COOK: Israel’s Arab citizens call general strike September 30, 2009

Arab strike in Israel

by Jonathan Cook  -  Countercurrents -  10 September 2009

The increasingly harsh political climate in Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government has prompted the leadership of the country’s 1.3 million Arab citizens to call the first general strike in several years.

The one-day stoppage is due to take place on October 1, a date heavy with symbolism because it marks the anniversary of another general strike, in 2000 at the start of the second intifada, when 13 Arab demonstrators were shot dead by Israeli police.

The Arab leadership said it was responding to a string of what it called “racist” government measures that cast the Arab minority, a fifth of the population, as enemies of the state.

“In recent months, there has been a parallel situation of racist policies in the parliament and greater condoning of violence towards Arab citizens by the police and courts,” said Jafar Farah, the head of Mossawa, an Arab advocacy group in Israel. “This attitude is feeding down to the streets.”

Confrontations between the country’s Arab minority and Mr Netanyahu’s coalition, formed in the spring, surfaced almost immediately over a set of controversial legal measures.

The proposed bills outlawed the commemoration of the “nakba”, or catastrophe, the word used by Palestinians for their dispossession in 1948; required citizens to swear loyalty to Israel as a Zionist state; and banned political demands for ending Israel’s status as a Jewish state. Following widespread outcries, the bills were either watered down or dropped.

But simmering tensions came to a boil again late last month when the education minister, Gideon Saar, presented educational reforms to mark the start of the new school year.

He confirmed plans to drop the word “nakba” from Arabic textbooks and announced his intention to launch classes on Jewish heritage and Zionism. He also said he would tie future budgets for schools to their success in persuading pupils to perform military or national service.

Arab citizens are generally exempted from military service, although officials have recently been trying to push civilian national service in its place.

Mohammed Barakeh, an Arab member of the parliament, denounced the linking of budgets to national service, saying that Mr Saar “must understand that he is the education minister, not the defence minister”.

The separate Arab education system is in need of thousands of more classrooms and is massively underfunded – up to nine times more is spent on a Jewish pupil than an Arab one, according to surveys. Research published by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem last month showed that Jewish schools received five times more than Arab schools for special education classes.

Mr Netanyau, who accompanied Mr Saar on a tour of schools last week, appeared to give his approval to the proposed reforms: “We advocate education that stresses values, Zionism and a love of the land.”

Mr Barakeh also accused government ministers of competing to promote measures hostile to the Arab minority. “Anyone seeking fame finds it in racist whims against Arabs – the ministers of infrastructure, education, transportation, whoever.”

Mr Barakeh was referring to a raft of recent proposals.

Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister and leader of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, announced last month that training for the diplomatic service would be open only to candidates who had completed national service.

Of the foreign ministry’s 980 employees only 15 are Arab, a pattern reflected across the civil service sector according to Sikkuy, a rights and coexistence organisation.

The housing minister, Ariel Atias, has demanded communal segregation between Jewish and Arab citizens and instituted a drive to make the Galilee, where most Arab citizens live, “more Jewish”.

The interior minister, Eli Yishai, has approved a wave of house demolitions, most controversially in the Arab town of Umm al Fahm in Wadi Ara, where a commercial district has been twice bulldozed in recent weeks.

The transport minister, Israel Katz, has insisted that road signs include placenames only as they are spelt in Hebrew, thereby erasing the Arabic names of communities such as Jerusalem, Jaffa and Nazareth.

Arab legislators have come under repeated verbal attack from members of the government. Last month, the infrastructures minister, Uzi Landau, refused to meet Taleb al Sana, the head of the United Arab List party, on parliamentary business, justifying the decision on the grounds that Arab MPs were “working constantly here and abroad to delegitimise Israel as a Jewish state”.

Shortly afterwards, Mr al Sana and his colleague Ahmed Tibi, the deputy speaker of parliament, attended Fatah’s congress in Bethlehem, prompting Mr Lieberman to declare: “Our central problem is not the Palestinians, but Ahmed Tibi and his ilk – they are more dangerous than Hamas and [Islamic] Jihad combined.”

Mr Tibi responded: “When Lieberman, the foreign minister, says that, ordinary Israelis understand that he is calling for me to be killed as a terrorist. It is the most dangerous incitement.”

Israel’s annual Democracy Index poll, published last month, showed that 53 per cent of Israeli Jews supported moves to encourage Arab citizens to leave.

Mr Farah said the strike date had been selected to coincide with the anniversary of the deaths of 13 Arab citizens in October 2000 to highlight both the failure to prosecute any of the policemen involved and the continuing official condoning of violence against Arab citizens by police and Jewish citizens.

Some 27 Arab citizens have been killed by the police in unexplained circumstances since the October deaths, Mr Farah said, with only one conviction. Last week, Shahar Mizrahi, an undercover officer, was given a 15-month sentence for shooting Mahmoud Ghanaim in the head from point-blank range. The judge called Mizrahi’s actions “reckless”.

This week, in another controversial case, Shai Dromi, a Negev rancher, received six months community service after shooting dead a Bedouin intruder, Khaled al Atrash, as the latter fled.

Mr Farah said the regard in which Arab citizens were held by the government was illustrated by a comment from the public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, in June. During an inspection of police officers working undercover as drug addicts, the minister praised one for looking like a “real dirty Arab”.

Related article:
COOK, Jonathan: “Gaza peace protester is imprisoned in own home”, The National, 28 September 2009

This strike is a decision taken by the High Follow-up Committee for the Arab Citizens of Israel, which represents the Palestinian Arab population inside Israel, and includes all Arab political parties, local Arab municipalities and organizations of civil society.   The committee declared a general strike on Thursday, October 1, 2009 to commemorate  the 9th anniversary of the October 2000 uprising. Since we the Palestinians in Israel have joined the rest of the Palestinians and protested, under the Israeli umbrella of democracy, the events of the 2000 uprising,  our simple right to speak out and express our disagreement resulted in the murder of 13 demonstrators who are Palestinians citizens of Israel by the Israeli police.  Moreover,  their case is still waiting for justice. Our
repeated attempts to bring the responsible officers to justice resulted in nothing.

Nowadays, we are facing new threats of racial policies in Israel, especially after the election of the extreme right government which appointed the racist and fascist politician Avigdor Liberman as foreign minister. That Israeli racism is now trying to get international legitimacy after getting full internal legitimacy and becoming the mainstream in Israeli politics.  Liberman calls for the denial of the rights of Arab citizens of Israel; he constantly revokes our citizenship, asking to transfer us and even to kill Arab members of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament). The world (especially the EU) which punished the government of Austria because of Jorg Haider, should not be indifferent towards the Israeli government, but should take into account that Liberman is much
more extreme and dangerous than was Haider.

Racism is not a domestic issue; our local struggle against Israeli racism is an integral part of international effort against it. Your solidarity will strengthen us and emphasize that we are not alone in the campaign against racism. In our strike we want to emphasize that racism should be defeated, not compromised, and surely not legitimized. I’m sure that this is your position also.

In our strike we affirm our commitment to continue the struggle for just peace, which should be based on the end of occupation and right of return for the Palestinian refugees and rejection of the demand to recognize Israel as Jewish state. We demand to put an immediate end to the siege on Gaza, demolish the racist separation wall, and punish the Israeli political and military officials who are responsible for war crimes.

Today we the Palestinian citizens of Israel are sum of 1.3 million citizens (20% of population in Israel), and we are an essential part of the Palestinian nation. The strike is a part of their struggle for equal civic and national rights, and it is against the racist policies of discrimination, marginalization, confiscation of land, demolition of houses, increase racial incitement, racist laws, political persecution and other policies aims to deny our rights as citizens and as endogenous people on our land.

In our general strike we demand:

  • Truth and justice: No impunity to the killers of our people in October in 2000!
  • Stop land confiscation and house demolition!
  • Stop Israeli racism! Full civic and national right for Arab Palestinian citizens!
  • Justice for Palestinian people: No justice No peace!

Dr. Jamal Zahalka, MK
Chairman of Tajamoa block in the Knesset

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