Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Former prime minister Ehud Barak failed in his
handling of the Arab riots of October 2000, but is
not barred from holding political office in the
future, the state commission of inquiry that
investigated the riots said in its conclusions,
released yesterday.

The Or Commission renders its long awaited verdict, courtesy of Haaretz. I think the report was fair in most respects. It pointed out culpability on all sides, particularly on the non-preparedness of the police and the inciteful rhetoric of certain Arab legislators. The Commission was in a bit of a bind since, like all such commissions, it had the dual purpose of trying to discover truth while also providing a tool for defusing political tensions. I think they did a fairly decent job of navigating between the hammer and the anvil. There are some problems however:

The 781-page report described Israel's treatment
of its Arabs as "the most important and
sensitive domestic matter on the state's
agenda" and lambasted what it described as a
consistent policy of discrimination against
this sector by all Israeli governments. "The
establishment did not show sufficient
sensitivity to the needs of the Arab
population, and did not take enough action in
order to allocate state resources in an equal
manner," it wrote. "The state did not do enough
or try hard enough to create equality for its
Arab citizens or to uproot discriminatory or
unjust phenomena. Meanwhile, not enough was
done to enforce the law in the Arab sector, and
the illegal and undesirable phenomena that took
root there. As a result of this and other
processes, serious distress prevailed in the
Arab sector in various areas."

The issue of Israel's Arab citizens is a minefield, and there certainly is a great deal of alienation, rage and general discontent among the Arab population. I should note, however, that Israel is a nation which has been at war for its entire history and yet harbors a substantial minority population which is at the least passively sympathetic to Israel's enemies. No one much likes to talk about this, but it is simply an obvious fact. I have never met a single Arab Israeli who did not support the Palestinians and the other Arab nations in their conflict with Israel and, frankly, I don't think its fair to expect otherwise. The Israeli Arabs are entitled to choose the side of their own people in a military struggle. That being said, it is neither racist nor discriminatory to acknowledge the immense potential for fifth columnism in the Arab sector, a potential which has become more and more publicly acknowledged (by both sides) as the conflict with the Palestinians drags on. It is my personal belief that the younger generation of Israeli Arabs identifies totally with the Palestinians and hopes to one day unite with them by making Israel an Arab state. Thus, it is highly disengenuous to place the blame for the suspicion and tension that exists between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel solely at the doorstep of various "discriminatory" Israeli governments.

I would also note that Israeli Arabs recieve the same benefits as other Israeli citizens in regard to basic rights as well as the various Socialist programs which pay for health care, schools, etc. They also retain an immense amount of cultural/religious autonomy (particularly among the Beduin) which allows them run their own communities with a certain (in some cases very large) degree of independence from the Israeli state.

Of course, there's no point in denying the fact that there are certain rights (the Law of Return, for instance) accorded to the Jews as a collectivity and not to Arabs as a collectivity. This certainly does cause great anger and resentment in the Arab sector. I personally feel that such rights are necessary in a state which exists to ensure the collective self-determination of a people. The same type of situation exists on almost all other countries, including the Arab states. (It is, for instance, almost impossible for a non-Arab to become a citizen of an Arab state.) The reason for this is that states such as these are set up to serve as a vehicle for a certain collectivity. I see no reason, however, why certain collective majority rights should interfere with individual minority rights. Such laws that exist in Israel in my opinon ought to be changed, so long as they do not threaten Israel's existence as a Jewish state. Were our positions reversed, the Israeli Arabs would feel the same.

All this being said, it is very rare for Israeli Arabs to actively take action against the state or other Israeli citizens. The incidents that sparked the Or Commission investigation, however, were just that: extremely rare. By which I mean that the police had never before dealt with a demonstration of such size and violence and, to put it mildly, had no idea what to do about it. The fact that the police were underequipped and underprepared, which more than anything else sparked the police panic which led to the use of deadly force, was due more to the unprecedented nature of the phenomenon than anything else.

At the same time, it said, Israeli Arab leaders,
both political and religious, contributed to
the "ideological-political radicalization of
the Arab sector" and to its increasing recourse
to violence as a means of obtaining its ends.
"Despite the fact that the slide from orderly
demonstrations to unrestrained riots
consistently reoccurred, the Arab leadership
took no precautions to prevent the
deterioration into violence, and did not warn
against violating the law at demonstrations and
processions it had initiated," the report said.

This is certainly true. There is an enormous radicalization of the Arab population due to the intifada and the rise of religious fundamentalism. Professors have told me that ten years ago the female Arab students at my university never wore head coverings or chadors, now almost all of them do. This rise in fundamentalism has been coupled with the explosion of demonization and violent racism against Israel and Jews in general in the Arab media, which is certainly feeding into the growing violence in the Arab sector. Several professors I've spoken to think that its only a matter of time before full scale revolt erupts in the more religious Arab towns. I don't think that is an impossible scenario.

It also slammed the police on an operational
level, for everything from its widespread use
of rubber-coated bullets instead of nonlethal
methods of crowd dispersal, such as water
cannons and tear gas, to its culture of failing
to learn from past mistakes.

I think this is bullocks. Nobody thought the demonstrations would become as violent as they did. The police ended up in a violent and fast-changing situation that they weren't prepared for. Its ludicrous to try and turn them into the fall guy for what was a failure on every level of government. What happened was simply this: the Israeli government was still living in an Oslo mentality, while the demonstrators were already in an intifada mentality. The demonstrators wanted a confrontation and the government was dumb enough to give them one. That's not the fault of a handful of policemen caught in a lousy situation in which they felt their lives to be endangered.

But while the report criticized Barak for his
shortcomings - ranging from insufficient
awareness of what was happening in the Arab
sector to his failure to demand detailed
reports from the police during the riots - it
did not make any recommendations regarding his
political future. It also recommended no
sanctions against the three Israeli Arab
leaders to whom it sent warning letters - MK
Abdulmalik Dehamshe, MK Azmi Bishara and Sheikh
Ra'ed Salah, the head of the Islamic Movement's
northern branch - even though it criticized
them for inflaming passions both before and
during the riots and for sending the message
that violence was an acceptable way to achieve
the community's goals.

In other words, the major figures on both sides will back. With this behind him, Barak will likely reenter politics in the near future, and Bishara (who is a very smart guy by the way, which makes him doubly dangerous) and his crew will continue their antics, likely leading to another major incident of this kind. Only in Israel.


Post a Comment

<< Home