The Pent-Up Anger of Israeli Arabs Explodes in Widespread Protests
THE intifadah came to Tel Aviv this weekend, as Israeli Arabs in this run-down, racially mixed suburb let loose their rage over the Hebron massacre in an unprecedented burst of violence more typical of their West Bank cousins.
While the Israeli-occupied territories were stifled by widespread curfews in the aftermath of Friday's massacre, in which at least 40 Palestinians were killed as they prayed in the Ibrahim Mosque, the 750,000 Arab citizens of Israel suffered no such constraints.
``In every single settlement in Israel with an Arab population, there have been either peaceful or violent demonstrations,'' said Israeli Police spokesman Eric Bar-Chen.
In Jaffa, a poverty-stricken town just down the beach from Tel Aviv, the weekend demonstrations were violent. On the main street, anything that could have been broken was broken. Over 60 people were arrested.
``After everything that has happened in the intifadah in Gaza, all the rage has collected, while we have been living here in silence,'' said Sami Karim, a young Israeli-Arab who participated in the riots. ``Finally it exploded.''
It exploded too amongst the Bedouin in Israel's Negev Desert, and among Arabs in Nazareth and other Galilean towns. Hundreds have been arrested around the country and one Bedouin was killed in continuing protests unlike anything seen among the country's generally quiescent Arab minority since the state of Israel was founded in 1948.
Israeli-Arab leaders said they were not surprised by the scale of the protests. ``If we don't respond, we lose ourselves as part of the Palestinian people,'' explained Knesset (parliament) member Hashem Mahamid.
Over 60 Palestinians died in the mosque massacre and subsequent clashes with the Israeli Army, making last Friday the bloodiest peacetime day in Israeli history. The deaths of 20 Palestinians on Jerusalem's Temple Mount in October 1990 sparked none of the rioting that broke out in Israel this weekend, Israeli Arabs recall.
But this time, pointed out Mr. Karim, the victims ``were not leaving prayers, they were praying, and they were not throwing stones.''
The massacre happened ``on Friday, the Muslim holy day, in Ramadan, the holy month, in a holy place,'' added Ibrahim Abu-Shindi, manager of the Jewish-Arab community center in Jaffa.
``And on top of that, a lot of Arabs in Israel feel like second class citizens,'' Mr. Abu-Shindi pointed out. ``They don't have the same rights to housing or education, and when you put those feelings together with religious feelings, I am not surprised at what happened.''
Abu-Shindi also blamed police behavior for much of the trouble, as did Israeli-Arab leaders elsewhere in the country. ``The police began talking to us like we were terrorists or animals,'' he charged, and the crowd in Jaffa erupted in the same way as Palestinians in the occupied territories have long been responding to such treatment.
Feeding the ferocity of the protests too, suggests Mr. Mahamid, is a deep fear amongst Israeli Arabs that the Hebron massacre might put an end to the peace process.
``When you have expectations and they fall to pieces, your reactions are very catastrophic,'' Mahamid says. ``And Israeli Arabs felt twice what Palestinians felt about the peace process: We felt it for Palestinians and for Israelis, because we are Israelis and Palestinians.''
``For 45 years the Israeli Arabs' dilemma has been that their state is in conflict with their people,'' explained Aluf Hareven, an expert on Israeli-Arab society. ``Once the agreement [between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization] was signed, that was no longer the case. There was a great sense of relief.''
Personal ties between Jaffa and the occupied territories are strong. Most Arab families who stayed there when Israel was born in 1948 have relatives who fled, and who now live now as refugees in the Gaza Strip.
And emotional ties to Palestinians in the occupied territories are strong too.
``It doesn't matter whether you are an Arab from Gaza or from Lod [in Israel],'' said Karim. ``You are an Arab. And when an Arab kills a Jew here, don't you think it hurts Jews in America?''
To the Israeli-Arab minority whose welfare depends on closer relations with Israeli society and its economy, ``what happened in Hebron is very, very dangerous,'' worried Rassem Khamaisi, an Israeli-Arab university lecturer. ``One man came to kill for ideological reasons, and I want to believe that nothing like this will happen inside Israel.''
Abu-Shindi too is worried about the impact of the murders. ``It is especially bad for us in Jaffa because we believe in coexistence,'' he lamented. ``I just hope it won't have a negative impact on what we do here.''