Arab-Israeli uprising: ‘This time it’s different’

Tamer Nafer, a Palestinian rapper from Lod, the Israeli town in the throes of communal violence between Jews and Arabs, thought he had seen it all.

At 43, he experienced the first and second intifadas or uprisings, the steady rise of increasingly right-wing Israeli populism and a cycle of wars between the country whose passport he holds and his fellow Arabs in Gaza. Never before had there been such a force of sentiment in Israel’s Arab minority community, he said.

“This time it’s different, a kind of awakening born at 70 years old. . . years of oppression, ”he said the next morning his hometown seemed to be torn apart – Jews and Arabs who are Israeli citizens fought in the streets, with police and special forces failing to managed to impose order. “In this country, equality is a technicality – it is a Jewish country, and its national anthem itself ignores two million Arabs and Christians.”

This week, Nafer’s hymns – such as Innocent criminals (“When Jews protest, cops use clubs / when Arabs protest, cops take their souls”) – screamed car stereos of young Arab men driving in mixed towns such as Lod, Jaffa and East Jerusalem , the background thudded with the uprising.

With Israeli Jews and the Arab Israeli minority fighting in the streets and the Israeli army bombing Palestinian militants in Gaza and Hamas firing rockets at Israeli towns and villages, Israel has passed in a week of seeming safe, stable and thrives in a country grappling with internal conflict and at war with nearby undefeated enemies.

With nearly a dozen people killed in communal fighting and hundreds arrested, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Right now we have no greater threat than this unrest.”

The Arab-Jewish violence has called into question Israel’s narrative of peaceful coexistence and its claim that all citizens are treated the same. Arabs, who make up a fifth of the population, say their daily life is circumscribed by bureaucratic and legal discrimination rooted in Israeli law. Israel has dozens of laws that discriminate or apply only to Arabs, according to Adalah, a group that advocates equality for Arabs and Jews.

Jewish residents take out a Torah scroll from a burnt-out synagogue in Lod © Abir Sultan / EPA / Shutterstock

Human Rights Watch said last month that Israel’s system of governance had crossed the threshold of apartheid, discriminating against its Arab citizens while violating the human rights of five million Palestinians in the occupied territories. B’Tselem, an Israeli rights group, made the accusation in January.

Both groups drew condemnation from the Israeli government, which dismissed the HRW report as “absurd and false.” He says his policies are driven by security considerations, not race.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it’s a right-wing or a left-wing government, it’s still a Zionist government,” said Tony Copti, a documentary maker who worked on the award-winning film, Ajami, on crime and poverty in a corner of Jaffa, an Arab neighborhood. “This fire has been simmering all this time – it’s like a bubble that Palestinian citizens of Israel have been told to live in, but we can’t do it anymore.

The immediate trigger for this week’s unrest was a volatile mix of questions on a busy schedule – a court ruling due to the anniversary of Israel’s conquest of Jerusalem that allegedly saw Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem evicted from their homes; footage of brutal Israeli police beating Muslim protesters at al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan prayers and an increasingly aggressive right-wing fringe in Israel’s parliament, or Knesset.

The al-Aqsa Mosque is located in a complex – known to Muslims as the Haram ash-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews like the Temple Mount – it’s sacred to both religions.

Palestinian protesters flee tear gas fired by Israeli security forces at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque
Palestinian protesters flee tear gas fired by Israeli security forces at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque © Ahmad Gharabli / AFP / Getty

The long list of Arab grievances – from historic injustice to restrictions around al-Aqsa – has strengthened ties between Palestinians within Israel’s borders and those in the territories it occupies, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Within days, Hamas, the militant group that controls the stranded Gaza Strip, fired a volley of rockets at Israel, igniting a conflict that threatens to turn into a full-fledged war. This quickly fueled communal violence in Israel.

For some members of the Arab minority community, mostly descendants of Palestinians who remained within the borders of the Jewish state when Israel was born in 1948, the scenes evoke attacks by Jewish militias against their parents. and grandparents.

The Jews have been deeply shaken by the violence, which some call a “pogrom” recalling their suffering in 20th century Europe. Arab protesters burned Jewish synagogues and schools. Dozens of Jews were assaulted, hundreds of their cars were set on fire. Arab mobs threw stones and vandalized Jewish properties. A Jew was stabbed on his way to the synagogue. “Civil war has broken out,” said Yair Revivo, Mayor of Lod.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said: “The sight of the Lod pogrom and unrest across the country by an incited and bloodthirsty Arab mob, injuring people, damaging property and even attacking sacred Jewish spaces is unforgivable.”

For the Arabs the violence was so bad that Asma spent Eid al-Fitr, on the day when Muslims break their Ramadan fast during the day with a feast, hiding at home. The 48-year-old mother coaxed her two sons by granting him an Eid wish – lock doors, remove Ramadan balloons from windows and hide at their home in Ajami, an Arab neighborhood south of the skyline sparkling Tel Aviv and attractive beaches.

Outside, the streets were deserted; Inside the crisis was amplified by social media. On the news and on their phones, Asma and her family watched videos of a crowd shouting “Death to the Arabs” just five minutes from her home. In another video, masked men with a Star of David on their surplus army fatigues showed off their stun grenades and blocked the entrance to a street she vaguely recognizes. “Let the world see the ugly truth,” Asma said of the videos.

She rummaged through her drawers and pulled out her Israeli passport, used only once when she flew to Istanbul for her 45th birthday. “I should throw this out,” she said. “It’s not worth anything.”

For Nafer, the rapper, the fight is not over. “I don’t want to coexist, I just want to exist.”

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