The Israeli Civil War

Formal citizenship doesn’t protect Israeli Arabs from plunging to a status even lower than that of asylum seekers.


The new war in the streets has highlighted four species of Israelis: settlers, Israeli Arabs, Israeli Jews and foreign workers. Palestinian residents of the territories aren’t included in these categories, of course; they have their own category: “terrorists.” The lone knife, or bullets, may not distinguish among the species, but the Israeli cataloging system sets levels of importance, dictates the sorrow and anger and delineates the class stratification.

“Die you piece of garbage,” shouted the rabble at “the foreign subject” (an asylum seeker, a foreign worker, a migrant worker, dark-skinned) at Be’er Sheva’s central bus station. That “piece of garbage,” Haftom Zarhum from Eritrea, met the requirements of the mob that kicked him until he died. It happens. A mistake. Human error. No one told him to come to Israel.

Zarhum belonged to the Israeli caste of untouchables, the lowest of the low. His killing aroused great fury — not over his death per se, but over the screw-up. This was a death of the most inferior type. There was no glory and it added nothing to the Israeli sense of victimhood. It didn’t require a “proper Zionist response,” certainly not the construction of a new settlement. The Israeli government probably won’t publish an obituary.

A little above Zarhum on the list, but not too much above, come the Israeli Arabs. But they’re citizens, so that makes things a bit more complicated.

The relationship between Israeli Jews and Arabs that has been revealed in recent weeks shows that formal citizenship doesn’t protect Arabs from plunging to a status even lower than that of asylum seekers. If the “foreign subjects” are “a cancer” that could be surgically removed from the heart of the nation, Israeli Arabs are a knife in its back. An eternal knife. “The woman stabber from Afula” and “the Bedouin terrorist from Hura” are just the latest examples of this concept.

The age of good Arabs versus bad Arabs is over. No longer can anybody say things like “some of my best friends are Arabs.” Israeli Arabs have a new role — the shapers of Israeli nationalism.

Thanks to them, racial laws are legislated and Israeli apartheid blossoms. They give the right wing a raison d’etre and the Jewish public an enemy within that stokes patriotism and strengthens the “unity of the people.”

Even if the territories are returned one day, Israeli Arabs will still be around so that racism can be preserved. They’re much more necessary for the Jewish ethos than the settlers are for the Palestinian ethos, which draws its strength from the occupation.

If foreign subjects and Israeli Arabs set the boundaries of Israel’s Jewish enclave, the boundary between the Jews of the state and the Jews of the territories is blurred. Still, there are some key differences. When a settler is killed he’s likely to be memorialized with a piece of real estate in the form of an illegal outpost or a new settlement neighborhood. The family of an “ordinary” Israeli Jew will have to suffice with a payment from the National Insurance Institute.

These two classifications rely on a unique class division. The settlers believe they’re the ones legitimizing the state’s new borders, so they’re authorized to dictate the “proper Zionist response.”

Samaria council head Yossi Dagan announced that he would keep sitting outside the prime minister’s official residence until Benjamin Netanyahu “recognizes the rights of the residents of Judea and Samaria to live and develop, and takes it upon himself to provide a proper Zionist response to this terrible killing: construction and security.” The death of a settler is thus turned into a national mission, while the death of an “ordinary Jew” only earns the inglorious and Diaspora-like title “victim.”

So while those fixated on military semantics ponder the word “intifada” and try to measure the height of the Palestinians’ leap, they fail to see the real war, the Israeli civil war in which the knife determines a new class order.