Suspect, but Feign Respect

The manner in which the Jewish majority and its representatives in government agencies dealt with the disturbances of October 2000 cannot be interpreted as anything but an ongoing whitewash.

In January 2000, then head of the Shin Bet security service Ami Ayalon spoke to a group of Jewish and Arab intellectuals, all Israeli citizens, who were trying to draft a covenant that would define majority-minority relations in Israel. Ayalon said the Shin Bet does not view the Arab sector as a collective threat. "We don't cover it as a threat from an intelligence standpoint, and we don't start from the assumption that every Israeli Arab is a potential threat," he said. In that same speech, he announced that the Shin Bet had changed its procedures for security checks at the airport, and that it views the state's Jewish and Arab citizens as representing the same level of threat. Seven years later, Arab citizens still suffer discriminatory treatment when they fly to or from Israel, just as the Arab sector as a whole still suffers from discriminatory policies - because this community is still seen as a threat to the Jewish majority.

During the Arab riots of October 2000, the government's response - which was based on the spontaneous feelings of virtually all of Israel's Jewish citizens - proved that the state indeed views members of the Arab minority as an existential threat. In the eyes of the Jewish majority, the Arab minority had joined with the Palestinian population of the territories in an intifada that threatened the majority's very ability to preserve its state. To Israeli Arabs, however, the government's harsh response - which even included the use of live fire and killed 13 members of their community - provided conclusive proof of the ongoing injustice that the state has perpetrated against them since its founding.

Currently, Israeli Arabs are marking the anniversary of the incidents of October 2000. In their view, the oppression that was so sharply demonstrated seven years ago continues: The state has not accepted their demand that the policemen who killed their countrymen be tried, and the state continues to discriminate against them. Israeli Arabs do not accept the Jewish view of the circumstances in which the disturbances broke out. They reject the claim that some of their leaders caused these tragic events by their incitement; they reject the assertion that the riots had the character of a popular uprising that threatened to undermine the state's foundations; and they reject the police's claim that it would not have been possible to ensure public safety had the police not used extreme methods. They see the state's response as a reflection of the internal code that guides it in its treatment of the Arab minority: Suspect, but feign respect.

The Or Commission, which examined the incidents afterward, recommended an investigation into the circumstances in which each Israeli Arab citizen was killed. This directive produced no real results: The Justice Ministry's Police Investigations Department announced two years ago that it had conducted an investigation, but decided to close the cases on the grounds that it found no incriminating evidence against any individual policemen. This decision sparked angry reactions, which led the attorney general to reexamine the matter (his reexamination is still in progress). A ministerial committee headed by Yosef Lapid submitted its own recommendations, and the cabinet approved both the Or Commission's recommendations and those of the Lapid Committee. In practice, however, Israeli Arabs' main expectation was never met: No one was held responsible for the deaths of 13 members of their community. Moreover, there was no improvement in their basic feeling that the state discriminates against them and treats them as second-class citizens.

And indeed, the manner in which the Jewish majority and its representatives in government agencies dealt with the disturbances of October 2000 cannot be interpreted as anything but an ongoing whitewash. This starts with the initial refusal by Ehud Barak's government to establish a state commission of inquiry, continues with the (non)implementation of the Or Commission's recommendations and ends with the results of the investigations that were supposed to locate those responsible for the killings. Without discounting the responsibility that the Arab rioters and some of their leaders bear for the lethal events, and without ignoring the gestures (mainly symbolic) that the last three governments have made to placate the Arab population, the Jewish majority is repeating its forefathers' error: It continues to treat the Arab minority with arrogant indifference, and it is thereby preparing the ground for the next confrontation.