Palestinian minority in Israel complain of harassment

Gaza conflict has led to oppressive jingoism, say Arab activists and leftist Jews

Israel’s Palestinian minority say they are being harassed by right-wing Jewish Israelis and targeted by law enforcement officials for voicing opposition to the war in the Gaza Strip.

The complaints from a group that comprises a fifth of the country’s population range from threats and abuse to more serious cases in which they have lost their jobs after being pictured and named on social media websites, or arrested and charged after taking part in anti-war protests.

The Gaza conflict has unified nine in 10 Jewish Israelis behind the campaign against Hamas but has left those who oppose it – both Arab activists and leftist Jews – complaining of oppressive jingoism and a diminishing democratic space.

They say law enforcement officials are suppressing their protests but tolerating harassment and incitement by Jewish Israelis, such as calls for “death to Arabs” on Facebook pages and in counter-demonstrations.

Raafat Awayshi (20), an Israeli Arab university student in Beer Sheva, says he was detained by police and interrogated by a Shin Bet security officer after calling on the residents of his village of Lakiya, in the southern Negev region, to protest against the war on July 7th, the day Operation Protective Edge began. “We have to go out to scream and shout and say no to this country’s policies in Gaza,” his posting said.

Mr Awayshi was put under house arrest and charged with incitement. “For a country that defines itself as democratic, where is the freedom of speech?” he asked.

He said Israel was applying double standards when Jewish Israelis called for violence against Arabs. “There is a lot of sick propaganda on Facebook and they are not being judged for it.”

Mr Awayshi added that he and several other Arab students at Ben-Gurion University had signs posted on their dormitory doors this month saying: “The only good Arab is a dead Arab, and you’re next.”

Worsening tensions

Communal tensions between Jewish and Palestinian Israelis, always present, worsened in June after the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers and the subsequent killing and burning of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Arab, in a suspected revenge attack.

Haifa, home to a large Palestinian community, saw protests against the war on July 18th and 19th that are still having repercussions.

In the first, right-wing Jewish counter-demonstrators attacked protesters with stones and bottles, chanting “Death to Arabs” and “Go to Gaza”. The following day, witnesses say, Israeli mounted police clashed violently with demonstrators and arrested 29 people, many of whom were later released.

According to Adaleh, an NGO representing Israeli Arabs, about 600 people have been arrested in protests since July 2nd, when Mr Abu Khdeir was found killed. The group believes that 50 to 60 have been charged with crimes.

Jewish Israeli protesters in Tel Aviv have also complained of being roughed up by counter-demonstrators during protests against the war, amid similar complaints of poor policing.

“Freedom of speech is sacred and crucial to the health of a democracy,” said Steven Beck of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel. “We cannot use the difficult situation as an excuse to suppress these rights.”

After the Haifa protests, pro-war Israelis published Facebook postings with photos and names of those who took part and the names of their employers, who were encouraged to sack them. Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s far-right foreign minister, this month called for a boycott of Arab businesses that had organised a strike to protest against the Gaza conflict.

Israel’s treatment of its Arab minority is seen by liberal Israelis and Arabs as a barometer of the quality of its democracy.

On Tuesday Haneen Zoabi, an Arab member of the Knesset who is vilified in Israel for her outspokenly critical views, was suspended from all parliamentary activity except voting for six months. – (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014)