Holding a Cruel Mirror Up to Israel

The man who caused the government this week to decide that Zionism requires apartheid once voted for Benjamin Netanyahu, thinking that every child would get a computer.

At the exit to Baka al-Garbiyeh there's a sign in Hebrew and Arabic directing drivers toward Tel Aviv. Someone has splashed white paint over the Arabic letters, erasing them. The message: Arabs - stay in Baka, don't go to Tel Aviv.

Baka al-Garbiyeh has some handsome, three- or four-story houses, with ornate balconies, strong, proud pillars and striking red-tile rooftops. A'adal and Iman Ka'adan live in a pleasant, spacious seven-level house; but the couple says that it is an optical illusion. The houses may look pretty, but they are opulent prisons: There's no way out of them. Baka al-Garbiyeh indeed has a run-down appearance, like a third world market town.

Following the government's decision this week to allow the establishment of Jewish-only communities, where Arabs are not allowed to live, the world media has streamed to the Ka'adan's home. A'adal, a congenial-looking, softly-spoken, 48-year-old, meticulously arranged interview slots for each journalist. The phone didn't stop ringing.

Thirty years ago, in a similar fashion, public attention was riveted on a Carmelite monk from Haifa, called Daniel, who forced Israel to define "Who is a Jew?" This time, it's Ka'adan who has forced Israel to look in the mirror, and what it is seeing is not so pretty: The reflection is the ideological image of MK Limor Livnat.

Ka'adan does not suffer from the world media blitz, however, he is not built to carry this major historical reckoning on his shoulders, and fight about principles which the Katzir case has precipitated. When he decided that he wanted to purchase a home on the communal settlement, Katzir, which was established on the outskirts of his town, he wanted the quality of life that his Jewish neighbors enjoy, with green lawns and high educational standards. It wasn't a pursuit of national justice which propelled him toward the registration office at Katzir; what he wanted was a chance for a better life.

Ka'adan works at Hillel Yaffeh Medical Center in Hadera, as a head staff nurse in its surgery department. The whole affair began when he met a patient in the ward whose wife works on the selection committee for new candidates who apply to live at Katzir. Ka'adan spoke with the woman: She was very forthcoming, and grateful for the care which her husband had received. However, she told him at the start of their conversation that it was not worth his while to submit his candidacy for Katzir. The community did not accept Arabs.

Ka'adan assumed that the woman meant well; her intention was only to spare him a lot of bureaucratic effort which would inevitably end in disappointment. He was shocked; a friend referred him to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), which petitioned the High Court in his name.

In one of the most important decisions of principle in Israel's history, the court ruled that Katzir's policy must be reconsidered. Since then, more than two years have gone by and nothing has happened, despite repeated appeals to the court.

The government's decision this week is aimed at overturning the High Court's ruling. The initiative by MK Limor Livnat (Likud) apparently encouraged MK Uzi Landau (Likud) to shut down the offices of Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, the president of Al-Quds University and the Palestinian Authority's Minister for Jerusalem. It appears that government ministers are competing with one another in sponsoring such initiatives.

The Sharon/Ben-Eliezer government is the most fanatic one ever to serve in Israel. In contrast to the ultra-nationalist zealotry pulsating in the veins of Livnat and Landau, ministers from Joerg Haider's far-right party in Austria look like soft, furry bear cubs.

Livnat justified the proposed law enabling the establishment of communities for Jews only in an Israel Radio discussion with broadcaster Anat Davidov. The words she used could be used in the future to warrant the expulsion of Arabs, since the "demographic problem," according to her doctrine, is a matter of national security.

"I'm talking about national security, and I'm saying that it doesn't sanctify everything," Livnat said. "But it is the basis of Zionism. If somebody wants to deviate from the truth which we have upheld all these years, if somebody thinks that the need for demographic balance or a demographic majority of Jews compared to Arabs in the state of the Jews is racism - in my opinion, he is misinterpreting, and deviating sharply from the basis of Zionism, and from the principles of a Jewish, democratic state."

Livnat continued: "We are involved here in a struggle, in a struggle for the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jews, as opposed to the post-Zionists and the New Historians, those who want to force us to be a state of all its citizens. We are not just another state, like all the other states. We are not just a state of all its citizens. We are a state which has democracy and equal rights for all its citizens, but which is a Jewish state which is based on Jewish values ...

"There are special purposes. The special purpose is our character as a Jewish state, our desire to preserve a Jewish community and Jewish majority here, and to make sure that there are Jewish communities in all parts of the country, that there is Jewish settlement, and that there is a Jewish majority so that we can protect this character of the State of Israel, so that it does not become a state of all its citizens ... We all know exactly what is happening here, and we must be very careful, lest we find ourselves in another few years without a Jewish majority, with part of the Galilee and the border zones and Wadi Ara no longer under our control, and filled with Arab communities."

This effort to associate Zionism itself with this apartheid initiative besmirches all Israelis, even fair-minded ones. We all now await fates like those of citizens of South Africa, even those who opposed apartheid - as the world saw it, all were complicit in the moral outrage.

Livnat says she has nothing against A'adal Ka'anan. "He is a loyal citizen who can live anywhere in the country," she states. Excluding, of course, places which the law will set aside for Jews only.

Ka'adan wasn't impressed by Livnat's attestation regarding democracy. He brought up the possibility that when she was still in school, Israel's education might have missed the lesson devoted to Ze'ev Jabotinsky. He proposes that Livnat study Jabotinsky's writings anew. Jabotinsky, a liberal democrat, designated the country for the "children of Arabia and Nazareth, and my people."

In contrast, Ka'adan was not surprised when former MK Dr. Ze'ev Binyamin (Benny) Begin came out in opposition to the government, in a rare interview on Moshe Negbi's radio program. Before that, MK Dan Meridor (Center Party) also came out against the government's decision. The late prime minister Menachem Begin learned a measure of humanitarian decency from Jabotinsky, says Ka'adan, who knows something about Begin. He's read some of Begin's writings, and has a copy of "White Nights" in his home. During the years he waged his legal struggle, Ka'adan has learned a lot about the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund and the Israel Lands Administration and the Supreme Court. He's thinking about studying law.

The significance of the Supreme Court's ruling, which ordered the state to reconsider its refusal to allow Ka'adan to live at Katzir, while incorporating the principle of equality, is hard to exaggerate. Supreme Court President Aharon Barak stated that he had never faced a more trying decision. The very decision to bring the question to a court for a legal verdict was itself an innovation, since hundreds of communities slated for Jews only, the kibbutzim and moshavim, were established during a century of Zionist activity.

Officials of ACRI have tread gently, not wanting the court to have to choose between Zionism and democracy. But the Katzir verdict indeed brought the post-Zionist wave that immersed the country in the late days of the Oslo process to its pinnacle; this surge receded almost entirely when the intifada resumed.

What happened with the Katzir ruling demonstrates how the legal takeover which Justice Aharon Barak leads is liable to damage the Supreme Court: In this case, the state simply defied the court.

Zionism cannot realize its goals without harming the Palestinians' national rights. The challenge it faces is to chart a course between harming the Palestinians and preservation of fundamental democratic values. This is a multicultural challenge, the likes of which face many states today.

Ka'adan prefers Israel to be a "state of all its citizens," but he doesn't use this phrase to refer to its demographic or symbolic content. He has no problem with the Jewish majority, nor does he have a problem with the nation's anthem or flag, he says. In his eyes, a state of all its citizens is one which protects equal rights, particularly with respect to equality of opportunity. Due to this belief in the importance of opportunity, he once voted for Benjamin Netanyahu. Before then he had always cast his ballot for the Labor Party, but when Netanyahu promised a computer for every child, Ka'adan believed him.

Ka'adan has four daughters. Aya, 12, plays the piano. Bian, 10, is learning how to play the violin - she studied with a Jewish music teacher, a new immigrant from Russia. This teacher knew nothing about Arab music, so Ka'adan replaced him with an Arab musician, who earns his living mostly by composing melodies for Jewish listeners; the new instructor is twice as demanding as the Russian, but he knows classical as well as Eastern music.

Ka'adan himself dreamed of playing the violin when he was a boy, but his parents lacked the money to pay for a teacher. He is the oldest son in a family that had 10 children: His father was a "gardener" - he insisted on using the English word. Some of his Jewish clients were Holocaust survivors who taught him Yiddish. As the years went by, Ka'adan explains, his father absorbed a measure of the mentality which is associated with Holocaust survivors, including the tendency to be thrifty and save, not knowing what tomorrow might bring.

Ka'adan believes that he inherited from his father the Diaspora Jewish belief that nothing is more important than education, particularly with respect to children. Education promotes economic independence, which in turn brings about free, independent thought.

His daughters study in a school building that is covered partially by asbestos, which everyone knows is a carcinogenic material. There are 40 pupils to a class in this school; at Katzir, there are 16. When Ka'adan thinks about Education Minister Livnat, these figures anger him even more that her prejudiced ideology. He tried to transfer his girls to a school run by the kibbutz movement; but the institution wouldn't accept them, because they are Arab. He tried to enroll them in a school in Nazareth, only to find that he apparently lacks the right connections.

At one stage, a number of middlemen approached Ka'adan, and urged him to withdraw his request to live at Katzir, even offering him financial assistance. He looked into the possibility of moving to Hadera, but discovered that Arab children who live inside the town limits are bussed to Arab schools in the vicinity, including ones in Baka al-Garbiyeh.

Israel Channel One television described Ka'adan as being "unusual" because he wants to live with Jews. In fact, a majority of Arabs in Israel want, like Ka'adan, to live without discrimination. In this respect, their consuming dream isn't different from that of most Jews.

Ka'adan grew up under Israeli military government rule, and remembers how he was frightened by each police car that entered his village. That feeling changed, he says, partly because of the impact of the first intifada in the territories. In the final analysis, he says, he is not a political person. There have been occasions when, after terror attacks, as Ka'adan heads for the hospital, his car has sometimes been stopped by policemen who look at him suspiciously, as though he were the terrorist. He feels the pain of injured terror victims, and mourns with the relatives of slain Israelis. He also feels the pain suffered by the Palestinians. A few days ago, a girl who had been injured in a terror attack and recuperated at the hospital was sent home. Ka'adan was thrilled.

He is a relaxed person who is not preoccupied by a race against the clock which, Ka'adan says, fills the lives of Jews in Israel. When he goes up in an elevator, he notices that people stare at the numbers, as though urging it to move faster.

He views himself as a Palestinian Israeli, and dreams of attaining a status similar to Jews in the U.S., who are loyal to their country, which is loyal to them and loyal to their people. Ka'adan himself is secular but says that the primitive way the government treats Arabs encourages the younger generation to flock toward religion. Islamic fundamentalism damages the society, and contributes nothing to it, he says. MK Yosef Lapid (Shinui) makes a similar point about Haredim, and Ka'adan agrees with him. Those who do not escape from reality via religion end up using drugs.

Baka al-Garbiyeh needs two Ron Huldais, says Ka'adan, referring to Tel Aviv's mayor. One is needed as the principal of the local school, the other should be the mayor. He would be pleased if Jews would come to live in his town. They would not be able to bear its backwardness for long; soon after their arrival, the town's situation would improve. That's exactly what the founding fathers of the Zionist movement said when they came to settle in Eretz Israel; in this respect, Ka'adan couldn't say anything more Zionist.