More than 16 years after police killed 13 Israeli Arabs during large-scale riots in October 2000, a public security minister once again bears responsibility for police failures in dealing with the country’s Arab citizens. Nevertheless, a yawning gulf separates the two events. Whereas the minister at the time, Shlomo Ben-Ami, at least tried to heal Arab-Jewish rifts back then, today, Gilad Erdan deliberately foments anti-Arab incitement – first with baseless accusations of terrorist arson three months ago, and then with baseless accusations about the death of Yakub Abu al-Kiyan in Umm al-Hiran.
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Conflict with Arabs is the lifeblood of the fourth Netanyahu government, the justification for its existence. That’s why ministers vie with each other to nurture it.
But the Justice Ministry’s conclusion that Abu al-Kiyan wasn’t a terrorist who deliberately ran over a policeman, contrary to what Erdan and the police initially claimed, ought to foment a change: A society that wants to live must reject this cup of poison. That isn’t just a metaphor; words shape reality. Generations of students have been taught that the Bedouin are squatters, that the Jewish-Arab conflict is ordained by heaven and that it’s a zero-sum game. Under this logic, no compromise is possible.
The public’s view of the Bedouin (and Israeli Arabs in general) as enemies isn’t limited to the education system, which sanctifies separation between the groups rather than joint education. It’s reflected in numerous walks of life. One that’s particularly relevant to Abu Al-Kiyan’s case is the Bedouin struggle for recognition of their unrecognized villages, which clashes with the government’s aspiration to concentrate them in neglected townships against their will – an aspiration that effectively treats tens of thousands of citizens as a “problem” that must be solved.
It’s not clear the investigation into what happened in Umm al-Hiran will produce anything but vague expressions of regret. What is clear, however, is that the initial responses to the incident by both Erdan and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich reflect this public view.
Even before the dust had cleared from the rubble of the demolished Bedouin homes, the two had launched a campaign of incitement: Abu al-Kiyan was an activist in the Islamic Movement, a “terrorist” who wanted to kill as many policemen as possible. They also targeted Arab Knesset members, first and foremost Ayman Odeh (Joint List). Erdan accused Odeh of “creating an atmosphere that led to a policeman’s murder” and demanded that the attorney general investigate him “for incitement to violence.”
Statements like these were made over and over, to every possible media outlet, even days after the incident. They reflect a basic attitude that can’t be explained away by partial information or errors on the part of a spokesman. Only one conclusion is possible: Erdan must resign.
As a contrast to Erdan’s arrogance, it’s worth recalling the words of Amal Abu Saad, Abu Al-Kiyan’s widow, at a Jewish-Arab demonstration in Tel Aviv two weeks ago.
“Despite the sorrow and upset I’ve lived with every day, every hour, since that black day when the government launched a war against its citizens, it’s important to me to send a message to the prime minister and his ministers: Despite your wild incitement, racism and discrimination in legislation, enforcement, infrastructure and government services, you won’t succeed in dividing this country’s citizens,” she said. The demonstration, she added, is “proof that Jews and Arabs can and want to live together in equality.”