“We can sum up as follows: The events of October 2000 shook the earth.”
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That is how the State Commission of Inquiry, known as the Or Commission, started the conclusion of its report, which was published 10 years ago. The commission was established to identify the causes behind the violent clashes between police and Arab citizens of Israel in October 2000, during which 13 young Arabs were killed by the police. Those clashes were the worst and most violent confrontation between the government and its Arab citizens since the founding of the state.
The commission found deeply rooted factors leading up to clashes, including the structural and systematic discrimination suffered by Arab citizens. The commission stated unequivocally that: “the state did not do enough to grant equality to its Arab citizens and to eliminate discrimination and deprivation.” The commission strongly recommended that “a principle objective of the government must be the achievement of genuine equality for the Arab citizens of the state.” It even said, specifically, that there should be a redistribution of existing resources and that the matter required the prime minister’s personal involvement.
Based on our organization‘s ongoing monitoring of government policy toward Arab citizens, we see that 10 years after the report, not only has there been no redistribution, but the ongoing allocation of resources in almost all spheres is still very unequal. The result is acute inequality in all areas of life. We are not ignoring the areas in which the government has taken certain steps to reduce discrimination, such as the establishment of the Authority for the Economic Development of the Arab Sector in the Prime Minister’s Office, and the implementation of programs to increase employment of the Arab citizens. If these steps were to be expanded, they could bring about a change in the socioeconomic situation of Arab citizens and reduce inequality
But in parallel, the government has been promoting programs that are liable to reignite tensions across the country. The most prominent is the Prawer plan, or “The Plan for the Regulation of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev,” which will result in the uprooting of tens of thousands of Bedouin Arab citizens from their homes, forcing them to relocate and likely lose most of their land. At the same time, the government is promoting programs and offering incentives for young Jews to build new Jewish communities in the Negev, as it continues to offer generous benefits to a small group of Jewish citizens in the “private farms” program.
The commission made special mention of land, because it is a deep-seated factor in the contentious relations between the Arab citizens and the government. It courageously maintained that “the state must allocate land to the Arab sector in accordance with fair principles, as to other sectors of the population.” Here too it should be noted that in the past decade we have seen significant government investment in promoting master plans in Arab communities, but specifically in the important sphere of land allocation, there has been almost no improvement in the past 10 years.
In order to demonstrate the depth of discrimination we can point out that since the foundation of the state until this day, the two groups - Arabs and Jews - have grown at similar rates (eight to tenfold), but that the state has established 700 (!) new communities for Jews (including new cities) - and not a single one for Arabs, with the exception of permanent towns for Bedouin citizens who were removed from their homes. The result is a very severe housing shortage in the Arab communities and many thousands of house demolition orders in these communities. In addition, tens of thousands of Bedouin Arab citizens in the Negev continue to live in disgraceful conditions in unrecognized communities and they lack the most basic living conditions.
The Or Commission did not limit its discussion to material discrimination, but also referred to the need to recognize the special status of Arab citizens as an indigenous minority. “The Jewish majority must respect the identity, culture and language of the Arab citizens,” the commission said. “Perhaps the time has also come to give expression in public life to the common denominator of the entire population by adding official events and symbols with which all the citizens will be able to identify.” These statements by a government commission were unprecedented and aroused optimism among some Arab citizens.
But unfortunately, it can be said that not only was there no progress in this sphere, but in recent years a very dangerous political trend is on the rise: Groups on the extreme right, which are members of the governing coalition and even the ruling party, are conducting a political campaign against the rights of Arab citizens. In the previous Knesset, we saw many anti-Arab legislative initiatives, some of which received broad support and, unfortunately, led to new discriminatory laws.
The government of Israel is operating in contradictory ways. On the one hand, it is moving to reduce the gaps, mainly in employment and in higher education, but at the very same time the prime minister is giving political support to the ultranationalist discourse of the Yisrael Beiteinu party and extreme right-wing forces, who are the standard bearers of the attacks on the rights of Arab citizens.
A decade after the publication Or Commission’s report, Arab citizens of Israel are still suffering from ongoing discrimination from the establishment. This discrimination contradicts the principles of justice that should be at the basis of every democratic country, but it also undermines the basis of relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel, exacerbating their volatility. The time has come for the Israeli government to implement the conclusions of the Or Commission, which are now more relevant than ever, in the interests of all citizens of Israel, Jews and Arabs alike.
Jabir Asaqla and Ron Gerlitz are the coexecutive directors of Sikkuy: The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel.