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It's Fun Being an Arab in Israel

Arabs in Israel demonstrate amazing restraint and loyalty, but are the victims of appalling treatment by the state and other Israelis. One day, this is all going to explode.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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A firefighting plane from Greece fights a wildfire over Haifa, Israel, November 24, 2016.
A firefighting plane from Greece fights a wildfire over Haifa, Israel, November 24, 2016.Credit: Ariel Schalit, AP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

It’s fun being an Arab in Israel. If you’re a pharmacist at a high-street drugstore, you can wake up to discover that you’re a potential arsonist. A nursery-school teacher in Shfaram gets up and finds she’s a member of the Islamic State group. Every construction worker from Taibeh is part of a fifth column, and every nurse at the Hadassah hospitals in Jerusalem is a demographic threat. That hummus vendor may just be a hummus vendor, but he could be spreading poison, too; that dishwasher could come out of the kitchen with a knife. And you can’t even count on an Arab doctor, which is reason enough to ask for a Jewish one.

Whether they’re an educator, insurance broker, banker or technician, every Arab citizen on the street is considered an object of suspicion. Better that they not speak their language – and anyway, the day is fast approaching when it will be made illegal to speak it in public. It unnerves the Jews and scares them. Some are even disgusted by it. And then there’s that proposed bill to silence the Muslim call to prayer from mosque loudspeakers.

It’s fun being an Arab in Israel, a state the Arab citizens are a lot more loyal to than it is to them. Your country is abusing members of your people. It’s fun to be an Arab in Israel, because you can’t even define your identity as you would wish. You’re an “Israeli Arab,” and there’s no argument about it. Palestinian? That’s only if you live in the occupied territories. Even if he’s your first cousin, he’s not the same.

You can and must be an American Jew and work on Israel’s behalf. But you are not allowed to be an Israeli Arab and work on behalf of the Palestinians. You’re not a member of the same people. Just dare to think otherwise.

Also, you are not allowed to remember what you’re not allowed to remember: the past. Israeli Independence Day is a national holiday! Anyone who wants to observe the Nakba (or “catastrophe,” the Palestinian term for the establishment of Israel), should go to Gaza – or to jail. Anyway, if you don’t like it here, you can always move to Gaza. And just look what’s happening in Syria.

It’s fun being an Arab in Israel. Try flying on an Israeli airline – Arkia or El Al – and you’ll understand why. Try that encounter with the security guard who’s checking your accent at the entrance to Ben-Gurion airport. “Profiling,” as it’s called in security parlance. Try renting an apartment in Safed, or even Ramat Aviv. Try finding work. Send your résumé and wait for an answer.

It’s fun being an Arab in Israel. You can see other Arabs on television – after every domestic “honor killing,” but only then. No television repairman will come to your house, because “it’s dangerous.” And the television ratings bureau won’t include your viewing habits, because it focuses only on “Jewish households.”

It’s fun being an Arab in Israel and hearing about the demographic danger presented by the Arab womb. There’s a danger that the Galilee “could be lost,” and we need to “Judaize” the Negev before it’s too late. That’s totally acceptable talk in Israel. Europe has a problem with foreigners, and so do we: the Arabs are our foreigners. People from Burma who are descendants of the Tribe of Benjamin get automatic citizenship. But your brothers, natives of the country who were expelled or fled in 1948, can’t even come for a visit.

It’s fun being an Arab in Israel because you’ll be able to see how your representatives in the Knesset are humiliated and excluded.

It’s fun being an Arab in Israel, because no Jew could imagine what you experience on a daily basis. Masses of people for whom leaving their ghetto means constant humiliation and suspicion, moments of hostility and insults both big and small. Think about the experience of a young Arab woman leaving Jaffa with her head covered, or that young Arab man going to the movies.

With the growing incitement by the prime minister and his cabinet colleagues, every Arab is now considered a potential terrorist, arsonist, murderer or rapist – unless proven otherwise. They are also voting in their droves.

And after the current wave of fires, their situation has gotten even worse: after all, they’ve already caught one Arab with toilet paper in his pocket. Rabin assassin Yigal Amir might not represent every Yemenite Jew, but every Israeli Arab going to fight in Syria represents all Arabs. This segment of the population, which demonstrates amazing restraint and loyalty and a desire to integrate, is absorbing blow after blow. This is all going to explode some day.

On Friday in Haifa’s Romema neighborhood, where a large number of homes sustained fire damage, the predominantly Arab sanitation collectors were collecting the trash. I tried to imagine what was going through their minds.

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