Imagine what it’s like to be an Arab citizen in Israel today – only dread and despair. No Jew in the world, not even in “anti-Semitic” France and probably not even in “satanic” Iran, lives in such a regime of fear, deprivation and ostracism. You walk around Tel Aviv streets accompanied by fear and humiliation. In Jerusalem you might also get shot. In Afula you’ll be banished. Better not speak in your tongue, it’s inadvisable to dress like an Arab. Be a Jew on the street and an Arab at home.
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Best of all, stay at home. But at home you might get raided by the police riot squad – perhaps you’re hiding the terrorist – working from the Shin Bet’s lists of names. You want to escape from all this abroad? On the way there you’re humiliated at Ben-Gurion Airport. On the way back they take you off the flight, at the demand of the raging crowd. Perhaps soon we’ll have flights for Jews only.
You live in your country on probation. No authority will help you. No government will save you. The courts discriminate against you, the budgets discriminate against you. The Knesset is racist, the media is ultra-nationalist. Expressions of Israeli Jewish solidarity are getting fewer. Nobody stood up on the Aegean Airlines flight to save the Israelis’ honor. Almost nobody stands up at all anymore. Even in liberal Ramat Aviv it’s hard to be an Arab construction worker without fear. Building its houses, cleaning its streets and carrying its deliveries is OK, but don’t be an Arab.
All this is happening just when a generation has arisen that is trying to integrate into a Jewish democratic state, which it was born into against its will. The Israeli answer to the integration effort is Benjamin Netanyahu. You wanted to be pharmacists in Superpharm, speak in a new Arab-Hebrew dialect, read Yediot Ahronoth and watch Channel 2? It won’t do you any good.
But paradoxically, the key to saving Israeli democracy is in the hands of this trampled minority. If Palestinian citizens of Israel – “Israeli Arabs,” in the name forced on them, choose surrender and groveling, Israeli democracy is doomed to destruction. The more they submit, the more they’ll be trampled, and democracy will be trampled with them. It will not be saved by the Jewish majority – which is indifferent to democracy’s fate or even sees it a danger – but by this minority, whose war for democracy is the war for its home and destiny.
It’s the third generation of the Nakba, and wonder of wonders – the Arabs may be the ones to determine what kind of system of government we’ll have. The first generation was paralyzed by the catastrophe, the second tried to probe its way forward apologetically. Now the third generation has risen, which could be the first for recovery and revival. There is now a Joint List in the Knesset, which could mark the beginning of the change, and there are impressive, proud young people who won’t agree to be humiliated as their parents were. Their chance must not be missed.
The mission is almost impossible. Jewish society is frightened, violent, hateful and haughty. The campaigns of incitement, intimidation and hatred have done their job. One terrorist from Arara is enough to escalate them. Israelis who talk about wild weeds among the settlers talk about the entire Arab community as a fifth column. You must not be silent, Arab friends. You must not bow your head.
It’s easy to preach and hard, of course, to do. It’s hard work when there is so little Jewish partnership. The authorities and the majority are against you. But much is on your shoulders – Yugoslavia, yes or no; democracy, yes or no; even the chance for the one-state solution. In Jewish society there aren’t enough forces yet to fight for these issues. They have been smitten. Now Ramat Aviv is hostile to you as well.
The road is long, but the direction is clear – no surrender. An impressive, promising representative Arab List is already operating in the Knesset, but it is excluded. You must not remain silent about that, either. Enough of giving in to the Jews on everything. Look at what the settlers have achieved, and they’re a smaller minority, though operating in much better conditions. So wake up, Arabs. It will (also) be good for the Jews.