Israeli Arabs take cue from Palestinian protesters
The Palestinian uprising yesterday erupted in full force in the streets of Taiyiba - an Israeli-Arab town. For the second consecutive day, Israeli-Arab youths set up barricades and hurled rocks at policemen, troops, and passing cars to protest the demolition of 15 homes declared illegal structures by Israel's Ministry of the Interior. An Israeli flag was burned.
Police, who arrived in force to secure the demolitions, used tear gas and clubs to disperse the protesters who had tried to block wrecking crews on Monday by climbing on the roofs of the condemned homes.
The burst of violence in Taiyiba typified a trend of recent months: Israeli-Arabs, taking a lead from their West Bank kinfolk, are more openly protesting discrimination inside Israel.
When Palestenian protesters in the intifadah (uprising) burn tires in the West Bank town of Tulkarm, the plumes of smoke can be seen in Taiyiba, a 10-minute drive away.
Separated by an international border before Israel conquered and occupied the West Bank in 1967, the two towns have drawn closer during the 11-month Palestinian uprising in the Israeli-occupied territories.
The unrest next door has led to a powerful wave of identification among Taiyiba's youth, who openly sympathize with their brothers' uprising against Israeli rule. Inspired by the intifadah, Arab teen-agers inside Israel have in dozens of locations thrown rocks at cars, blocked roads, raised Palestinian flags, and painted nationalist graffiti on walls.
There is a growing local following for Islamic fundamentalist movements, who have gained prominence in the occupied territories during the uprising.
Israeli Arab local councils will meet Thursday to discuss calling a general strike of Israel's 600,000 Arabs.
Thousands of dollars have been collected in Israeli-Arab communities to provide food and medical supplies for Palestinians whose towns and villages are under curfew, or who have been wounded in clashes with Israeli troops.
Israeli-Arab leaders explain the phenomenon as a show of support for their Palestinian brothers, and in no way an act of disloyalty to Israel.
They say the violent unrest has been sparked by what they describe as discriminatory government policies against Israeli Arabs; insufficient budget allocations for community services in Arab towns and villages; a poorly developed educational system; and inadequate planning schemes for rapidly growing towns and villages.
The lack of masterplans for Arab communities has forced many homeowners to build illegally, on land not officially slated for residential building, according to the Arab leaders. This has led to construction of buildings such as those demolished in Taiyiba.
``The state laws are not keeping up with the law of nature,'' said Hashen Mahameed, mayor of Umm al Fahm, the second largest Israeli-Arab city. Natural population increase is outstripping dated masterplans drawn up years ago, but not revised by the Ministry of Interior, he says.
Israeli officials respond that the plans are in the process of being updated, and that much of the problem stems from simple bureaucratic snags that plague many public projects in Israel.
Whatever the reasons for the delays, the mounting frustration and perceived discrimination has led to increased violent Arab protest inside Israel, as the intifadah goes on.
Israeli Arabs' frustration was also reflected in last week's national elections. The Israeli-Arab vote moved decisively to the left, supporting the non-Zionist Communist Party and Palestinian nationalist Progressive List for Peace.
Eli Rekhess, an expert on Israeli Arabs, has warned of a process of ``Palestinization'' in which Arab youth find an outlet for their dissatisfaction through identifying with Palestinian nationalism. He and others say policies such as a crackdown on illegal construction will only fuel Israel-Arab discontent.
[``This is not an isolated incident,'' Tewfik Zayyad, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament, told Reuters of the demolitions. ``This is an escalation of the so-called iron fist against the Israeli Arabs,'' Reuters reported Mr. Zayyad as saying.
[``These are fascist methods,'' Deputy Mayor Hamid Abu Eita said. ``This is the democracy of Mr. Shamir and Mr. Peres.''