The Janus Face of Israeli Democracy
by Michael Dahan
( Israeli political scientist, currently conducting post doctoral research
at the Political Science Department, University of Cincinnati)
People representing all sides have written much since violence has erupted between Israeli Jews, Palestinian Israelis and Palestinians. What is missing is a true soul searching on the part of Israel and its Jewish citizens as to what led to the violence, rather than the knee jerk nationalism that is usually the Israeli reaction to Palestinian violence. I owe to my children the same degree of honesty that I expect of them. If the Israeli soldier who shot 12 year old Mohammed al Durra and his father in cold blood has children, then I suggest he try and explain to them why he pulled the trigger, and he should not be surprised if a Palestinian does the same thing to an Israeli child. The same goes for the Israeli policeman who shot 17 year old Asil 'Asleh in cold blood, an Israeli citizen and member of the "Seeds for Peace" initiative.
I can only speak of how I view things, as an Israeli and a human being, and how I think the Israeli government should act, thus my comments are directed towards Israel. As a political scientist the question that I ask myself is not why the violence broke out, but why it had taken so long to do so. Frustration has been building for a long time on the Palestinian side - frustration about the economic conditions in the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), frustration with the lack of progress in the talks, frustration directed towards their own leadership, frustration at the continued Israeli presence in certain areas, the continuation of the settlements, home demolitions, Palestinian prisoners and a myriad of other, smaller day to day frustrations that have been growing like a festering wound over the past months.
Palestinian Israelis too have dealt with frustration for so long that it has become a way of life. Their continued status as second class citizens within Israeli democracy, the lack of equal rights and equal opportunity in the work force, society and the economy. The two-sided attitude towards Israeli Arabs, among all Israelis, secular, religious, the political Right and the "enlightened" Left can only lead to the type of rioting we have witnessed in the past days. Why do the police use live ammunition when dispersing Arab demonstrators, and nothing when dispersing Israeli Jews? Why have no Israeli Jewish leaders spoken out and condemned acts committed by Jewish rioters against Palestinian Israelis throughout Israel proper (Nazareth, Tiberias, Acre, Jaffa, and Jerusalem)? The murders of Palestinians by Israeli Settlers? And the Left feels "betrayed" by the demonstrations on the part of Israeli Arabs. Where does one find such immense hubris to make such statements? Why are Jews allowed to express their discontent in demonstrations, and when Arab Israelis do the same, they are considered traitors by politicians on the Left and Right alike? It is exactly this hubris that lays at the foundation of a two faced democracy as practiced in Israel, and which has had a central role in the creating the atmosphere for the violence in the PNA and among Palestinian Israelis.
All Israeli citizens (including Palestinians) are equal, at least on paper. In practice, there is very little equality, as can be seen in almost every aspect of Israeli society, from health services to schools, from land ownership and land zoning to the workplace and the universities. Palestinians Israelis are "good Arabs" as long as they stay out of the face and consciousness of Israeli Jews. Demonstrations by Israeli Arabs are more often than not broken up with violence, live ammunition, and tear gas, not to mention the use of rubber bullets, or rather rubber coated metal bullets. We only need to look at the brutal use of force by the police in the past days, and the use of violence months ago in northern Israel to support this claim. "Committees of Enquiry" usually absolve the police of any wrongdoing, even when faced with video taped evidence to the contrary (as was the case months ago with the use of violence leading to deaths by police in and around a school in a northern Arab town). If individual officers are found guilty they are often punished with the disciplinary equivalent of a slap on the wrist. What else can actions like these breed except for anger and frustration? Under these conditions, what right does the political leadership of Israel have to have "expectations" of its Palestinian citizens? This dual attitude towards Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular has stood at the very basis of Israeli internal and foreign policy. Under these conditions, this wave of violence can be easily understood and explained. Yet Israelis express surprise and disappointment by the demonstrations on the part of Arab citizens, while quickly excusing criminal actions on the part of Settlers in the Occupied Territories, and mobs of Jews.
Until the Israeli people and leadership come face to face with the daily discrimination directed towards Arabs, then the frustration and violence will continue to grow, erupting from time to time. Until Israel learns how to keep the negotiations with the Palestinians free of hubris, paternalism and sheer "chutzpa" then the negotiations will not advance. Until Israel can treat her Arab citizens as full fledged members of Israeli society, than they should not dictate to them morality and ethics. Until Israel stops dehumanizing all Arabs, whether they are Palestinian Israelis or Palestinians, then we will be seeing more of the same in the future.
The only way to end the escalating violence is for Israel, her politicians and citizens, to take a good hard look at themselves and come to terms with
the consequences of their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Mutual respect is the only way for peace to reign in the region. Only by immediately ending
the continued occupation of Palestinian territories, can the peace process
continue. The only other option is the insane violence that we witnessing now.
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