Palestinian citizens caught in a vice between country and ethnicity; 'There's a massacre in Gaza; to condemn it does not make us traitors'.
Arab Israelis labelled as traitors
JERUSALEM // Nothing perhaps better illustrated the state of relations in Israel between Jewish and Palestinian citizens than the removal from the Israeli parliament of Ahmed Tibi, a legislator from the United Arab List, and Mohammad Barakeh, of the left-wing Hadash Party, during a stormy session on Monday discussing Israel's bombardment of Gaza. Mr Tibi was thrown out after loudly remonstrating with Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, who in his speech to the Knesset claimed "300 terrorists" had been killed in Gaza. "Tell the Knesset how many of them were women and children," shouted Mr Tibi before being removed. Mr Barakeh, meanwhile, became embroiled in a slanging match with several Jewish MPs over the bloodshed in Gaza that ended in his expulsion from the chamber, but not before Gilad Ardan, of the Likud party, had accused him of being a "racist", to which Mr Barakeh retorted that Mr Ardan was "a shoe". The exchanges took place after Palestinian members of parliament had tried and failed to pass a motion calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. For their pains, they were lectured by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli opposition leader, on loyalty and accused by Avigdor Lieberman, another MP of the far Right, of being "traitors". Thus, powerless to affect policy and ultimately ejected, the two elected representatives typify what many feel is the position of Israel's 1.2 million Palestinian citizens, a situation that is magnified whenever there is conflict. "It is at times like this that, while we can protest and demonstrate, it becomes clear that the state of Israel does not take any notice of the opinions of its Palestinian citizens," said Reem Hazzan, 25, a student at Haifa University. Ms Hazzan said she had been active in some of the dozens of demonstrations against Israel's bombardment of Gaza that have erupted across Israel in recent days, mostly among the Palestinian community, and that have resulted in more than 100 arrests. "We may be more than 20 per cent of the population, but we don't have any influence on government policy." Ostensibly equal citizens in a state that defines itself as Jewish, Palestinians in Israel spent the first 18 years of Israel's existence under martial law, with their movements restricted and much of their land expropriated by the state. Their situation eased somewhat after 1966, but state money continued to pour into Jewish towns more than Palestinian development, a practice that is still very much evident today. Nevertheless, Palestinians gradually began to improve their position in Israel, both socio-economically and by organising political parties and gaining entry to the Israeli parliament. The Oslo Accords saw some tout the community as a potential bridge that could secure the success of the peace process, but when the second intifada erupted in 2000, and Palestinians in Israel took to the streets to protest against the Israeli army's practices in the occupied territories, Israeli police dispersed demonstrators with live fire, killing 13. That provided a rude reminder to many that Palestinians in Israel could not count on being treated the same as Jewish citizens. Today, with the Palestinian community again taking to the streets to protest against Israel's bombardment of Gaza, the memory of those Oct 2000 demonstrations is still alive. "I feel fear," said Raneen Geries, 29, the oral history co-ordinator for Zochrot, an Israeli organisation whose mission it is to raise awareness about the events of the 1948 Palestine war among Israelis. Ms Geries said she had been active in demonstrations in Haifa, where she lives, over the past days. "There is a sense of shock in the community. No one can do anything or think of anything but what is happening in Gaza. But there is also a sense of fear when we demonstrate. We don't know how the police will treat us, as Palestinian citizens." Ms Geries said the recent days had seen the community react even stronger than when the second intifada broke out. "The only difference is that the police has not resorted to live fire." They also exposed the fault lines in Israeli society, she said. "There is much more tension now with Jewish communities, and when I see them in demonstrations against us, calling for [population] transfer, calling us traitors, it's horrible." Indeed, the question of loyalty to the Israeli state, the one Mr Netanyahu raised in his speech to parliament on Monday, is one very much in focus in the Israeli media when it comes to coverage of the Palestinian community. And it grates. Ms Hazzan, who ran and narrowly failed to be elected to the Acre municipal council in November, said times of conflict and war make the Palestinian community more visible, but "then it becomes a question of our loyalty and not what we have to say". Ruham Nimri, 31, said questions of loyalty irritated him. "I won't say it's not complicated," he said about his identity. "But when someone like Netanyahu talks about loyalty it makes me angry. At the same time, it shows the reality we live. In this situation, people want us to choose sides, but why? There is a massacre in Gaza; to condemn it does not make us traitors." Mr Nimri, who lives in Jerusalem but works as a media monitor with a Palestinian non-governmental organisation in Ramallah, said he could understand that Israelis near Gaza lived in fear of rockets, noting that sometimes the victims were Palestinian. A rocket that landed on a construction site in Ashqelon on Monday killed one Palestinian construction worker and wounded five others. But he rejected Israeli attempts to portray as equivalent Palestinian rockets and Israeli F-16s and said most people could not close that conceptual gap. "The relationship between Jewish and Palestinian citizens in Israel will never be stable until there is peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Unfortunately, I don't see when that is going to happen." firstname.lastname@example.org