Welcome to the Israeli Arab Ghetto

Why do these shootings keep happening in your communities, I'm asked sometimes. That's what happens, I respond, when the state ignores your existence, and violence mediated by criminals is used to resolve disputes.

An illustration showing an Israeli Arab village with a helicopter hovering above it.
Amos Biderman

In the head, for sure in the head – the pool of blood is next to the head on the left side. How many bullets? Did they enter from the back or the front? Probably half the skull was blown off, the brain spilled out for sure; the head is a little blurred in the pictures, but it’s obvious that there’s a huge hole there, you can see it. They turned the body over. There are pictures where he’s on his back and others where he’s on his side. Did they turn him with their feet?

It’s cold, you can feel that it’s cold. You see it in the eyes, in the frozen gaze of the inhabitants of Arara. Cold is a class feeling, it has nothing to do with the temperature in the winter, it makes no difference whether it’s measured in Celsius or Fahrenheit. That’s why the nights of childhood in Tira will always be the coldest of all. With the spiral heaters that gave off a little heat, on days when there was no power failure, the wool blankets that were sometimes striped and sometimes floral, and the thin mattresses with the standard embroidery. Everyone recognizes them, if not in their home then in their parents’ home or the home of their grandparents. They recognize the setting of poverty, the Cristal soft-drink bottle, the white sugar, our dishes and the stains of black coffee that overflowed the dallah – yes, that’s what it’s called, not a finjan; the finjan is the small glass, usually decorated, in which the coffee is drunk. But go argue with the “yefei blorit veto’ar,” the handsome, winsome sabras.

Do they also show the Jews’ bodies as partially blurred? I don’t know anymore and I don’t keep up with changes in ethical standards. Maybe it’s done for deterrence, maybe for humiliation, or as another mark of victory and heroism. In any event, death is there, a bit blurred, so you’ll have to fill in the blanks and complete the puzzle in your mind’s eye.

“Allah yerhamo,” as they say, May God have mercy on him.

What difference does another image of a body lying in a pool of blood make to a nation that is a nonstop consumer of images of atrocity? You have to speak in their language, the language of another state that exists within a state. How convenient to describe it as a state within a state, “to go with and feel without,” as the expression goes. It’s the same country, and you feel its existence when it overflows its boundaries, which, in contrast to those of the mother state, were demarcated for it meticulously.

The most basic definition of a state, as I understood it from Max Weber, is a body that has a monopoly on the use of violence. What monopoly of violence exists in the country’s Arab locales? There is only violence, and it’s owned by no one. Violence that has no choice but to overflow the boundaries of the ghetto, and then it can be construed by the mother state as national, religious, a mentality and a culture – anything to avoid taking responsibility.

In the absence of the law being enforced, violence has become part of the routine of life, and without any proper ability to rely on the state’s institutions, violence mediated by criminals has become a way to resolve disputes. In other words, forcing solutions of the strong on the weak. A hundred armed people in a city of 50,000 are enough to turn the lives of the inhabitants into hell, make fear their daily portion and render a life that’s void of personal security unworthy of being lived.

To collect the weapons, to enforce the law, we’ll beat them over the head, one-two-three. If I were a sociologist, I would argue that this won’t help. It might alleviate the situation, but it’s doubtful that it can help when the entire concept, the entire policy remains unchanged. It won’t help as long as the Negev and Galilee Development Ministry doesn’t publish ads encouraging Arab families to buy homes in new communities, like Jewish families. It won’t help as long as government ministries are busy Judaizing land within the country and outside it. It won’t help as long as citizens are sorted into Arabs and Jews.

“Why does it keep happening in your communities?” I remember the redhead television director asking me after another case of murder was reported in the Israeli media – because cases of murder are the only events in Arab communities that sometimes reach the Israeli media.

“Because,” I found myself overcoming my grief and replying to him, “because if you were to close the village of Beit Zayit for 20 years, so that everyone born is forced to live there, I guarantee you that it this will start among you, too. I guarantee you that brothers will start shooting one another over a square meter of land.”

The reality is frightening. So powerfully does fear dominate the population that Arabic-language newspapers and news sites refrain from reporting cases of violence or mentioning the names of suspects who have been arrested on a charge of murder – even if the names have already appeared in the Hebrew media. Reality is scary, and with good reason. The people learn how to decipher what’s not included in the news items, and to read about the reasons between the lines that everyone lives within.

“Where to?” an old friend from Wadi Ara who called me this week almost shouted at me when I urged him to get out of there. “Where can I go – where will the children go to school? And who wants us, anyway? The people in Afula?” he said mockingly.

“Maybe to ,” I started to say, but he stopped me when I tried to suggest Haifa.

“Do me a favor, don’t suggest Haifa,” he said. “Its turn will come, too. And where would I get the money to move now? Where would I find a job?”

It’s the same country, and distress of the kind that afflict its Arab locales exist elsewhere as well. But in those places, people at least harbor the illusion that their fate is not sealed at birth, that with education and work they might be able to escape the inferno. That’s an almost impossible illusion for Israel’s Arab citizens, who have been educated to understand that they have no alternative other than to live in their native village. The problem is that for almost seven decades now, the country has remained the same country, but the village is no longer a village.”