Opinion |

What It’s Like to Be an Arab in Israel

Not so long ago we were still afraid to walk down European streets identified as Jews, and now, with a truncheon at our belt in our own cities, we instill terror in others

Iris Leal
Iris Leal
Border Police officers in Jerusalem's Old City, March 18, 2018.
Border Police officers in Jerusalem's Old City, March 18, 2018.Credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters
Iris Leal
Iris Leal

Sometimes I wonder what it’s like to be an Arab in Israel. What’s the day-to-day most banal sense of such an existence?

And when I think about this, shamefully not often enough, I imagine that the feeling resembles a ponderous self-awareness that a person has to carry around almost all the time, but especially when leaving home: keys, mobile phone, cigarettes, ID card, Arab identity.

Israel’s Arabs know they’re second-class citizens and the most hated group in Israel. That’s not an identity you can leave at home when you go outside. They read newspapers, they’re on social media, they see the tweets and comments.

Let’s say they see a cop who posts a photo of himself and his friends in uniform getting ready for a protest in Haifa, and they read the responses: “break their legs,” “screw them for me.” And they also see that the officer, let’s call him L., gives these responses a Like, and they certainly know that he also has an identity that needs maintenance and that hatred of Arabs gives him an identity. This cop needs to confirm his place in the community. He also needs to remind others of his superiority, his power to instill fear, to break ribs and knees.

Jafar Farah, the head of the Mossawa Center that advocates for Israeli Arabs’ rights, encountered a certain lack of patience toward the Arab community when he went to look for his son at a demonstration against the killing of Arab protesters at the Gaza border fence. What wouldn’t he have given for such a long line of police to patrol cities and towns and protect the people against the rising tide of violence. But unfortunately for him, the police are the agents of order of a different kind, a kind that protects Israeli society from this community and does not protect it.

And as expected, someone, perhaps officer L., attacked Farah’s son and him. At the police station, the two said the police called them terrorists and promised “today we’re going to have a party over you. We’re going to screw you.” And moving right along, they kept their promise. But vulgarity aside, the most revealing of all is the call “go to Gaza. This is a Jewish state.”

The prime minister of these police officers has confirmed this sentiment time after time. The Arabs, as we recall, were going in droves to the polls, the fans of the Sakhnin soccer team whistled during a moment of silence. What’s not to hate?

And if there were any doubt, the statement by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman about MK Ayman Odeh clarified our political leaders’ outlook on the Arabs: Odeh is a terrorist because he’s an Arab and he should be in jail.

The state doesn’t let Arabs fully integrate and the government defines them as foreigners, as a bone in the Jewish throat, traitors. It’s known that comparisons mustn’t be made, but isn’t this institutionalized racist hatred in its most blatant and common form?

It’s frightening and dangerous to be an Arab in Israel. This is a trivial statement, but it means we’ve reached the bottom and we’re dipping our feet in the juices of racial garbage. We who complain about anti-Semitism around the world — we’re the greatest anti-Semites in our own country.

We’re shameless Arab haters.

Much has been written and said about the victim who becomes a victimizer. Not so long ago we were still afraid to walk down the streets of European capitals identified as Jews and now, with a truncheon at our belt, we instill terror in others in the streets of our cities.

Congratulations! We’ve once again given birth to our historical fate, this time in the role of the brutal trooper. The metaphor is complete.

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