Concrete and Cockroaches: Municipal Elections in the Arab Sector

While the living space of the surrounding Jewish towns has expanded, the Arabs’ living space has turned into a suffocation space.

Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat
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Nazareth before the elections: Suffocation space.
Nazareth before the elections: Suffocation space.Credit: Gil |Eliyahu
Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat

When land became limited and the population grew, the Arab villages turned into cities of concrete. As if to rub salt in the wound, recently someone sent me a picture of what Yafia looked like in 1930: Fewer than 30 ancient buildings integrated in the hilly landscape, surrounded by huge tracts of land.

In 1948, Yafia, a village outside Nazareth, had 1,000 residents and occupied 16,000 dunams (4,000 acres). Today, with nearly 20,000 people, Yafia manages with some 4,000 dunams. While the living space of the surrounding Jewish towns, some of which didn’t exist when Israel was founded, expanded, the Arabs’ living space turned into a suffocation space, in which, thank God, there is at least enough room to bury the dead.

Yafia absorbed most of those expelled from Ma’alul and Al-Mujaydal, and later was settled by migrants seeking “quality of life,” simply because in Nazareth there was no place to squeeze even a pin. At the point captured by the camera in 1930, the residents didn’t have today’s technological wonders, but they had flourishing open spaces. Today, there are lots of iPhones, but no space; the carpentry is under the living room, and between the hours of 2 P.M. to 4 P.M., once the siesta hours, production is at its height; the kids play right under the bedroom, and the cemetery is only a short walk away, it’s not much of an effort to get there. The dead, thank God, don’t need parking spaces.

Israel’s Arabs live in geographic and economic ghettos,” wrote Prof. Eren Yashiv of Tel Aviv University and Dr. Nitza Kasir of the Bank of Israel’s research division. Last week, elections were held for the ghetto councils.

How sad it was to watch the little creatures scurrying to conquer an empty Capitol Hill. After all, what could the enthusiastic candidates promise the voters? Housing for young couples, when the state holds every clod of earth tightly in an iron fist? Industrial zones, which are being erected on their lands but for the benefit of their neighbors? Parks, when every spare meter is snatched for construction? It was pathetic to watch the shrill clamoring of the candidates, as if it was a race to the summit of Mount Everest, while Arab mayors actually sit on the bottom of the valley with the boss man on top who can, at any time, close the spigot. Now let’s see you pay salaries, dear mayor.

These candidates are no better off than the chairman of a prisoners committee in a democratic paddy wagon, who promises his voters freedom if elected. This didn’t stop the contenders from conducting world wars in mop-drenched alleys, with pictures of spiffy-looking candidates on colorful posters – the pride of high-tech creativity – hanging on peeling walls. The future waits behind the mounds of garbage. And out of this suffocation, the product of stupid policies and local ambitions, a brutal and ugly political system emerges.

If you were to ask, by the way, why women don’t get involved, it’s simple – they are too smart to be tempted into playing this pointless game. Although the proportion of women in all realms of life has risen drastically, with the future still ahead of them, and though Arab women constitute more than half the community’s students, there were practically none running for local office. There are those who say that women aren’t ready enough to enter the political fray, but the truth is that the political system isn’t ready enough for them to want to participate.

So now, after the sheep were sacrificed and the sweets distributed, it’s time to start dividing up the thin cake. The winner will be expected to hire a few kindergarten teachers out of a pool that could supply the entire country for decades. Meanwhile, more porches will be enclosed and more rooms will be tacked on. The concrete will prevail. The roads will continue to turn into parking lots, and only the lucky will make it home with their sanity intact.

During the local election campaigns I recall how the late minister and chief of staff Rafael Eitan dismissed the Palestinians as “drugged cockroaches scurrying in a bottle.” With all due respect to Raful, whose name graces a tunnel that leads to the land of the cockroaches, it’s not nice to speak that way about human beings! After all, why did the Gentiles invent the ghetto? So that such creatures could forever scurry from one side of the ghetto to the other.

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