Jaffa graves - Daniel Bar-On - 8.10.2011
Desecrated graves in a Jaffa cemetery, Oct. 8, 2011. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
Text size

A meeting between the head of the Israel Police and a group of Arab notables is never something that sounds good. I come to the well-kept community center in the Arab Ajami neighborhood in Jaffa where the meeting is to take place. A Christian notable with a huge gold cross comes through the door while a correspondent for the British newspaper The Guardian checks with the tall reporter from the Ynet website as to what exactly is going on.

Then in comes Israel Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino, with an entourage of other senior police officials. As Danino smiles, spokesman's office staff try to get the reporters and cameramen out of the room. "I came for a private talk. No media," the police commissioner announces, as if the substance of this whole meeting isn't media-related.

Ahmed Abu-Kutub, who is the event operations director at the Tel Aviv Hilton hotel and has worked there for 30 years, stands outside. He came to the community center for his son, who is a reporter for an Arabic language website called Yaffa48.com. "How will this help?" the Hilton employee asks, referring to Danino's visit. He was offended by the graffiti discovered on Muslim and Christian graves in Jaffa over the weekend, calling it a serious matter.

"We grew up with Jews. To me, you're a human being. That's how we were taught at home. A person has died. What do you write on his grave? All kinds of nonsense?" Abu-Kutub remarked.

"It's all racism. That's the government and the police," Abu-Kutub's son, the reporter, says but Ahmed responds: "How are the police guilty?"

I make my way to the Jaffa protest tent encampment, which is one of the most impressive institutions to come out of this summer's protests. It was exciting to see how important it was to the Arab and Jewish leadership of the Jaffa encampment to be in touch with leadership from the Hatikvah quarter protest camp. It's the beginning of solidarity as great as the social protest struggle itself.

I seek out someone to interview there and am referred to Samer Kassem, who was photographed on video being beaten by police in a clip that provided shocking Internet footage a few days ago. His story never made headlines because people are more shocked by symbols than people whose ribs police fracture. The incident occurred while police were evicting Kassem from an abandoned house in which he was squatting with his sister.

"When they came to evict us from there, I started packing. I knew [the house] was just a temporary solution. I asked the officer one question. 'Do you have an eviction order?' Then he called over the Yassam [special forces police] and said: 'Take care of him.'"

Samer works in home remodeling and sees the irony in his situation. "I make homes beautiful, but I have no place to live," he says.

I ask him how he can work with broken fingers. His ribs hurt him a lot more, he replies.

The real problem in Jaffa is not that a few kids scrawled "Death to the Arabs" on a grave, but rather the racist treatment accorded the Arabs on a daily basis. It's a fact that this minority here is related to by the media and the state as the enemy. The Israeli establishment simply relates to Arabs here with violence and racism, even if it is elegantly concealed to a greater or lesser extent.