The forgotten Palestinians in Israel’s unfriendly fire

Sunday 11/12/2016

The fires that recently spread across Israel caused extensive environmental, infrastructural and emotional damage and they enforced what I already knew: The Palestinian citizens of Israel are invisible and forgotten.

I also learned that, while strong winds and dry conditions fuelled the flames, fire does not discrimi­nate between Arab and Jewish towns in Israel. They both felt the heat.

Palestinian citizens of Israel number 1.7 million — one-fifth of the population. We are the sons and daughters and the grand­children of those who were not expelled from their lands in 1948, who did not escape in fear and who chose to remain and live as second-class — even third-class — citizens.

We are closely tied to our broth­ers and sisters in the Palestinian territories for we share the same history that separated us. So tied are we, that almost anything that happens in the West Bank, whether it be an alleged stabbing or a clo­sure of the borders, Palestinians in Israel are affected too, prone to suspicion, prone to arrest.

So why was it that, when the fires were spreading, posts on social media by both — I emphasise both — Arabs and pro-Palestinian non-Arabs failed to recognise that part of the population of Israel is Palestinian? That Palestinian villages and cities were in danger of being burned and the residents becoming homeless and those who were wishing harm on Israel were also unknowingly wishing harm on us. Don’t they know that every part of the beautiful burning land, every tree and every stone has been touched by a Palestinian heart?

Supporters of the Palestinian territories unintentionally discriminated between the Palestinians in Israel and those on the other side of the border. Just as approximately 50 laws in Israel discriminate against its Palestinian citizens.

We are in an awkward situation because, in a way, we are products of two contradicting societies. We carry a national identity that does not complement our heritage or religious and political beliefs. How­ever, we are loyal citizens and are often kinder to this country than it is to us.

Our lack of visibility to govern­ments and people outside of Israel has resulted from Israeli govern­mental attempts to silence the Palestinian population and often comes at a high cost to us.

Take this for example: The Israeli Ministry of Transportation recently instructed the Dan Bus Company to discontinue making Arabic an­nouncements following complaints by Israeli Jewish residents of the Beersheba municipality although the Arab population in the area is high.

And recently, at a café in Haifa, the so-called mixed city of peace, a policy was implemented that forbids Arab employees from speaking Arabic to each other and to Arabic-speaking customers.

And what about the 70,000 Bedouins, citizens of Israel, whose villages have been under constant threat of demolition for years, most recently the village of Umm al-Hiran, home to approximately 1,000 Bedouins.

And then there is the proposed muezzin bill, which is, in effect, an attempt to silence our religious voice during the adhan, the call to prayer, by limiting the times when microphones are used.

Back to the fires. Dubbed the “arson intifada”, they were quickly ruled “arson terrorism”, although they have not been proven to be that.

Maybe the government needed a distraction from its own inability to extinguish the fires. For the second time in six years, help from foreign neighbours, including the Palestin­ian territories, was called upon.

Naftali Bennett, the right-wing minister of Education, stated: “Only those who do not belong to this country are able to set it alight.”

I do believe that he is right. Who would intentionally burn their own land?

Yoram Schweitzer from the Insti­tute for National Security Studies told the Times of Israel: “We would do well to dispense as much as pos­sible with the widespread tradition in Israel of determining whether something is a terrorist incident long before it is proven to be so.”

But they had to blame someone, didn’t they?