Arabs in Israel Need Proof That They're Not Alone

Israeli Arabs protest against police inaction in Majdal Krum, October 3, 2019.
Gil Eliyahu

Rivers of words have been written about violence in Arab society. We are living in a state of constant fear, frightened that any one of us could be the next victim. Criminal terror has seized control of Arab towns and cities, and when the criminals reign, the law gets shunted aside and every little business dispute can develop into a firefight and gang war, simply because there’s no one to stop it.

We’re fed up with keeping track of the death toll, but the numbers keep rising and the fear is becoming increasingly palpable. Criminals who in the past operated in the shadows are now working in broad daylight, with the feeling that no one’s really interested in halting them. There’s not a day without gunshots in the city streets, and recently almost no days have passed without casualties.

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The Arab public battles, the leadership warns, and there are demonstrations, strikes and marches. But the situation is only getting worse. Nothing is being done because the struggle is an Arab struggle, one that takes place primarily in Arab communities, among Arabs. It doesn’t succeed in piercing the consciousness of the Jewish public, because it doesn’t really exceed the boundaries of Arab society.

In last month’s election, the Arab public came out to vote, first and foremost out of a desire to be part of “Israeliness.” It was a desire to influence the image of the national leadership, and as a result, the country’s image. Now it’s the Jewish public’s turn to prove that the desire for the true integration of Arab citizens is a mutual one.

Just as the struggle against Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to undermine democracy and the rule of law needn’t be reserved solely for Jews, the struggle to impose law and order in Arab society needn’t be reserved solely for Arabs. When in dozens of Israeli communities children are afraid to leave their homes for fear they’ll be hit by a stray bullet, not only their neighbors should be enlisting to help them, but all of Israeli society.

It’s not enough to complain about the voter turnout in the Arab community during the first election and then praise the turnout in round two. The Arab public in Israel needs proof that it is not alone. We need proof that there’s a large Jewish public that feels our pain and is using its influence to help us. You have to prove to us that even if the government treats us like the state’s back alley, we have partners in Jewish society that want to help us change that.

Civil society organizations, political parties, and youth groups – all those who see Israel’s Arab citizens as partners in the struggle for the state’s image must now enlist in the struggle over the fate of Arab society. All of them must stand up for Israel’s Arab citizens and tell us: We’re with you; your struggle is our struggle, too. This is the only way to break through the apathy and force decision makers to understand that the time has come for action.

Only if masses of Jews and Arabs march hand in hand to Jerusalem with a demand that the government and the police abandon their apathy is there a chance that something will happen here. Until then, Arabs will continue to demonstrate, ministers will continue to make promises and criminals will keep shooting.

Esawi Freige is a former Meretz MK.