|Written by Ruby Ong|
3 November 2011
Violence has an Answer
For good reason, the release of Gilad Shalit and the celebration of his return home dominated the coverage of the news from Israel in October. But there are two other stories, both disturbing, both darker, that you may have missed last month, and I want to tell you about them. As you will see, they highlight an area of rising concern for Israel and for NIF. These incidents, and our response to them, offer a glimpse into the reality of the "new normal" in which we are operating.
The first story was the destruction by arson of a mosque in the Arab village of Tuba Zangariya in northern Israel. Authorities believe the fire was set by Jewish extremists from a settlement in the West Bank in a “price tag” operation, and some suspects have been arrested. An attack of this sort upon Arab Israelis- who make up 20% of the population of the State- would be provocative and deeply disturbing in the best of times. But these are not the best of times for minority rights in Israel.
Indeed, this attack occurred during the recess after a Knesset session that included the introduction of a number of bills - including the so-called loyalty oath and “admissions” bills -- intended among other things to send a clear signal to Arab Israelis about their place in Israeli society. It occurred before the start of a new session which will likely see the introduction of a bill that would fundamentally and permanently alter the delicate equipoise between Jewish and democratic in the legislative and judicial processes that have determined the character of the State. One of the specific results of the passage of this bill into law would be the dropping of Arabic as an official state language of Israel.
Regular readers of NIF News are all too familiar with the concerted legislative efforts of some in the Knesset to indicate to Arab citizens of Israel that they are different, less than full citizens; not real Israelis at all. These efforts have borne bitter fruit, contributing to an atmosphere of increasing distrust, suspicion and tension between Jews and Arabs in Israel. This is the context in which the burning of the mosque took place.
The good news is that condemnation of the attack was swift and representative of a large swath of Israeli officialdom and society. While it won't surprise you to learn that NIF officials and grantees immediately traveled to Tuba to show support, bearing a letter of support signed by more than 1,000 rabbis worldwide, and that our grantee the Israel Religious Action Center began raising funds to help rebuild the mosque, I am also pleased to report that official Israel responded the right way, too. From the president to the prime minister to the chief rabbis, the arson was roundly condemned. The authorities pledged to bring the perpetrators to justice. We hope, of course, that they will begin to speak in similarly unequivocal terms about the damaging legislation pending in the Knesset, and we will continue to urge them to do so. But at least this terrible story did not slip off the radar screen of the Israeli media, and did not go unanswered by Israel's leadership.
But that's more than can be said about another disturbing incident, one that has garnered very little coverage in the Israeli press and has resulted in virtually no official reaction. On September 30, a group of Israeli Jewish and Palestinian activists accompanied an Arab resident of East Jerusalem as he went to tend trees on property he owns near the settlement of Anatot. They did this because of a number of incidents in which settlers have intimidated, harassed and even assaulted Palestinians trying to work their land. This time was no different. Despite the presence of police, settlers from Anatot attacked the farmer and the activists. Several were injured, and the farmer and his wife hospitalized.
But, as one of the injured activists told me, even worse than the physical pain was the pain of feeling that nobody in Israel was paying attention to what happened outside of Anatot, just a few kilometers from downtown Jerusalem. That nobody cared that Israelis working peacefully for a just Israel, one that observes and enforces its own laws, were attacked by settlers – many of whom themselves work in law enforcement -- bent on flaunting that law, rejecting that vision of Israel. It is very unpleasant, but if you're up to it, watch this video, posted on the +972 blog.
The video, like these stories, is going to upset you, make you sad and angry. When it does, please do what almost half a million Israelis did this summer when they took to the streets to march for social justice. Translate your frustration and sorrow into a commitment to positive change, to building the Israel we believe in. Help me let that Israel, the other Israel, know that they are not alone.