For Arab Citizens, Israel Is a Regime, Not a State

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An illustration showing Amos Biderman watching soccer.
Illustration.Credit: Amos Biderman

Every week I visit Al-Tira, a local news website for Tira, to check out what’s changed in the village of my birth (and which is now a town). Mostly there are reports of roadworks accompanied by a host of photographs. I’ve developed a kind of game in which I try to recognize the streets, neighborhoods and houses that appear in the photos. Sometimes I manage to identify some of the people in the shots – relatives, neighbors and people with whom I went to elementary school and junior high.

I like reading reports of the “Success for Tira Children’s Chess Team” variety, and perusing the pictures of the little, medal-adorned players with their victory smiles. The website reports on school and kindergarten parties, municipal council meetings and students’ accomplishments in robotics and math tournaments. Betwixt and between, there are also reports about violence, shootings, people killed and, above all, how suspects are hardly ever tracked down and arrested.

I’ve been visiting Al-Tira frequently in recent weeks, following the achievements of the local soccer team as the season draws to an end, hoping that this time it will manage to get promoted from the fourth division to the third. The team is currently in second place, and if it continues its winning ways, it has a good chance of moving up.

As a child I went to the home games of Hapoel Tira – the only sports team I really and truly adored. The players were superheroes, especially in that season, sometime at the beginning of the 1980s, when the team moved up from the second division to the top one. A huge celebration was held at Tira’s soccer stadium in honor of the team’s promotion. Singers, musicians and dancers performed on the stage. A prize draw was held, and I remember that the man sitting next to us jumped for joy when the number he held was called out and he won a pair of flip-flops. And I remember being flabbergasted when my father’s ticket won first prize, a color television set, and how he announced through the microphone that he was donating the prize for the benefit of the soccer team. I couldn’t understand why he did that. How he could do something like that – on top of which, donating was really not his thing. “We have a color TV,” he said when I started to cry. “But we still bought a ticket?” I asked. “Yes,” he said, tranquilly, “as a donation to the team.”

Those were the good years. Those are my childhood memories of Tira, the village of Tira. We knew we were poor, that we didn’t have roads like in Kfar Sava. No luxury cars, no fancy homes. Those were years in which houses had no phones or air conditioners, years in which the sewage was pumped out of pits dug in the yards. But they were also the years in which I knew this was the place I loved above any other in the world, that it was a protected, warm place I would never want to leave.

This week, as I surfed the website and waited for the result of the latest game, I read a report about a Tira man. A 39-year-old engineer, he was viciously attacked by three Jews in the commercial center of Kfar Yona, because he was an Arab. It was a routine report about a racist attack, the type of article you will never find in the Hebrew press.

What wasn’t routine on the site that day was a link to a video in which a young man appears next to his father in their family living room, in order “to deny malicious rumors,” as the video caption put it. The stunned young man related that a week earlier, someone had decided to post, on Facebook and elsewhere, a story to the effect that he had married another young man who was his good friend. He recounted with great pain the photographs of him and his childhood friend who, gossip had it, were married and held a wedding party in Turkey.

According to one rumor, the young man’s parents banned him. According to another, the family celebrated the marriage of their son to his loved one and supported their son’s “abominable” act. Facing the camera, the young man denied all these totally unfounded rumors. He related that the other person is a very close friend and that the two grew up together. At first, he shrugged off the baseless rumors, until his family was attacked and shots were fired at the Tira house where he lives with his family.

The father then spoke into the camera, praising the education his son received. He refuted the malicious rumor-mongering, whose aim was unclear as theirs is a peaceful, erudite and educated family.

Feelings of pain, frustration and anger at Tira’s inhabitants as a whole washed over me as I watched the video. Sometimes I wonder if my pleasant childhood memories of Tira are mere nostalgia, and think that it’s the nature of childhood memories to be always pleasant and nave, oblivious to the dangers that lurked all around. Was the situation in Tira always bad, violent and nasty? When I was a boy, did armed people go around frightening the villagers, imposing their will and threatening everyone who did not adopt their way? Did all that exist and we children simply didn’t know about it, it was kept hidden from us, or did we choose not to see what the adults saw clearly? Was it also the case, in the 1980s of my childhood and adolescence, that brothers fought to the point of bloodshed over every meter of land? Was only the language of force respected even then? Were firearms brandished on the streets? Were people killed left and right in the absence of law enforcement?

But I swear it wasn’t like that. And, contrary to what is convenient for the state to have us internalize – that violence was always our lot, and that it’s by definition an innate trait of ours – I know that the village where I was born was not like that. It’s a convenient theory for a state that has never fulfilled its obligations. A present-absent state, dependent on its own considerations. When it comes to the Arab citizens, it’s not a state, it’s a regime – and regimes will always choose to cooperate with, or at least turn a blind eye to, the destructive, dark forces. It’s better for the regime that the Arab doesn’t raise his head above the bar it dictates to him; that he occupy himself with his personal security; that he devote his efforts to internal disputes, gossip, honor and the neighbors’ sexual preferences.

It’s a regime and not a state, because a state would understand that Tira is its responsibility, that the security of its residents is in its hands, that its education system is under its ownership. This is a regime that prefers pinkwashing and huge budgets to promote the Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv. Because if there’s a parade, there’s no oppression. If there’s a parade in Tel Aviv, you can forget how Jews kill Jews in Pride Parades in Jerusalem. And you can forget that there is a dubious morality police at work in Tira – the main thing is that the local team makes the playoffs.

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