Citizens, but not equal
It's easier for Netanyahu to extend Ramadan greetings than it is to put a stop to the Museum of Tolerance, built on the site of what was once a Muslim cemetery in central Jerusalem.
It sure was considerate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to wish a "Ramadan karim" to our Muslim brothers for their holy month. As they do every year, the radio broadcasts will include reports of how the president hosted "respected Arabs" for an iftar feast at the end of one of Ramadan's daily fasts. It's a lot easier to extend holiday greetings than it is to put a stop to the whims of a group of American Jews who decided to build a Museum of Tolerance on the site of what was once a Muslim cemetery in central Jerusalem. And most difficult of all is to fulfill the long-standing obligations of the state's founding fathers as spelled out in the Declaration of Independence, which calls for granting all its inhabitants "complete equality of social and political rights."
In the United States, a country whose Muslim population is less than 2 percent of the total, the president supports the founding of a Muslim community center near Ground Zero. The Or Commission report on the violent events of October 2000, in which 13 Arab protesters were killed in clashes with police, notes that there are about 100 abandoned mosques across the country. Many of them are used for some other purpose: as stables, storage facilities, restaurants, galleries, even synagogues. During a symposium held to mark the fifth anniversary of those gruesome events, one member of the Or Commission, Professor Shimon Shamir, remarked that there had been no marked improvement in the state of the mosques. The renowned Orientalist said that continuing to ignore the desecration of Muslim houses of worship is emblematic of the treatment to which the Arab sector is subjected on a daily basis.
"The state and its successive governments failed to forcefully and comprehensively tackle the difficult problems that are posed by the existence of a large minority of Arabs within the Jewish state," the committee stated in its report. The panel also found that the government's policies designed to address the needs of the Arab minority can for the most part be characterized as neglectful and discriminatory in the allocation of resources. The Or report cited researchers with the Shin Bet security service who pointed to budgetary shortfalls and lack of available land in Arab townships and argued that the issue of equality is "a fundamental problem" for Israel's Arabs.
These depressing conclusions are apropos as we prepare to mark 10 years since the clashes, as can be seen in the parliamentary inquiry into the dearth of Arabs in the civil service. The inquiry committee hearings, which are being headed by MK Ahmed Tibi, were held last week. It seems that the four cabinet resolutions passed between 2004 and 2007 that call for an increase in the number of Arab hires (albeit a modest increase mandating that 10 percent of public sector employees be Arab by 2012 ) are not being implemented.
Dr. Danny Geyra, who was the chief adviser of the first-ever parliamentary committee headed by an Arab lawmaker, offered statistics showing that the number of Arab workers employed by the state did not exceed 6.6 percent by the end of 2009. When excluding workers in the health care system, the percentage falls to 5.2. Between 2004 and 2009, the number of Arabs in high-level positions of government bodies rose fractionally. No more than eight Arabs are contractually employed in a senior position. The committee also found that there are two separate hierarchies for Jewish and Arab employees in government ministries, thus enabling the state to present misleading facts that supposedly point toward an improvement in the number of Arabs in senior positions.
The extra budget funds that Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman recently secured from the treasury is just a drop in the ocean that separates the resources allocated for the Arab minority in education, housing and welfare from the political promises and Supreme Court rulings against the ongoing discrimination.
"Jewish politicians and businessmen allow Arab doctors to open up their stomachs and operate on their heads," said Tibi, a physician. "When a doctor arrives at Ben-Gurion Airport, they pull down his pants. When he asks for work, factory owners send him home."
Sixty-two years after the founding of the state and 10 years after the October riots, it is time to acknowledge that the Jewish state is not interested in also being the state of its Arab citizens. The predicament of the Arab minority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Green Line, especially the Muslim Arab minority, is an indication of the attitude of the Jewish democratic state toward those who do not belong to the lords of the land.
Our Muslim brothers in the Galilee, the Triangle region and the Bedouin villages are wont to invite guests to feast at their tables during Ramadan. This is an excellent opportunity for right-wingers, and those left-wingers who propose relinquishing the two-state solution in favor of land annexation, to see up close the large, ugly face that a binational state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean would have. Ramadan karim indeed.