The Cry of a Persecuted Minority

Ali Haider
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Ali Haider

Yesterday, Israel's Arab public marked the ninth anniversary of the "events of October 2000." At that time, Arab citizens protested the state's policies with respect to Palestinians in the occupied territories - as well as the ongoing discrimination they themselves face - and when police opened fire on the crowd, 12 demonstrators and one resident of Gaza were killed.

No indictments were ever filed against any of the policemen involved, and all the cases were closed by the attorney general. Worse still, none of the recommendations of the official commission of inquiry, headed by then-Supreme Court justice Theodor Or, concerning ways to close the gaps between Jews and Arabs in many different realms in Israel, were ever implemented by the government.

The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee held a general strike yesterday, October 1, and organized a large procession in the town of Arabeh in the Galilee, where two of the victims lived and were killed. Events were also held in other Arab locales, to protest the closure of the cases and the non-indictment of any police, the policy of house demolitions, and the increase in racism, hatred and incitement against Arab citizens, both on the part of the Israeli establishment and the Jewish public.

The past decade has been perhaps the tensest period since 1948 in the relations between the Jewish majority and the state, on the one hand, and the Palestinian public in Israel, on the other. The message Arab citizens are trying to express through their outcry is directed at the leaders of the State of Israel and the country's Jewish majority - as well as the international community. They are protesting a reality that continues, six decades on, to perpetuate their inferior status - both on the material level and in terms of their recognition as a national minority - and to exclude them from the decision-making process, thus undermining their legitimacy as citizens and harming their basic rights as an indigenous national minority with a culture, language and history of its own. The protest is also intended to send a sharp and clear message to anyone who aspires to advance plans for "transfer" or the encouragement of emigration, a message declaring that the Palestinian Arabs have been here and will be here forever.

It is critical that relations between the Arab public and the state not be allowed to deteriorate further. Of all parties with the power to act, it is the government that must take responsibility and initiate a process of significant and fundamental change. The first step in this direction should be to replace the discourse of control, supervision and power with a democratic discourse. In this way, it will be possible to build a culture of true partnership and establish equal citizenship.

The situation whereby a minority is oppressed by a majority, which is represented by the state, is like a magnetic field, attracting feelings of anger, pain and frustration. But it also constitutes fertile ground for the development of creative means of struggle and protest. In this context, it is worth learning from the successes of cooperation between the minority and members of the majority in South Africa, and the civil rights movement in the United States. In those places, members of the oppressing majority stood up against representatives of their own group and supported the blacks' just struggle.

Members of the Jewish majority must join and support Arab citizens' struggle and see it as their own as well, both for humanitarian reasons and out of a shared concern for a common future. They must also act to raise awareness of this issue among their own people.

The events of October 2000 marked the start of a period of escalation in the hostile attitude toward the Arab public. Yesterday's annual commemorative events should be leveraged to start a process of redressing the historical injustices suffered by that public, and of grappling with its national and civic aspirations. This process requires courage and perseverance. Anyone who is endowed with these qualities is invited to participate in this process.

Ali Haider, an attorney, is co-executive director of Sikkuy: The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel.

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