Ramadan Festivals Become Flashpoint of Secular, Religious Strife Among Israeli Arabs

The events organized by social activists and the Tira municipality triggered a clash with conservative groups, culminating with threats and thugs’ attempts to sabotage the activities by breaking the stands.

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Ramadan Market in Tira, June 2016.
Ramadan Market in Tira, June 2016.Credit: Courtesy

A struggle erupted in Tira this year over the appropriate activity after the fast during the Ramadan month. Religious conservative groups have come out against events including music and entertainment organized by secular activists.

These events, dubbed Ramadan Nights or Ramadan Market, were organized by social activists and the Tira municipality, who put up stands in the city center. The activities triggered a clash with conservative groups, culminating with threats and thugs’ attempts to sabotage the activities by breaking the stands.

The struggle was also reflected in the social networks and in lively discussions among residents.

One of the victims of this clash was Samar Samara, a social worker in the Tira municipality and a social activist, and one of the organizers of the cultural activity on Ramadan Nights. Samara’s picture was posted on Facebook, captioned, “Beware of this heretic and harlot.” Other pictures of her posted on Facebook branded her as a Shin Bet agent and accused her of encouraging women to dress in a revealing way. It was even said she was a lesbian.

“One of the activists of a cultural forum in Tira, who studied in recent years in Jordan, suggested setting up a Ramadan market with stands selling traditional foods and handiwork, and also offer plays, music and artistic activity,” Samara said. “Nothing offensive – only plays and singing about Arab and Palestinian heritage and culture.”

“The activity was held in the city plaza and many residents and entire families spent time here instead of traveling to Ramallah or Nablus or other cities,” she says.

She complained to the police in Taibe and demanded to investigate who was behind the posts. However, a few days later she was notified that the case was closed. The police told her that even if the statements were offensive, they were not a criminal offense and suggested she file a civil suit.

Samara, who describes herself as secular and identified with the Hadash Party, says it’s the police’s duty to probe and find those responsible. The issue was brought to the Kfar Sava Magistrate’s Court, where Facebook claimed the status had been removed, so there was no justification to disclose the user’s name.

The main argument made by those targeting the Ramadan activities was that the events have nothing to do with Ramadan rites and values.

One of these was the Sharia courts administrator, Kadi Abdel Hakim Samara, who posted a status that Ramadan was a month of prayer, atonement, conduct appropriate to religious values and growing closer to God. “Since when is Ramadan dancing in which boys and girls mix, singing, rejoicing and rioting on roads and plazas? Who is inspiring such events in Tira?” he wrote.

The Kadi told Haaretz that he felt it was his moral duty to speak on the issue. He said some people could not accept the criticism and accused him of religious coercion and even of “Daeshism.”

“If such activity were to take place on other days, there’d be no problem,” he says. “But on Ramadan, when people are supposed to be in mosques praying, it’s inappropriate.”

Samara, who is supported by Mayor Mamon Abdel Hai, told Haaretz she feels threatened and is concerned for her safety. However, she and other activists are intent on continuing their activity and even expanding it.

“We’re against rioting in the streets and violence, but you can’t stop everything because of some people’s inappropriate behavior,” she says.

“In the week we held the festival almost no violent act was registered in Tira. Thousands of people came and families enjoyed shows that created an atmosphere of happiness,” she says.

“Some people try, in the guise of religion, to impose a behavior and culture that haven’t prevented violence or improved the atmosphere in the past years” she says.

Acting Mayor Samah Iraqi said the municipality adopted the project. “In past years, when there was nothing, you saw a lot of youngsters roaming the streets with nothing to do. Some drove wildly with cars and sports vehicles and things got violent and added to the negative atmosphere,” he says. “We want to get families out to the lit plazas to take part in cultural artistic activity,” he says.

Meanwhile the argument is still raging on the social networks between liberal groups and those wanting to preserve tradition and the clash is not likely to end soon.

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