Uneasy Arab-Israeli Coexistence Threatened By Violence

4 minute read

For years, Ziyad Abul Hawa lived in his apartment building in central Tel Aviv in harmony with his neighbors. Then, about two weeks ago, he came home to find a note posted in the lobby.

“Due to the security situation I don’t think we can allow ourselves to be indifferent and do nothing about the fact that there is an Arab residing in our building,” read the note. “His name is Ziyad Abul Hawa and he lives in apartment 4.”

Abul Hawa, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, took a selfie with the note and posted it on Facebook. His post went viral.

It wasn’t the first time Abul Hawa had faced racism or discrimination in Israel, but it was probably the most personal. The anonymous note in his apartment building called for a meeting on Oct. 15, “to discuss the situation and decide what can be done.”

The rising violence here is shaking the already uneasy coexistence between Jews and Arabs inside Israel’s borders. There are approximately 1.5 million Palestinian and Arab citizens of Israel — separate from the Palestinians of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. These Arab Israelis theoretically have identical rights to Jewish Israelis but they say the Israeli government treats them as second class citizens, allocating them less resources and restricting the expansion of their communities and prioritizing Jewish Israelis.

In recent weeks at least four local school boards moved to fire or restrict Palestinian workers from being in the school during class hours. Most initiatives were prompted by parents but orders were given by administrators to fire or change the working hours of Arab employees. In one case a fund was set up to hire a Jewish worker instead. Other campaigns targeted Arab employees who posted political Facebook statuses seen as anti-Israeli and insisting they be fired.

Jewish Israelis feel the discrimination is supported by their leaders, says Rawnak Natour, co-director of Sikkuy, the Association for the Advancement of Civil Equality. In national elections this spring, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Israelis that Arab citizens were heading to the polls to vote and recently Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat told Jewish Israelis to “carry your weapons” to protect against an attack by Palestinians.

While few Arab citizens of Israel have been involved in attacks like in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, discontent can fuel violence. On Oct. 18, Muhannad al-Uqbi, an Arab citizen of Israel, entered a bus station in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba and shot an Israeli solider before grabbing the solder’s rifle and shooting and wounding 11 others, according to Israeli security forces. It was the third alleged attack by an Arab citizen of Israel since Oct. 1.

The tensions are so high that Palestinians say Israelis have become too quick on the trigger and shoot unarmed Palestinians or people they suspect are Palestinians. At least three Jewish Israelis have been attacked, at least one fatally, by other Jewish Israelis who believed they were Palestinian attackers.

Sheikh Sayid, a leader of the al-Uqbi family condemned the attack by his relative in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. But he also complained about the lack of amenities in their Israeli Bedouin village. His village of Uqbi is one of dozens of Arab Bedouin communities not recognized by the Israeli government; it receives few municipal services and it is threatened with demolition.

Abul Hawa says, in his case, Jewish Israelis jumped to his defense. After his selfie post, someone created a Facebook event calling on people, from across Tel Aviv to show-up at the meeting Oct. 15 in support of Abul Hawa. More than a thousand people clicked “going” on the page. Hundreds showed up at a rally to back him in a square near his home. Other neighbors wrote him supportive notes assuring him he was welcome.

“Luckily enough in this case there were people who were against this,” says Natour. “But other people supported it.” Natour says her fear is that this latest cycle of violence and incitement is pushing the communities even farther part. “I’m worried about the possibility of being able to live together,” says Natour.

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