Don’t put life in Acre back on track

A Palestinian from Acre demonstrates outside the northern city’s municipality with a sign that reads, “Search me, I am an Arab.” (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)

“The Acre incidents” rocked the city from its supposed tranquility — a tranquility that hinged on a tenuous basis. It might definitely be best for everyone if life in Acre does not return to its previous track. It is simply necessary to change the track.

In his important book Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon, the French psychiatrist and psychoanalyst (1925-1961), writes: “There is no point in fighting racism if the implications of the oppression imposed by the dominant culture — oppression that harms communities, politics, culture and even the emotional experience — are not made clear at the outset.” If Fanon had to assign significance to these events, he would immediately reject the notion that they were “an accident or psychological caprice.” He would surely determine that it was a case of “a cultural system of oppression.”

It seems that the Jewish public has yet to internalize the fact that the politics of power and the culture of hegemony are not beneficial, and that the majority cannot continually impose its will in order to erase the identity of the indigenous minority in Israel. Acre is not only a place where the Arabs are excluded, discriminated against and oppressed, it is also an arena where an ongoing struggle is being waged between Jews and Arabs. Sometimes this is expressed by the Arabs posting a sign with the city’s name in Arabic at the entrance to Acre. Other times, this is expressed by sounding the call to prayer in Arabic via loudspeakers at the conclusion of the Ramadan fast, or by the struggle of the Arab residents for decent housing.

In the meantime, the Jewish majority is still addicted to the culture of hegemony and its main practice — oppression. Therefore, during the coming days, new aspects, forms and ways of punishment will be revealed and exposed, such as the actual boycotting of Arab businesses, additional arrests, the filing of indictments, supervision and surveillance of activists and incitement against the local and national leadership. It can also be expected that the Arabs will be branded as belligerent, primitive and vandals of public property.

But Acre is not alone. There are six other cities like it that are also called “mixed cities,” where strong and deep-rooted Palestinian communities lived until 1948 and where only the remnants of the expulsion remained. The situation of the Arab residents in Acre also reflects the situation of the Arabs in Jaffa, Ramle, Lod and Haifa. During the past decade, they were joined by Upper Nazareth and Carmiel. The residents in these cities are exposed to persistent efforts to expel them by various means, most of them systemic. They are at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, suffer from unemployment, poverty, a shortage of housing and land, and encounter policies of two-fold discrimination: from both the central government and from the local government.

The mixed cities are places where Jews and Arabs interface in Israel, and have an impact on their overall relations in Israel. We cannot suffice with “living side by side” and should transform these mixed cities into places that are truly shared, where the Arabs can feel like an integral part of the population and partners in shaping its future, and not like a “problem” that needs to be confronted. The central government must provide incentives to the local government in these cities, along with tools for building the shared communities on a stable foundation.

In addition to the systemic change in the attitude toward the Arab residents in the mixed cities, one of the first steps should be to prevent infiltration by agitators. An example of this is the yeshiva led by Yossi Stern, which was planted about five years ago in the heart of Acre, in the Wolfson neighborhood, which is predominantly inhabited by Arabs. This yeshiva intentionally stirs opposition and anger among the Arab residents.

Violent behavior by the Arab residents should not be condoned, just as the violence of the Jewish residents should be rejected. The big difference between the two is that the violence of the Jews is supported by the hegemony of oppression that Frantz Fanon wrote about. The racism toward the Arab public in Israel is expressed in the statements by Jewish leaders in the Knesset and in the fact that the most prominent proponent of the transfer plan even served as “minister for strategic threats” — as if the citizens of the state are the threat.

The incidents in Acre immediately awakened the Palestinian collective memory of what occurred eight years ago on Yom Kippur. Jewish residents in Upper Nazareth attacked Arab residents, leading to the killing of two young Arabs by the police forces. Therefore, no one should be surprised that the Arab residents went out to defend themselves after learning that Tawfiq Jamal had been killed — a rumor that later turned out to be wrong. The symbolism of the timing, and particularly its proximity to the eighth anniversary of the events of October 2000 and the attorney general’s decision to close the investigation files against the policemen who opened fire, as well as the fact that the government is shirking its commitment to implement the recommendations of the Or Commission that pertain to the rights of the Palestinian minority — have generated anger that is liable to explode at any time and in any place.

The Acre incidents are a warning light for the government, but a warning is not enough. The local and national Arab leadership should propose a detailed plan that includes all of the demands and needs of the public in the mixed cities because life should not be allowed “to return to its track.” The track was crooked and erroneous, and any temporary calm without addressing the real problems in an in-depth, comprehensive and systematic way, is liable to raise the level of frustration and anger, which would certainly lead to civil war.

Attorney Ali Haider is the co-executive director of the Sikkuy non-governmental organization.