When Jews Are in Panic Mode, Arabs in Israel Are Perpetual Suspects

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Gilboa Prison this week.
Gilboa Prison this week.Credit: Gil Eliahu

During Operation Guardian of the Walls, the Israel Defense Forces reportedly refused to allow Arab drivers to continue working on army contracts. The contractors who work with the army on a regular basis were suddenly informed that Arab drivers would not be permitted to enter army bases during the operation.

After a protest was raised over the decision, the order was restricted but not totally withdrawn. As far as the decision-makers were concerned – and as far as most of Israel’s Jewish citizens were concerned – being suspicious of the Arab workers was natural and understood.

Following the prison break from Gilboa Prison, large forces of security personnel have been raiding Arab villages in the area of the prison to search for the fugitives. Checkpoints were set up and widespread searches were conducted – and are still being conducted – in Arab communities. In this case, too, the logic is the same logic: There’s a basic, natural, matter-of-fact suspicion that a civilian population categorized as hostile because of its ethnic affinity would be involved in a national emergency that involves six political prisoners.

Guardian of the Walls was another watershed moment in the relationship between the state and its Jewish citizens on the one hand, and the Arab community on the other. That’s why it was no surprise that a few weeks after the operation the proposal was raised to allow “special forces,” including the Shin Bet security service, to enter Arab towns to fight the organized crime raging undisturbed in Arab society for many years.

After all, only when the bullets from the weapons that Arabs were using against each other for over a decade were pointed at Jews, did the state start to panic. It was also the moment when a security threat was declared, making it impossible to ignore what’s going on in the state’s backyard any longer.

It’s interesting that in the same context of fighting crime and illegal weapons in Arab society, Channel 12 reported that senior police officials claim there is a conflict of interest involved in that order. That’s because the Shin Bet – which was meant to be enlisted in this “national mission” – uses organized crime figures as informants for security purposes. In exchange for this assistance, the Shin Bet gives them criminal immunity, and essentially room to maneuver illegally.

Thus, the Arab community is abandoned due to interests connected to the security of the Jewish state. In other words, the same Shin Bet that relates to Arabs as a security threat, the same Shin Bet that abandons us to its own interests, is the entity supposedly meant to assure our security. Since when is the cat allowed to guard the cream?

If this looks like a tangle of conflicts of interest and perpetual suspicions, then welcome to our lives as Arab citizens of this country. Jews have a hard time getting this or feeling this, but the Arab citizen in Israel spends their entire life as a potential suspect. The suspicions about them exists at various levels, in all areas of life, at any given moment, and it breaks records during periods of emergency. When the Jews are in panic mode, the hostility grows and the covert suspicions become overt and blatant. During such times it’s hard to even just walk down the street as an Arab. When the Jews are tense, we tend to disappear from sight.

Yes, I understand that from the security forces’ perspective there was no point in raiding Jewish communities to look for the fugitives, even to create an illusion of equality. I understand that it would have been illogical, unnatural and a pointless waste of energy on mere appearances. Everything is clear and natural in this place. Except for the answer to the question: How long will we continue to be your perpetual suspects?

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