Arabs in Israel Are Not Allowed to Be Happy. Or Sad

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The mother and sister of Munir Anabtawi mourn at their home before his funeral, who was killed by Israeli police, in Haifa, March 30, 2021.

Arabs in Israel are not allowed to be happy. They’re also not allowed to mourn. On Thursday of this week, for example, Holocaust Remembrance Day, they are not allowed to be happy. Next week, on Independence Day, they’re not allowed to mourn.

Arabs in Israel are only allowed to be happy when Jews are happy and sad when the Jews are sad. Any deviation is considered treason. Just look at how Ibtisam Mara’ana, the newly elected Arab Knesset member from the Labor Party, tripped herself up.

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, they need to identify with the pain of the Jewish people.

On Memorial Day, they need to stand in silence in memory of the soldiers who killed members of their people. On Independence Day, they need to rejoice and be happy about the establishment of the state that was established on the ruins of their land and that sealed their fate in every way – other than independence.

But that’s not enough. Israel is demanding their obedient identification at a time when Israel itself is not prepared to show understanding, compassion, sympathy or identification with their catastrophes or even their feelings. The country that is purportedly their country doesn’t recognize their feelings. Sometimes it even criminalizes them.

An Israeli citizen is released after 35 years in prison. That’s nearly twice as long as “regular” murderers serve, more than three times what most of the Jewish terrorists serve, more even than what Palestinian terrorists serve. Rushdi Abu Mukh sat in jail for 35 years, more than half his life, for murdering Israeli soldier Moshe Tamam.

Members of Abu Mukh’s family were happy that he was released. How could they not be? In his town of Baka al-Garbiyeh, they were happy about his return. How could they not be? Members of his people were pleased about his release. How could they not be?

Many view him as a hero, a person who decided to sacrifice his life in a violent fight against injustice – a hero just like Israeli heroes who killed in the fight for the establishment of Israel. Many others disagree with the means that he resorted to. Another member of the group that carried out the killing, Walid Daka, long ago expressed his disapproval of the act. Daka will only be released from prison in another four years, after about roughly 40 years in prison. For killing a soldier.

Soldiers kill innocent civilians in the West Bank on a routine basis and they are almost never put on trial for it. This week it was a couple from the village of Bidu whom soldiers thought were trying to run them over. They killed the man and wounded the woman, even though they almost certainly did nothing wrong. Thirty-five years? No, not even 35 seconds of investigation.

As young people, Abu Mukh and Daka were shocked by the horrors of the war in Lebanon and the 1982 massacres at Sabra and Chatila there and decided to join the resistance. They have been serving their full sentences, which were disproportionate. Now there are people who are happy for the release of one of them. Isn’t that humane? Understandable? Just like the pain of the Tamam family.

Not in ruthless Israel. Here it sparked outrage: Abu Mukh was happily welcomed in Baka al-Garbiya. There was even a former Knesset member there to welcome him.

There are deafening calls to strip Abu Mukh of his Israeli citizenship. The interior minister is already looking into it. Expel the Arab members of parliament from the Knesset, the right-wing is already threatening. If it were up to them, Abu Mukh would have long ago been executed, along with hundreds and thousands of others who have dared to oppose the occupation with force.

None other than this week, the week of Holocaust Remembrance Day, one would have expected a bit less of a show of fascism and a bit more humaneness and sensitivity to the pain of others, even if they’re not Jewish.

In 2014, four members of the group that carried out Tamam’s killing were due to be released as part of a fourth prisoner release that Israel had committed to. At the last minute, Israel reconsidered. At the time, I met two of their elderly mothers, Farida Daka, who was 84, and Sumiya Abu Mukh, who was 81. They hoped to still have the chance to hug their sons. The two have long since died.

More than 15 years ago from prison, Walid Daka wrote: “I am writing to you from a parallel time. One of the young people of the intifada who arrived here recounted that many things have changed in your time. Telephones no longer have dials, car tires don’t have inner tubes. We’ve been here since before the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

When Daka is finally released from prison, I will be happy, if that’s allowed. Or even if it’s not.

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