The Janus Face of Israeli Democracy
by Michael Dahan
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
ëAsleh---an Israeli citizen and member of the "Seeds for Peace" initiative---in cold blood.
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 videotaped 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.
Michael Dahan is an Israeli political scientist, currently conducting post doctoral research at the Political
Science Department, University of Cincinnati. He is also a co-founder of the Middle East Virtual Center, or MEVIC,
an attempt by academic nationals, resident in the Middle East, to open, promote and sustain intra-regional channels
of communication and cooperation.
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