Israelis Are Turning a Blind Eye to Injustice

What will you tell your grandchildren when they ask what you did to stop the state's ill-treatment of the poor and weak?

Tsafi Saar
Tsafi Saar
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Tsafi Saar
Tsafi Saar

I really wanted to go to the Knesset on Tuesday to support the African refugees. After all, they had come on foot from the Holot holding facility, in the Negev, in order to point out that they are human beings who have committed no crime and there’s no reason to imprison them – but I couldn’t that day. Previous commitments.

I also really wanted to join the demonstration against the Prawer Plan, which expels the Bedouin of the Negev from their land – but I had already made plans I couldn’t cancel. I also intended to bring hot food to the Arlosoroff tent encampment in Tel Aviv, where dozens of homeless people have been living for months – but I had to submit a piece to the newspaper. I even thought of organizing some kind of demonstration against the fact that five people self-immolated in the past year due to financial distress – but somehow it just didn’t work out.

I must confess that I wasn’t actually planning to attend the demonstration of the uprooted Arabs of Ikrit and Biram in northern Israel: The chances that their lands will be returned, 65 years after being taken from them, look pretty slim.

We have seemingly become accustomed to the ongoing injustices in the territories. Discrimination against Ethiopian children in our schools? The destruction of the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev and the establishment of a Jewish community on its ruins? Denying public housing to those who are entitled to it? Government violence against protest activists? Been there, done that. Really, how much can we take?

This is a time of emergency. The sight of representatives of the State of Israel forcing refugees to board buses earlier this week enhanced the understanding of the situation in which we are living: Israel is a country that is indifferent to civil rights. A country where poverty and the poor are worth nothing. Where even the horrifying history of the Jewish people doesn't prevent them from turning their backs on human beings who are asking for asylum.

A report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, published earlier this month, spells out a series of violations of the basic rights of poor populations – including the cutback in child allowances, which is expected to bring additional families into the poverty trap; wage discrimination in the workplace between men and women, Arabs and Jews, Mizrahim (Jews of North African and Middle Eastern origin) and Ashkenazim (Jews of European origin); the promotion of draft bills in the Knesset to discriminate against and exclude Arabs; cutting off about 1,000 families per month from the water supply due to debts; and more.

Ostensibly these are different issues, but they all constitute a violation of human rights – whether it is the right to live in dignity, to live at all, to equal rights, to an absence of discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity.

We can continue to close our eyes. After all, the vast majority of us did not personally force the protesting refugees to board the buses that took them back to Saharonim detention center or the Holot facility. And even those who did so were only doing what they were instructed to do.

On the other hand, the vast majority of us are also not among the amazing handful of activists who were there with them, the refugees, showing that perhaps there is still hope for Israeli society.

What were you doing, we will be asked in another generation or two, when the state imprisoned innocent people, threw poor people into the streets, confiscated land from people who had lived there for generations?

We had other plans, we’ll tell them. We were busy. We didn’t know what was happening exactly, only roughly. We were working. We were raising children. We had something cooking.

Protesting African migrants held by Israeli police officers, Jerusalem, December 17, 2013.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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