Monday, March 31, 2008

You can’t ‘tame’ Israeli Arabs

When inflammatory statements against Israeli Arabs abound, Land Day is more than relevant
Abir Kopty-an Arab perspective

Land Day is perpetual proof of Israel’s failures and shortcoming vis-à-vis its Arab population. From the days of Ben-Gurion who wanted to make us (Israeli Arabs) into “woodchoppers and water bearers”, to the present day when blatant incitement against us abounds, and calls for transfer are rampant and have become part of the mainstream. Many believed that we could be domesticated, house broken, the national consciousness seared out of us. They were wrong, and they mislead others into seeing us as a problem, an enemy. This prevents many people from listening to our national narrative, our tale, and acknowledging our legitimate needs and concern.

Land Day this year sees a growing trend of blatant racism towards Israeli Arabs, as well as a growing delegitimatization of our right to live in the Negev, the Galilee, and in Israel’s ethnically mixed cities and towns. The active participation in Land Day events, even 32 years later, clearly shows that the struggle is far from over, and that young Israeli Arabs, especially, do not passively accept the question marks cast on their lives.

The advent of Land Day came when Israeli Arabs, led by the Communist Party, held a general strike for the first time since 1948. This, in protest of the Israeli government ‘s decision to seize thousands of acres of land in the Galilee from what is today the Arab village of Natufa in order to bring “Jewish blood” to the Galilee and to establish settlements in the region for Jews alone. Six Arab residents of Sakhnin, Kfar Kana and Arabeh were killed at the hands of police that fateful day.

Land Day happened nearly as many years ago as I was born, but it left an indelible mark even on those Israeli Arabs that did not experience it first hand. Thousands of my Israeli-Arab cohorts are today marking Land Day in events across Israel, from the Negev to the Galilee. Commemorating this day also serves to unite all segments of the Palestinian populace, as the day is marked even by Palestinians who live in the occupied territories and in refugee camps. The day is also firmly seared into international consciousness, being acknowledged by Arab nations and solidarity movements worldwide.

The day, aside from its astute symbolic significance, also hold several other important meanings, one of which relates to the importance of land to the Arab citizens of Israel. Since 1948, Israel’s Arab citizens were denied hundreds of acres of land. Today, after 60 years of supposed citizenship, hundreds of Arabs villages, towns and cities still do not have clearly designated boundaries, and thousands of Arab homes face grazing and demolition. Moreover, the State of Israel denies some 50 unrecognized Arab villages basic services such as water, electricity, schools and health services. Even within ethnically mixed cities and towns, Israeli Arabs are faced with racially motivated eviction schemes.

On the political front, Land Day represents the collective consciousness of the Arab population as minority struggling to define its national identity, and as citizens struggling for equal rights. This is the national day of that small minority who chose to remain behind after Israeli Independence, and who, in 1976, stood up and demanded their equal rights as citizens; the right to live and subsist in dignity foremost among them.

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