The speed with which four of the six Palestinians who escaped from Gilboa Prison were caught shows that if you’re an Arab, the space outside the prison is almost as well-surveilled as the space inside. There seem to be very few blind spots in Israeli security’s visual field. (It’s important to remember this the next time Israelis are asked to treat violence in Arab society as a matter of biology, and Arab communities as a jungle where the police have no control over what happens in them.
This isn’t only about the ubiquitous security cameras. The Israel Police, the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Defense Forces know everything. The reports about Arab citizens of Israel helping the security forces to find the escapees shows that nowhere in Israel are the former beyond the reach of their Jewish Big Cousin.
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It’s not clear whether Arab citizens indeed aided in the captures, or whether the reports were yet another deliberate attempt to drive a wedge between the Palestinians in and beyond the Green Line. What is clear is that Arab citizens of Israel did not give aid – not shelter, not food or drink – to the fugitives.
And for that, Rogel Alpher scorns Israel’s Arab citizens. As he sees it, the escapees were wrong to believe that Arab Israelis would be more loyal to the Palestinian struggle than to Israel. “They didn’t imagine that the Arab citizens of Israel would rather look after their own interests than jeopardize their economic welfare.” If I were an escaped prisoner, I’m not sure I would pop in to Alpher’s place for a glass of water. But who knows, maybe underneath his critic’s costume hides an Israeli Che Guevara.
It seems that Alpher has forgotten Israel’s cruelty. “Jeopardize their economic welfare?” Really, Alpher? Is that “all” that an Arab Israeli could expect to jeopardize by organizing a getaway car or fixing them a sandwich for the road? These romantic ideas are great material for a Netflix series, but in real Israeli life, the lives of any Arabs would have been over had they lifted even a finger to help the fugitives. They and their families would have been thrown in jail, for God knows how long, with or without a trial, and with the possible addition of the torture that is reserved for so-called ticking time-bombs and their accomplices.
The Arabs who live in Israel cannot provide a hiding place for any escaped security prisoner. They are all just one mistake away from becoming security prisoners themselves. Alpher’s characterization of the situation – as if they had failed the test that could have turned them into the Righteous Gentiles of the Palestinian struggle, does them an injustice and ignores the political reality in which they live. They are caught in a trap that cannot even be described as the dilemma of dual loyalty, since they have not been invited to be “full Israelis,” on a basis of equality, but rather only to have a special status, like the Arabic language.
There is also no cause to rejoice over the fact that they did not help the escaped prisoners. That is, it’s better that they did not: Perhaps it prevented a rekindling of the unrest that occurred in mixed Arab-Jewish cities in Israel during Operation Guardian of the Walls in the Gaza Strip in May. But nothing of what Arab citizens of Israel did attests to them having been Israelized, only to the fact that they are scared to death. Here, among us.
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Contrary to what Alpher thinks, the fugitives knew full well that Israel’s Arab citizens have zero room for maneuver. The lawyers for two of the prisoners said that their clients did not ask for help because “they didn’t want to get anyone in trouble.” They, unlike Alpher, know all too well with whom they are dealing.