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How to purge racism from Israel’s public spaces

It’s impossible to convince racists not to be racists; the problem is the silent majority. Instead of delivering speeches against racism, we should get the authorities to eliminate it from the city streets. Here’s how.

By Ron Gerlitz

A few months ago I moved to the community of Srigim in the Elah Valley. I quickly noticed, and was bothered, that the sign at the entrance to Moshav Zekharya, which I pass every day, had been vandalized with the Arabic name of the community blacked out. I decided to do something. Not that I have an inexplicable passion for proper signage, but I felt that something very bad was going on here: the brutal and deliberate erasure of Arabic. Even worse was the silence of all those people and good neighbors who passed by it every day.

The Arabic on the road sign at the entrance to Zekharya was intentionally blacked out. (Photo by Ron Gerlitz)

The Arabic on the road sign at the entrance to Zekharya was intentionally blacked out. (Photo by Ron Gerlitz)

I photographed the sign and posted about it on the Kifaya website belonging to the Shutafut-Sharakah coalition, whose goal is to report incidents of racism and pressure authorities to take action to combat them. (More about the role and purpose of Kifayah can be read here in Hebrew).

I took a chance and wrote on my Facebook page at the time that it would only be a matter of time before the sign was fixed. It couldn’t possibly be left like that. And in fact that’s what happened. The energetic staff of Shutafut-Sharakah contacted the regional council and the National Transport Company, and after several reminders they sent out their teams and replaced the sign.

So what’s so important about that sign? It’s very important. We can’t convince racists not to be racists. We won’t succeed and it’s a waste of time. They, the racists, are a minority — noisy, active, organized and dangerous, but a minority. The problem lies with some of the politicians or leaders who incite and encourage racism, and the majority – us – who remain silent.

The sign at the entrance to Zekharya after Shutafut-Sharakah’s intervention. (Photo by Ron Gerlitz)

The sign at the entrance to Zekharya after Shutafut-Sharakah’s intervention. (Photo by Ron Gerlitz)

The tsunami of racism hasn’t receded

Beginning last summer, racism against Arab citizens in Israel reached unprecedented, frightening and dangerous dimensions. During the war in Gaza there was a tsunami of attacks against Arab citizens, which I — and others — described at length. I also proposed an unusual and controversial explanation of the intensified attacks against Arab citizens. But whatever the explanation, the tsunami of racism is still with us. The big question is how to deal with it and what can be done.

We hear strong and passionate condemnations of racism from the president, politicians, local council heads, educators and others. This racism is absolutely terrible – they say.

But condemnations won’t really help. It’s impossible to convince racists not to be racist. I also said that directly to President Rivlin: “Even you, Mr. President, can’t and won’t be able to convince the racists not to be racists.” What is possible, however, and must be done immediately, is to deal with public expressions of racism in the public space. Instead of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav making stirring speeches against racism, we have to get them to send their inspectors to remove “Death to Arabs” graffiti from the city streets.

We won’t be able to convince the racists to stop blacking out the Arabic from road signs, but we can — and it’s definitely possible — get the authorities to remove the manifestations of their racism from public spaces. We have become far too accustomed to seeing “Death to Arabs” signs or graffiti in the streets, shop windows declaring “no Arabs employed here,” Arabic place names erased from road signs, advertising for businesses that uses “Jewish labor only,” cafés that forbid their waiters from speaking Arabic among themselves, and other horrors of this type in Israel’s public spaces.

It’s up to us and us alone

Have you ever thought about what it’s like to be an Arab and to see “Death to Arabs” graffiti? Worse yet, to see it every day and then realize that nobody cares that it’s there? What message does that convey to Jewish children, if there is such graffiti in the streets and their parents (Us! For anyone who isn’t sure whom I’m addressing in this article) don’t care enough to clean it up? Why shouldn’t our children think that it’s a legitimate viewpoint?

The problem we all share, Jews and Arabs alike, is that we’ve become accustomed to passing by those horrors and thinking of it like the weather – it’s really not up to us. But if we’re honest with ourselves, it actually is. The battle against racism will not be waged by others. Only we citizens can do it, and nobody will do it in our place.

There is now an excellent website and an excellent team that is ready to fight manifestations of racism. All you have to do is report. Just as happened during the summer, when according to a report received by Kifaya, the head of the hospital in Nahariya (incidentally – an Arab himself, for anyone who thought that racism against Arabs is only a Jewish phenomenon) forbid his staff from speaking Arabic. After the team contacted the media, the prohibition was canceled.

Next time you see manifestations of racism in the streets, please don’t be lazy. Don’t just pass by, tell yourselves how wrong it is and continue along on your way. Cleansing our public spaces of racism is not someone else’s business, it’s the business of each and every one of us. You need to take action to remove racism from our public domain.

Ron Gerlitz is the co-executive director of Sikkuy-The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality, and one of the initiators of Kifaya. Organizations that are interested in receiving guidance about to use Kifaya are invited to contact them at: info@kifaya.org.il 

This article was first published on +972’s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

Related:
What was different about this war?
A frightening new era of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel
Blue or white collar, racism prevails in Israel’s job market

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    COMMENTS

    1. Bruce Gould

      [WARNING: THE FOLLOWING POST CONTAINS SCENES OF COLONIALISM THAT MAY BE INAPPROPRIATE FOR YOUNGER READERS] The Society of St. Yves, a Catholic human rights group, has just published a 32 page report on child registration in Jerusalem:

      http://saintyves.org/images/stories/downloads/child_registration_report_1.pdf

      The right to raise one’s children in one’s own city is an inalienable right that has been for long denied to East Jerusalem residents. In 2003, the Israeli Parliament enacted one of its most racist and destructive laws – the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order). The “Temporary Order” is now in its 11
      th year and has wreaked havoc on thousands of East Jerusalem residents and their families. Through the instrument of the Temporary Order and a series of additional laws, regulations and written and unwritten procedures, Israel’s Ministry of Interior (hereinafter: the Ministry) has ensured that East Jerusalem resident parents do not pass on residency to their future generations. Instead of sharing their city with their offspring, they bequeath to their children a life of uncertainty, fear, poverty and statelessness…This report will demonstrate the multiple ways in which the Ministry tears the families of East Jerusalem res-
      idents apart. We will show how the Ministry invades the intimate space of the family home, robbing parents of any autonomy in making decisions concerning where and how to raise their children. An East Jerusalem resident who wants to live with her husband and children in Jerusalem must request permission from the
      occupying power, permission that is denied regularly for a host of reasons. Rather than protect the integrity of the family unit, the Ministry forces families to separate and subjects children to trauma, arrest, deportation
      and living as ghosts in their own city.

      Reply to Comment
    2. What an excellent and empowering article for us. Thank you Mr. Gerlitz and nice work in Zekharya –

      Reply to Comment
    3. The Trespasser

      A leftist scumbag is talking about Israeli racists who, allegedly, vandalize road signs, while Arab racists carry out terrorist attacks and kill people in France and elsewhere.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        So if a Jew commits a crime it becomes a “Jewish crime”?

        Reply to Comment
      • Lo

        Palestinians attacked Charlie Hebdo? Or was it the “global leftists?”

        Reply to Comment
      • Hey Tresp –
        How is that story and this story about israeli racism connected? I guess this was the best place for you to insert your particular brand of racism, in a story about nonviolent ways to combat racism in Israel. Way to go!

        Reply to Comment
        • iCat

          Oh, what an intelligent remark! Of course the first comment above has everything to do with this story. Of course there is no Arab and Muslim racism against Jews and non Jews. Of course there is no racism in your own country. Of course the only place there is racism is Israel. Now that’s crystal clear.

          Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        Ethics is a very simple matter isn’t it trespasser – two wrongs make a right. But surely we have more than enough invective about the evil Arabs – can you not allow one article to redress the balance without introducing false equivalence. When you allow the Palestinians to have a viable state then will be the time to hold their leaders to your own high standards.

        Reply to Comment
        • Theodore

          Terrorism is terrorism, bryan, and murder is murder. There is no justification for that whether committed in Jerusalem or Paris, idiot. Talk about “false moral equivalence”.

          Reply to Comment
      • Weiss

        @the Trespasser

        Are you really that desperate that you have to equate the French attack with Palestinian desires to live free of Israeli Racism?

        And of course everything is to the left of a far Right Fascist Brown-shirt like YOU…

        And yet ANOTHER reason why I am Ashamed to be Jewish…

        Reply to Comment
    4. The example and photo used in this article–of the Arabic crossed out on the sign to the entrance to the Israeli moshav Zecharia–fails to mention that Zecharia is built on the remains of the Palestinian village Zakarriyeh. The people of Zakarriyeh were forcibly displaced in 1949/1950. And–even with the new sign up, with the Arabic on the sign “restored”–the Arabic is a transliteration of the Hebrewized “Zecharia.” Even with those Arabic letters restored, Zakarriyeh has still been erased. The “restored” sign itself is a marker, not only of racism, but of ongoing ethnic cleansing.
      For those who enter Zakarriyah, rather than just driving by the road sign, you can find the village’s original mosque still standing–one of the few buildings that remain.
      My colleague Sami Aljundi write about Zakarriya (his mother’s native village) in his memoir that I had the honor of co-authoring, The Hour of Sunlight. In the book, his mother recalls her forced expulsion from her home as a 12 year old girl.

      Reply to Comment
      • Actually, although the article might have failed to mention it, we did invite the public to share their feelings concerning the dilemma of insisting on fixing this sign which is basically offensive on one hand but was vandalized for a different reason on the other.
        You’re most welcome to join this discussion on FB in this post, where we attached a photo of the Palestinian village Zakarriyeh pre 1926: http://on.fb.me/14zBUD6

        Reply to Comment
        • Hi Ari,
          I was just informed about that discussion on Facebook–glad it is being raised and discussed!
          Jen Marlowe

          Reply to Comment
      • Phil Fumble

        Jen, I am so happy you included the last paragraph. You really are a great and influential person. I can not wait to hear more about your insights.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Eric

      I was confused as to why the Arabic was “ZaKHaria” instead of “Zakaria.” Thanks for the clarification Lonny!! That was a great catch which is likely missed by many who don’t read Arabic. Unfortunately, this practice of Hebraization is becoming increasingly common. I recall seeing signs for Jerusalem in Arabic written as “arooshulam” rather than “al-quds”

      Reply to Comment
      • Theodore

        And you are still “confused”, Eric. No confusion about that.

        Reply to Comment
        • And you are still a sock puppet, either Eis, Merav, Phil Fumble and/or the recently departed, but not missed, Sluggo. You add nothing but distraction and insulting blather.

          Reply to Comment
          • Theodore

            Ginger scares the hell out of you, doesn’t she, Marnie, after she proved you are a fraud? Is that why you see Ginger everywhere, eh, marnie? I have seen some of your comments here on +972 discussing handjobs and blowjobs and lubricants and jerk-off and pornography. If you like I can post your comments to prove it and show how you contribute. Can you give me your number? I pay well, you know?

            Reply to Comment
          • Bryan

            Theodore – why do you have to be so vile in your defense of the Chosen Land – surely you already have alleged pedophiles like Dershowitz on your case.

            Reply to Comment
    6. Thanks for proving my point.

      Reply to Comment
      • ICat

        You don’t have a point, nitwit.

        Reply to Comment
    7. Ginger Eis

      Any- and everywhere there are Muslims, there is always mayhem, gross human rights violations, murders, mass murders, ethnic cleansing, Genocide, etc. The racist slaughter of Jews by Arab-Muslims in the Land Of Israel and the events unfolding – as we speak – in the West and the Arab-Muslim world testify to that. Maybe YOU should be fighting that murderous racism, before running your mouth about the “brutal and deliberate erasure of Arabic” from road signs – ROAD SIGNS (gee!) – in Israel by some bored youths.

      Maybe you should be fighting the racism, slave-labor, sex-slavery, Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing, etc. in the Muslim-Arab world against non-Arab Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and other non-Muslims, before you run your mouth about erasure of Arabic from road signs in Israel by some bored kids. Begin with Dubai, Saudi-Arabia, Iraq, etc!

      In Israel, Muslim-Arabs who want to throw the Jews into the sea, want Israel gone (!) and openly support the enemy in time of war, the killings of IDF-soldiers and the murder of Jewish Israelis during said wars, have- and enjoy more Rights than they have- and enjoy in any Muslim (Arab) country, where Christians and Jews are treated as 10th Class citizens, can’t build Churches, pray in public, show their religions signs in public – let alone have road signs in their language. Oh, Cry me a river!

      Reply to Comment
      • Theodore

        The blindness of those who feel entitled to lecture Israel is staggering and their “moral” outrage always phony and immoral.

        Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        Je suis Charlie et je suis Weiss!

        Reply to Comment
    8. Brian

      Those secretly exulting here today, on whatever level, in the carnage in Paris should read every word of Gidi Weitz’s lengthy interview of Ehud Barak in Haaretz today (“Former PM Barak: Netanyahu leading Israel to disaster”). Whatever his flaws, and I carry no water for him, at least Barak is clear-minded and far-sighted and rational, relentlessly rational. (And not too much invested in ruling over others. Without the manor of a master. He actually seems too secure and self-contained and self confident for that.) You will not like what he says about those who wrap themselves in self righteousness, but it will pull you back down to earth. If you have any ability to shed your thick wrappings of self justification and accept responsibility, that is. Impossible for a few of you, doubtful for some of you but maybe not all. Maybe. As Barak says near the end of the interview, “No one deceived me and no one manipulated me, and I am not bitter and I don’t have that obsession. I am very quiet. I don’t feel any dissonance. People say, ‘You failed, you were dumped.’ All the choices were made by me.”

      Reply to Comment
    9. Brian

      There’s something wrong in Israel when a mensch like Weiss is ashamed and Jews like Tomer, Trespasser, and Eis, and a Homo Creepicus Erectus like Slug “I pay well” Pfumble are not. (Apologies for the insult to the dignity of our evolutionary forebears.)

      As Weiss has argued in these pages, “The extremists seek to identify their desires with “all Jews” both to force support and to hide behind them with accusations of antisemitism. This manipulation is fundamentally dishonest, and is therefore a form of antisemitism itself.”

      http://972mag.com/stop-giving-israelis-a-pass-what-dennis-ross-could-have-said/100989/

      By Weiss’s definition the above mentioned are anti-Semites.

      I’m with Weiss.

      Reply to Comment
    10. It’s interesting who an article addressing racism in its nonviolent form – road signs and grafitti, ruffles the feathers of so many. All the same actors of course. Change starts out small and grows. Is this the worst thing ever perpetrated? Of course not. Should it be ignored? Of course not. To speak out and do something about the everyday, mundane acts of racism endemic to our society is absolutely necessary to bring about change. It won’t go away on its own and it has to be called out for what it is, racist and hateful and exemplifies the hatred that so many here have towards the other, whoever that “other” may be. Removal of names from street signs, grafitti to “kill the Arabs”, etc., is ethnic cleansing in a passive-aggressive form.

      Reply to Comment
      • First line should be interesting “that” and not “who”. Also racism in “nonviolent form” isn’t the best description as this type of passive-aggressive stuff violates the intended target, not physically but emotionally and spiritually.

        Reply to Comment
        • ICat

          More mumbo jumbo from this sick individual. You support running Israelis over with bussed, sicko-o! How about that?!!

          Reply to Comment
          • ICat

            You support running Israelis over with buses and cars……

            Reply to Comment
          • Merav, you’ve changed your intellectually challenged banter from the constant BrYan/BrIan routine, nasty canine drivel, but that’s all. Your particular brand of bullshit is including overuse of punctuation ?!!, your sentence structure and your other insult – sick-o is same old, same old. Same MO, same sock puppet carrying water for your masters. Get a job.

            Reply to Comment
          • ICat

            You support running Israelis over with cars and buses. Explain that and stop looking for excuse to deflect!

            Reply to Comment
          • Prove it.

            Reply to Comment
          • ICat

            “phil
            Thursday
            November 6, 2014

            The second attack clearly targeted occupation forces only..
            as such it is a legitimate act of resistance against an occupying military force.

            Reply to Comment
            • manic marnie
            Thursday
            November 6, 2014

            “The second attack clearly targeted occupation forces only..
            as such it is a legitimate act of resistance against an occupying military force.”

            Thanks for taking the time to post this.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Nu?

            Reply to Comment
          • Merav – you printed 3 times “You support running Israelis over with cars and buses” out of the blue with no context whatsoever. You pull up a post from 2 months ago, also with no context, but my response to “Phil” statement about an attack that “clearly targeted occupation forces only, as such it is a legitimate act of resistance to an occupying force” – obviously the IDF and not a family of settlers driving home from a shopping spree. The target was the IDF and my response to Phil was “Thanks for posting this”. You’re pathetic, nothing more than a useful idiot for Hasbara.com.

            By Mya Guarnieri
            |Published December 22, 2011

            Palestinian right to fight occupation not only moral, but legal as well

            I agree wholeheartedly with Noam Sheizaf’s recent post about the Palestinians’ moral right to resist. But I would like to add that the moral right to resist is also the foundation of the Palestinians’ legal right to resist the illegal Israeli occupation. Considered within that framework, Israel’s suppression of Palestinian protest and resistance becomes even more striking and perverse.

            Speaking to +972, Israeli human rights lawyer Lynda Brayer remarks, “When we say moral, we’re talking about the general principle of behavior to promote, sustain, nurture, and help human life… international law reflects, on paper, moral values as we understand them.”

            The Palestinian’s legal right to resist occupation—to fight for their ability to promote, sustain, and nurture human life, to fight for their right to grow, to flourish—comes from two documents: the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples and the Fourth Geneva Convention and its subsequent protocols.

            Taken together, people have the right to “fight against colonial domination and alien occupation in the exercise of their right to self-determination,” Brayer explained.

            Writing in CounterPunch this spring in the wake of Goldstone’s backpedaling, Brayer went into detail:

            Above and beyond the basic right of all human beings to resist their being killed and harmed, and a society to take armed actions to protect itself, this document legitimizes also national liberation struggles, including, at this time in history, most particularly, the Palestinian people’s struggle for its own freedom. It is this right which legitimizes all Palestinian attempts to lift the yoke of Israeli oppression from Palestine, including all the actions taken by the Palestinians during Operation Cast Lead.

            And is not the right to resist oppression universal? Does this right not justify the American Revolution and then the French Revolution and the wars of liberation in the 1950′s and 1960′s. Nelson Mandela is a hero because of his resistance to, not because of his subservience to apartheid repression. And the Warsaw Ghetto uprising by the Jewish population against the Nazi repression is a beacon of pride in modern Jewish history. it is also a fact that Jews who joined the resistance, say in Poland or other places under Nazi occupation, are heroes for the Jewish people. I would contend that one cannot deny that right of resistance to Palestinians which the Jews appropriated to themselves, and which is the right of all peoples living under military occupation and/or colonialist regimes.

            Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, a professor of international law at Princeton University, the author of dozens of books, writes in “International Law and the Al-Aqsa Intifada”:

            Though the Israeli government and the US media persist in describing the second Palestinian intifada as a security crisis or a disruption to the ‘peace process,’ in international law, Palestinian resistance to occupation is a legally protected right…Israel’s failures to abide by international law, as a belligerent occupant, amounted to a fundamental denial of the right of self-determination, and more generally of respect for the framework of belligerent occupation — giving rise to a Palestinian right of resistance.

            It boils down to this: every time the Israeli military arrests a Palestinian for “stone throwing” or “incitement” or any other bogus, trumped-up charges—and every time Israel holds a protest organizer or a Popular Committee leader prisoner—it is, perversely, detaining Palestinians for exercising their inalienable moral and legal rights to resist an illegal and violent military occupation.

            Reply to Comment
          • ICat

            Riiiight! On the one hand you rant about how “removal of names from street signs, grafitti to “kill the Arabs”, etc., is ethnic cleansing in a passive-aggressive form”. On the other hand you support running Israelis over with cars and buses! You are a terrorist, sick-o, and no one is fooled by your hypocritical rants. And pls. stop copying and pasting the opinion of others to rationalize your particular brand of terrorism and racism against Jews, because I don’t even read your copy and pasted material. I just scroll it over. You also support wiping Israel off the map. But that’s something for another discussion. Wait for it…

            Reply to Comment
          • Not original material Merav. Trying too hard to sound like your master. You’re stalking me now? That used to be Sluggo’s job Merav! You always seem to be number two. How appropriate.

            Reply to Comment
          • Phil Fumble

            Marnie also stated thst Hamas never has used human shields. Amazing

            Reply to Comment
    11. Well you’re easy to entertain Sluggo.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Dan Tadmor

      Reporting vandalism – racist-related or other – is much better than ignoring it, but prosecuting offenders is of the utmost importance, and it is the item most sorely missing in Israel. Cops no longer chase drivers who pass intersections on red. They won’t use any of the fifty or so footages shot every day of soldiers (or armed citizens) abusing civilians for pursuing the offenders. If they don’t lift a finger pursuing offenders harming human beings, how likely are they to pursue offenders abusing a sheet-metal and wood road sign? I am quite convinced that a small number of convictions (say, three per month) will shortly get this disgusting pastime go out of fashion. And I am quite convinced that not pursuing such offenders is what our law-enforcement overlords think is right and proper, whether or not they say it out loud.

      Reply to Comment
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