It’s been 20 years since Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens launched the popular protests known in Hebrew as the “events of October 2000,” or in Arabic as the “Al-Quds and Al-Aqsa protests.” During these protests, 13 Arabs were killed by police gunfire. Those demonstrators discovered very quickly that an Arab protester isn’t treated the same as a Jewish one, and that their citizenship doesn’t give them equal rights against the police.
The ongoing occupation and its oppressive practices were the beating heart from which the protests erupted. There’s no doubt that the events of October 2000 once again awakened the conflict between Arab citizens’ Palestinian identity and collective memory, on one hand, and the state’s Jewish character, Jewish supremacy and nationalist democracy, on the other.
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It doesn’t take a great deal of effort to understand that state agencies haven’t learned any lessons in the years since those protests. On the contrary, the state sent a very clear message when it decided not to put the people responsible for killing the demonstrators on trial – that police are allowed to act against Arabs with almost complete impunity.
Since the events of October 2000, 45 Arab citizens have been killed by the police. Throughout these years, a violent approach has been taken toward Arab demonstrators, including arrests and political persecution. But all of this has resulted in virtually no indictments against police officers.
In today’s situation, it’s easy to imagine that had most of the people demonstrating outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem been Arabs, the protests might have ended in shootings and deaths. And for that, too, it’s likely that nobody would have taken responsibility.
Blaming the victim is the guiding policy of Israel’s political world, and not just during the events of October 2000. We also saw this in the police killings of Yakub Abu al-Kiyan in the Negev and Eyad Hallaq, an autistic man, in East Jerusalem. We saw how inquiry commissions were set up to blame the victim, just as happened with the Or Commission, which was set up to investigate the state’s conduct during the events of October 2000, yet assigned part of the blame to the demonstrators and the Arab leadership.
But the height of absurdity was reached recently, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no qualms about using the case of Abu al-Kiyan for his personal benefit by offering a belated and hypocritical apology. Similarly, Ehud Barak (who was prime minister in October 2000) issued a populist apology to the Arab community prior to the September 2019 election, a step that showed contempt for the entire community. As long as nobody assumes responsibility by using the legal system to exact justice, every such “apology” is just another expression of arrogance and contempt for the Arab community.
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These apologies rest on decades of privilege, during which Israel’s political system created a substantial web of legislation that consolidated discrimination against its Arab citizens, entrenching their status as people whose rights are trampled on and disparaged. Among them are the citizenship law, the nation-state law, the “Nakba law,” the absentee property law, the “Dromi law” and the “Kaminitz law.”
It’s a long list – longer than one’s common sense is capable of digesting. This is a system that has made the exclusion of Palestinian Arabs and discrimination against them legitimate.
Justice and reparation can be achieved only by granting Israel’s Palestinian citizens collective rights as a national group, along with recognition of their national narrative and the realization that full civic equality in a state that includes all its citizens is essential. Justice and reparation require acceding to the Arab community’s demands by establishing an independent, professional commission of inquiry into the events of October 2000, and indicting those responsible for the deaths and injuries, from senior government officials down to the people who pulled the triggers.
Heba Yazbak is a Knesset member for Balad, one of the parties in the Joint List.