's history

The percentage of Palestinian citizens of Israel who vote in Israeli elections over the Israel’s history

In the early 1990s, the Arab parties played a critical part in supporting Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s diplomatic efforts that led to the Oslo Accords.  Then in 2000 the Second Intifada broke out in the Occupied Territories and Palestinians in Israel rose up in solidarity.  Israeli security forces reacted with violence and 12 Palestinian citizens were killed in the protests.  As a result of this harsh antagonism, the Palestinians organized a mass boycott of the 2001 elections.  Since then the inequality in rights enjoyed by Palestinian and Jewish citizens has only grown and the amount of Palestinians who choose to boycott has grown with it.  This coming election is projected to have fewer than 50% of Palestinian citizens vote.

Why not vote? 

There are four categories that most justifications for boycotting fall into.

  1. Indifference towards Israeli politics
    1. Palestinian citizens have had more than 60 years of experience being ignored by the political mainstream.  There is a common sentiment that it just doesn’t matter any more.
  2. Self awareness of political insignificance
    1. These first two points are inextricably linked.  Apathy is bred from marginalization.  The marginalization of the Palestinian minority is ingrained in the fabric of Israel, due to its institutional definition as a Jewish and Democratic state.
  3. Disappointment with Arab leadership
    1. This is the reason most often cited by mainstream Israeli politicians.  They claim that Arab MKs have given up on the day-to-day struggles of the Palestinian citizens in favor of the larger struggle for Palestinian nationalism
  4. Protest
    1. Since the massive boycott in 2001, this faction has grown larger and larger.  In the months leading up to the election, Nazareth has hosted multiple high profile public events in which the merits of boycotting as a protest were weighed in a formal debate.  This is a telling sign.  The most important debate leading up to the elections for Palestinians in Israel was not between candidates, but between boycotters and voters.

Local civil society leader and general director of the Arab Association for Human Rights, Mohammad Zeidan, is boycotting the election.  He describes his position; “65 years of participation was more than sufficient for people to realize that their participation has no impact on their status.  In fact, it was used by Israeli to show that it is a democracy in which the minority has the rights to be represented.  The participation was used against the goal of equality in Israel.” Mohammad directed me to this video of PM Netanyahu addressing the US Congress.  In it he describes how Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and uses the equality of the Palestinian minority to defend his statement.

Mohammad went on to analyze how the boycott is perceived, “boycott is becoming more legitimate as a political expression, rather than just not showing up.” The Saturday before the elections on the 22nd, there was an organized protest drive through various Arab cities in the Galilee.  This event and others like it are attempts to make boycott a public act of protest.

This past Sunday, the Arab League published a formal call on Arab citizens of Israel to participate in the elections. The request was motivated by a fear of the rising influence of far-right parties, but many among its target audience fail to see a persuasive reason to listen. Susan Barhoum, a Nazarene Christian, still plans to boycott. “My vote will not stop the discriminatory legislation.  It doesn’t matter.”

So if Palestinian citizens do choose to vote, who do they vote for?

Even though more and more Palestinian citizens are choosing to boycott, voting is still a popular option.  Fahim Dahoud is an Arab and a lawyer living in Nazareth Illit.  He is planning on voting this Tuesday.  “I want to change something.  First of all, I think it is my duty as a citizen.  If all Arab Palestinians vote, we can change the map.”  He went on to describe a precarious electoral balance, “The difference between the right and the left is five votes.  If 70% of Arabs vote, we can change the balance.”

There are three major non-Zionist political parties.  By that I mean these parties advocate a restructuring of the Israeli government from one based on Zionist principles to one prioritizing democracy and equality for all citizens.  These parties are the Islamist-leaning Raam-Ta’al, nationalist Balad, and communist Hadash.


On the left in white, a poster for Raam-Taal. In the center in orange, Balad. On the right in red, Hadash

Ta’al was formed in the mid-1990s by Ahmed Tibi.  Tibi is currently the head of the party and its most outspoken member.  He was a vital and ubiquitous critic of Operation Pillar of Cloud as well as a target for Zionist enmity due to his relationship with Yasir Arafat.  In the 2009 elections Ta’al was running as a part of the United Arab List, but were disqualified from participation by the Central Election Commission.  Tibi took the decision to the Supreme Court where it was overturned.  He is on record stating, “This is a racist country. We are accustomed to these types of struggles and we will win.” This coming election will see Tibi’s Ta’al once again leading the United Arab List.

Haneen Zoabi is second from the right on this Balad poster

Haneen Zoabi is second from the right on this Balad poster. The character inside the white box is the Arabic letter that will show up next to the party’s name on official ballots.

Nazarenes call the party more commonly known as Balad by its Arabic name al-Tajamu.  Balad is a party more focused on Palestinian nationalism and advocates for a bi-national Israel in which only the principles of democracy guide government.  It was also formed in the mid-1990s and is currently led by Jamal Zahalka.  However, Balad has been in the news lately more for the case of Haneen Zoabi. Ms. Zoabi, a Nazareth native, is the first Palestinian woman to ever be elected to the Knesset. Two weeks ago the Supreme Court overturned the CEC’s decision to ban her from the elections.  Zoabi has become a symbol of sorts for the Palestinian minority after she was demonized by the Jewish Israeli public for her participation in the Mavi Marmara flotilla in 2009.  In response to the CEC’s decision to eliminate her from participating in the election, Dr. Jamal Zahalka declared “This [move] hurts the entire Arab public. Its purpose is to weaken the political power of the Arab citizens in the Knesset and to strengthen the Israeli right. We fully support MK Zoabi and all her actions, and we emphasize again that if the Supreme Court does not reverse the decision, Balad will not take part in the coming elections.”

The disqualification of Haneen Zoabi was not the only legal speed bump that Balad had to hurdle in this race.  The week before the election, every party is allotted seven minutes of airtime on each of the three main channels to broadcast campaign advertisements.  These are opportunities to share a party message or just to familiarize the public with new candidates. Balad produced an ad featuring cartoon versions of right wing politicians singing the national anthem “Hatikva” to the tune of an Arab pop song.  The CEC banned this ad and the ad from Michael Ben-Ari’s Strong Israel party that aired with the slogan “not an Arab country, and not a country of infiltrators.” The ruling was overturned after ACRI filed an official appeal on the grounds of free speech.  If anything, the litigation controversy increased the reach of these two divisive ads.

In probably the most interesting political tactic seen in Nazareth this election season, Balad has been using the following advertisements to sway Arab voters who plan to boycott:

The poster reads: ‘Who are you leaving the [Knesset] to?’ and the pictures on the right depict three virulently right wing and racist MKs

The poster reads: ‘Who are you leaving the [Knesset] to?’ and the pictures on the right depict three virulently right wing and racist MKs

The third and final Arab party that is projected to win seats in the Knesset this election is Hadash.  This is a communist party that advocated for Jewish and Arab coexistence.  Their local branch, al-Jabha, is popular in Nazareth municipal politics and they are expected to do well here.  This is the party that was co-founded by Tawfiq Ziad, the Palestinian citizens of Israel who earned fame for his “poetry of protest” and for organizing the first Land Day protests in 1976.  Their party platform includes policy goals such as “achieving a just peace to the Palestinian/Israel conflict”, “protecting workers’ rights”, “eradicating weapons of mass destruction”, and “equality between the sexes”.

Hadash has been criticized for a lack of women at the top of their list.

Hadash has been criticized for a lack of women at the top of their list.

These three parties have joined together to run Facebook campaigns and events in opposition of the boycott. A new Arab party is taking a different approach.  The Hope for Change Party has promised to focus only on domestic issues and has pledged to join any ruling coalition.  They are not projected to win any seats in the Knesset. In a last minute reaction to poor polling data, the Hope for Change Party has pulled out of the election.

One of the few Hope For Change posters to be found around Nazareth.

One of the few Hope For Change posters to be found around Nazareth.

What about the future? 

Those three parties are fairly well established in Nazareth and their roots run deep.  So, this election will not be a revolutionary or game changing opportunity for a new face to make an impression.  Unfortunately, the Palestinian minority faces an increasingly hostile opposition in the Knesset.  Constant threats to ban Arab parties from participating, racist incitement from other MKs, and a deluge of discriminatory legislation all increase the antagonism and apathy felt by Palestinian citizens.  That combined with the divisions within the minority and the constant refusal of Zionist parties to invite Arab parties into their coalitions all contribute to the seemingly implacable status quo and the stagnant struggle for political rights.  The question is, if change won’t come this election, what are the prospects for the future?  In other words, what do young people living in Nazareth think?

Shadi Saleh Mari turned 18 this year.  He was born and raised in Mashhad, a village near Nazareth, and is already an accomplished actor.  He describes a divided youth, “The parties have summer camps for kids.  I went to the tajamu camp when I was younger.  We sang the party songs and made friends.  Now teenagers use more energy on the elections than on policies.  My friends and I went to see mayor Ramiz Jeraisy give a speech on breast cancer awareness.  Mayor Jeraisy is Jabha and my friends are Tajamu.  Before Ramiz even started to speak, my friends were already heckling him. They didn’t care what he had to say because he was from a different party.” The strong relationships and communities that have developed around the different parties reflect the natural internal divisions within the minority and cripple the dream of an impactful unified Arab list.  For this, and other reasons, Shadi is choosing to boycott the election.

One young Nazarene, Maroun Maa’lous, has a different perspective.  He is also 18, so this will be his first election too, but he is happy to vote on Tuesday.  Maroun thinks boycotting is useless, “if you don’t vote, you don’t have any influence.  I think the Israeli government is interested in the non-Jewish citizens votes.  A non-vote is like a vote for who you do not like.  The party I vote for has done a lot. I grant them my vote for their good work.  He plans on voting for Hadash on Tuesday. “Hadash is the only Arab-Jewish party in the Knesset and the best chance for peace.” Specifically, Maroun is happy to espouse the virtues of Dov Khenin, a Jew and the third on Hadash’s list.   “Dr. Hanin, he is a fighter.  He fights for Arab minority rights, for immigrants’ rights, for animals, for the environment.”  Hadash has four seats in the current Knesset, but with the growing percentage of boycotting Arabs, that total could fall.  Dov Khenin’s future lies in the balance.

These two young men present a stark contrast.  It would appear that they represent two poles on the political spectrum.  In reality, these two perspectives lie on the extreme left of Israeli politics.  But, this is the way it works in Nazareth.  The Palestinian minority has its own internal politics and Israel has its national politics; this election is poised to drive a wedge further between them.

* * *

For a deeper analysis of some of the trends discussed here, I encourage you to read this piece from local journalist, Jonathan Cook:

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.”

80% of the “Full Israeli Experience”


For this past Sunday’s New York Times, Tom Friedman wrote an article entitled “The Full Israeli Experience”. Treating Friedman as an whipping boy has become popular in some circles in recent years, but for the Times to run such an opinion – in the widely read Sunday edition especially – its editors are lending credence to his close-minded and restricted view of the world.  In doing so they promote misunderstanding and provide a buttress of support for national policies that are not in the American people’s interest.

Even without the obvious critique that the “full Israeli experience” cannot be accurately applied to the country’s mainstream national politics when only 80% of its population is represented, this article was hugely disappointing.


Tom Friedman argues that to be taken seriously in Israeli politics (and by virtue of the special relationship, American politics), you must understand the severity of Israel’s security situation.  He argues that the “bastards for peace” approach of Ehud Barak is superior because it purports a re-trenchment in the ’67 borders and a serious effort to advance the peace process. This is a harmful simplification of the conflict.

The problem is that the conflict does not end with the ’67 borders. This is not a binary conflict in which agreed upon borders will make history go away. The two states are inextricably linked.  This goes beyond the right of Palestinian refugees to return and potential conflicts over religious site.  This is about the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens in Israel living as second-class citizens.  A re-trenchment would mean that Israel would love the pressure from the international community to make serious change in its politics and become the true bastion of democracy it has always claimed to be.

The flaw in Friedman’s argument is best displayed with an example.  Let’s use Egypt.  In Egypt, Mohammad Morsi recently tried to acquire extra-presidential powers so he could advance the Muslim Brotherhood’s goal of codifying Shari’a law.  This is something the United States, and many international freethinking progressive people oppose.  Why do we oppose it though?  Is it because Morsi would have become a dictator like Mubarak? Yes, partially.  Is it because Shari’a law is what many Americans are actually afraid of and that there are deep seeded prejudices in the Western world against Islam? Probably.  But, the real reason why Americans should have opposed Morsi claiming those extra powers is that at the heart of the American system of government and the root of liberalism is the belief that for all people to be free and equal, there can be no inherent link between a particular religion and the state.  Unchecked state power in the hands of an Islamic party would generate institutional discrimination against any religious minorites.

This brings us back to Israel.  What Morsi was trying to do, the battle he is waging with the Egyptian courts right now is the same one that was fought over the future of Israel in its nascence.  Eventually David Ben Gurion won out and propagated his vision of the Jewish State.  For 64 years, the “Jewish and Democratic” state has thrived in perpetual hypocrisy.  First, the Palestinian minority lived under military rule with a separate legal system, now it is perceived by many as a “nest of terror…that should be exiled” as Nazerat Illit mayor Shimon Gafso recently stated.

This is an oppressed minority that lives with no real hope for change.  Friedman, in his effort to create some weird fear-inducing paranoia on behalf of the Israeli people, has supported a strategy that would ensure the continued discrimination against 20% of Israel citizens.

Yes, there are militant extremists who openly advocate for Israel’s destruction.  They are a small, but vocal minority.  Failing to address these major issues of self-determination and democratic values would only validate their claims and swell their ranks.  There is no righteousness in holding a supposed moral high ground when the human rights of millions are being attacked.

The path ahead may seem treacherous, but there is no better occasion to strive for harmony and justice than in the face of difficult times.

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.

Prime Minister Netanyahu ignores 20% of his constituents in UNGA speech

Last week’s speech from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the UN General Assembly has drawn diverse reactions from all over the world.  American decision makers heard tough talk with room for compromise; comedians saw the inherent ridiculousness of a cartoon bomb; and many citizens of Israel heard their strong leader stay the course.  The 20% of Israel’s population that defines itself as the Arab Palestinian minority heard an entirely different speech, one which ignored their constant struggle thereby marginalizing their existence. They heard a speech from the prime minister that summarily dismissed or ignored the near-constant calls of inequality and discrimination.  There are internationally recognized abuses of human rights and humanitarian law enshrined in Israel’s official institutions, but Netanyahu continues to present the state he leads as a beacon of “modernism” in a sea of “medievalism”.

The domestic and international media in its reception of the speech, positive or negative, has universally accepted the Prime Minister’s focus on Iran and nuclear weapons.  This omission must be rectified. So, using the perspective of human rights and keeping in mind the struggle of the nearly 1.5 million Arab Palestinians living in Israel, Let us read closely his words and consider their implications.

Netanyahu opens the speech with perhaps the most controversial, yet most ignored, piece of rhetoric in his arsenal.  He describes the history of the Jewish people in the land of Ancient Israel and conflates the historical tradition of Jews in this geographical area with the modern Zionist movement and its manifestation in the State of Israel.  Of course, this is nothing new.  In fact, the Zionist dream for the State of Israel claimed all Jews for its cause.  According to Zionist doctrine, Israel was, and is, the state for the world’s Jewry, and this has been its definition from the beginning. So, when Netanyahu said the following, he was just reiterating an old construct:

The Jewish people have lived in the land of Israel for thousands of years. Even after most of our people were exiled from it, Jews continued to live in the land of Israel throughout the ages. The masses of our people never gave up the dreamed of returning to our ancient homeland.

That is Netanyahu’s claim, but Zionism is just a little over a century old and the institutions of the State of Israel even younger. Ancient Israel and modern Israel share a name, but are not the same. This country may choose to see itself as successor to ancient kingdoms, but it exists in a modern world; one where there is a diverse population living within its borders and that the human rights of each citizen deserve protection regardless of ethnicity or religion. Notice, the key word is “protection”, not allocation.  Human rights are not some trivial commodity to be distributed at will.  These are universally ascribed tenets for human life and each state has an obligation to protect those of all its citizens.  Excusing that central responsibility on the grounds of ethnic or racial differences is wrong.

After the history lesson and some good old fashioned nationalist saber-rattling, Netanyahu comes to the main theme of his speech: Modernity vs. Medievalism.   He defines his terms:

The forces of modernity seek a bright future in which the rights of all are protected, in which an ever-expanding digital library is available in the palm of every child, in which every life is sacred.

The forces of medievalism seek a world in which women and minorities are subjugated, in which knowledge is suppressed, in which not life but death is glorified.

Unfortunately, the glib, terse response to this absurd pair of statements is also the best defense.  The Arab Palestinian minority is constantly discriminated against in “modern Israel”. There are 70,000 Bedouin in the Naqab who live constantly in fear that today will be the day that Israeli bulldozers come to demolish their homes.  There exists a culture of impunity for perpetrators of violence against Arab Palestinian citizens in Israel. In the sector of education, The Follow-Up Committee for Arab Education found that the Israeli government spends $192 per year on every Arab student in the public education system and $1100 per year on every Jewish student.  If in Israel, this minority is being subjugated and flow of knowledge is being restricted, does that not make Israel Medieval?

That question cannot be answered simply, yes or no, because there is a lot more nuance to the issue than the Prime Minister wished to convey.  The purpose of his speech was to present a tough and confident position which would inspire feelings of security in his citizens and to demonstrate credibility abroad; it was not a speech given in defense of democratic virtue.  If it were, Netanyahu would be quoting John Locke and discussing the “consent of the governed” and “will of the people”. If it is difficult to imagine the Israeli PM espousing those central principles of democracy, remind yourself that Israel defines itself as equally Jewish AND Democratic.

Later on in the speech, Netanyahu describes the Arab Palestinian minority’s role in Israel’s healthcare sector:

In the past year, I lost both my father and my father-in-law. In the same hospital wards where they were treated, Israeli doctors were treating Palestinian Arabs. In fact, every year, thousands of Arabs from the Palestinian territories and Arabs from throughout the Middle East come to Israel to be treated in Israeli hospitals by Israeli doctors.

I know you’re not going to hear that from speakers around this podium, but that’s the truth. It’s important that you are aware of this truth.

Yes, healthcare is a strong example for Netanyahu to use to demonstrate the equality of all Israeli citizens and their scientific prowess.  However, notice the way Netanyahu uses this one strong counterexample.  Though there are statistics showing relative equality in the number of Jewish and Arab Palestinian doctors in Israeli hospitals (a fact which is still disputed), Netanyahu chooses to describe the recipients of health care rather than the high paying, high status jobs in hospitals. In this way, he ascribes a position of benevolence to the Jewish State.  Should the world’s leaders jump to applaud the magnanimity of the Israeli leader for allowing these “medieval” Arabs into his hospitals?  No, the premise is absurd.

Additionally, Netanyahu describes treating the thousands of Arabs from around the Middle East with Israeli health care, but he ignores the tens of thousands of Gazans living under blockade.  The population of Gaza has suffered for lack of proper health care in addition to the many other severe restrictions of their human rights.

This brings us to the halfway point in the speech.  From here on, what started as essentially boilerplate for the State of Israel became, at least visually, a comedy routine.  As tempting as it is to add another laughing voice to the crowd, Netanyahu’s description of the Iranian nuclear threat is not directly relevant to the human rights of the Arab Palestinian minority.

In closing, these words come from the end of the Prime Minister’s speech.  If only they were true:

At the same time, the Jewish people have always looked towards the future. Throughout history, we have been at the forefront of efforts to expand liberty, promote equality, and advance human rights.

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Where Can We Live?

In light of the recent  home destruction in Bir al-Maksour – in which the discriminatory zoning measures applied by the Israeli government make it impossible for the Arab Palestinian minority to have adequate housing – it is necessary to take a deeper look at this complicated issue to help us understand why a citizen of a democratic state has to stand idly while bulldozers roll through his home.  Before analyzing the current status of building codes and municipal zoning regulations, it is important to better understand the legal precedent for the odd arrangement that has arisen.  On May 14, 1948, David Ben Gurion, as head of the World Zionist Organization and chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, declared the establishment of Israel.  In the Israeli Declaration of Independence, the dual-role of the Jewish people as a religion and a national group was codified into the institutions of the state.  Due to this unique distinction, Israel would become a democracy, ostensibly with protection for the existing Arab inhabitants, and a Jewish state.  However, the codification of Judaism into state institutions has, over time, led to a division in the legal system and the development of apartheid.  In 60 years of struggle with Palestinian nationalism and wars with its Arab neighbors, Israeli leaders have sacrificed the integrity of the Declaration of Independence by forgetting this critical clause:

“In the midst of wanton aggression, we yet call upon the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to return to the ways of peace and play their part in the development of the State, with full and equal citizenship and due representation in its bodies and institutions – provisional or permanent.”

That section, which protected the democratic rights of the Arab Palestinian minority, and should have ensured full and equal human rights for all residents of Israel has been ignored.  The allocation of land, specifically municipal zoning regulations, is one major way this difference is displayed.  The Arab Association for Human Rights is headquartered in Nazareth, specifically the Mary’s Well District.  A twenty-minute walk north from Mary’s Well will take you to al-Safafri, a poor, predominantly Muslim neighborhood.  Al-Safafri is about 60 years old and that is not a coincidence.  The families living there descended from people who were forced from there homes in a town called Safuri in 1948.  During the Nakba, Safuri was bombed and the residents either fled from the devastation or were transferred by the nascent Israeli state.  Though the majority now live in al-Safafri, there are descendents of Safuri refugees living in the refugee camps in Lebanon. Safuri was very close to Nazareth, it would be visible to residents of al-Safafri if its buildings stood today.  These people take their evening meals and gaze out their windows at land they used to own.

Roman mosaic in Zippori

Unfortunately, there is little physical evidence of the Arab town Safuri; itself a permutation of what was once Sepphoris, a Roman village.  The town is gone and in its place is Zippori, an Israeli national park, home to “mosaic floors [that] bespeak the opulence of Roman Sepphoris. The relatively small Roman theater is mute evidence of the cultural life the wealth could support.”  That is how Zippori is described in Fodor’s Travel Guide to Israel in which it is a “Fodor’s Choice” destination in the Lower Galilee.  Needless to say, the travel guides do not mention that today’s residents of al-Safafri are legally considered “absentees” and have no right to the land their families used to own.  Fodor’s recognizes Israel’s protection of the Roman mosaics and its defense of historical tradition, but both Fodor’s and Israel ignore the almost 2000 years of Arab history.  Israel has denied the Palestinian Arab minority basic human rights – in this case the right to own land – since its founding, and there is no sign of change in this policy coming. Almost a third of the Arab Palestinian minority in Israel is living in a situation like Roman ruins in Zipporithis one. These people no longer reside in the traditional homes of their ancestors because of the Kafkaesque, and discriminatory, machinations of the Jewish state.  

This brings us back to Nazareth; in 1953 the Israeli government started a program of Judaization in the Galilee.  Essentially, this campaign was to bring a “demographic balance” to the area of Israel with the highest population density of Arab Palestinians, in other words, it incentivized a massive influx of Jewish inhabitation.  Yosef Weitz, an executive at the Jewish National Fund and proponent of the campaign, described the Judaization in terms of quelling “The Arab threat”.  These new, Jewish, cities were planned and built on confiscated land from Arab families: Karmiel, Maalot, and Nazerat Illit. As the following map shows, Nazerat Illit covers far more ground that Nazareth, the designated Arab municipality.

Nazareth and Surrounding Area: The municipal zones are marked (click for larger view)

What the map above does not show is the population changes and the demographic history of these two municipalities. Nazerat Illit has grown as fast as the government can allocate new areas for Jewish emigrants, but Nazareth has had construction stifled.  In the 49 Arab municipalities in Israel, the land that the government’s central planners designate for construction has increased 1.5% while their populations have increased by 600 times. That is the pressure that the Arab Palestinian minority is under and the motive Hassan Gdir had for building his home in Bir al-Maksour without a permit.  He needed the space and the government was not permitting anyone to build residences to accommodate the natural growth in population.

By refusing to permit the expansion of Arab municipal zones, the Israeli government has forced the hands of men like Hassan Gdir and reneged on the promise of “full and equal citizenship and due representation”for the Arab Palestinian minority.  Additionally, the devolution of Safuri village into the al-Safafri neighborhood of Nazareth and Zippori National Park indicates that this discrimination has been going on since the foundation of the state and, as long as the dual Jewish and democratic definition of Israel hold equal status, it will continue into the future. So, in response to the section of the Declaration of Independence quoted above, if the Arab Palestinian minority is to “return to the ways of peace and play their part”, where can they live?

Paul Karolyi is the current intern of the Arab Association for Human Rights.

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