Opinion |

In Israel Too, Words Have Power. So Does ‘Death to Arabs’

Sheren Falah Saab
Sheren Falah Saab
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A burning vehicle following a lynching attempt in the mixed Arab-Jewish of Acre, last week.
A burning vehicle following a lynching attempt in the mixed Arab-Jewish of Acre, last week. Credit: rami shllush
Sheren Falah Saab
Sheren Falah Saab

For years I raised the Israeli flag proudly. I was educated in the spirit of partnership, coexistence and love of Israel. Those are my childhood memories. I represented Israel abroad, saying that “Israel is the safest country for Arabs in the Middle East, we have nothing to fear.”

The other morning I awoke to a very harsh reality, one where I was afraid to say that I was an “Arab.” People were dancing to celebrate an Arab’s death while waving an Israeli flag.

Politicians including far-rightist Bezalel Smotrich are wondering how Jews could be so cruel. So I’ll answer. A few years ago Smotrich called for segregation between Arab women and Jewish women in maternity wards. A few weeks ago he said that the Arabs “are citizens of Israel, for now at least.”

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The severe beating of an Arab Israeli in Bat Yam near Tel Aviv is also the direct outcome of the incitement, of the legitimacy to the cries of “death to Arabs,” of the suppressing of the Arab voice in the Israeli media and the preserving of the Jewish narrative’s purity. Words have power, and we are witnessing the power of the words of hatred and incitement.

Two weeks ago, after the Mount Meron disaster, Arabs from all the villages in the north opened their homes to the injured, set up aid posts and even offered the injured a place to stay for a few days. That’s the real face of the Arabs who want to live here in dignity, partnership and reciprocity. But right-wing voices repeat cliches like “Arab hoodlums,” and “why don’t the Arab Knesset members denounce the violence?”

If these critics listened to the Arab media, to the clergy and to the heads of local government who condemned the violence and immediately called for calm loudly and clearly, they wouldn’t talk like that.

“It is totally forbidden to harm a person, whoever they are,” said Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List of Arab parties. Esawi Freige of Meretz has cried out in every forum. But this blindness, this casting of doubt on us, and the image you’ve created of us with your very own hands have led us to where we are now. The wall you’ve built between Jews and Arabs is preventing you from even listening to us, from giving us a chance.

In Haifa the situation was especially difficult at night. The calls of “death to Arabs” echoed from every direction. Never mind the damage to property, the setting of fire to cars and stores – that can be repaired. But who will repair our wounded souls from the call “death to Arabs”? Who will stop marking the Arabs’ houses in Haifa?

I firmly denounce Arabs’ violence against Jews, but don’t forget the policy that has strengthened the radical militias and crime organizations, the sulha (reconciliation) politics and the dilettante culture in handling the violence in Arab society.

Most of the Israeli media exploits the opportunity to contribute to the image of the Arab as a potential terrorist. As columnist Odeh Bisharat wrote in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz last week, “Every Arab invited to an interview in the state media feels like he’s in a police station; he’s required to denounce, whatever the occasion, no matter what ... he’s responsible for the social history, he has to sweat to get a word in.”

The media is responsible in these troubled days to calm the spirits, not stir them. Help us not to be afraid.

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