Despite all my years of coexistence camps with Jewish Israelis, I’m starting to lose sight of peace. How can there be peace when Israel does nothing to stop the violent attacks against its Palestinian citizens?
By Shadan Jabareen
I had just finished my second year at Tel Aviv University and wanted to remain in the city for the summer to work, so I applied for a job at a bookshop in Ben Gurion Airport in late June; they needed employees. The operations coordinator was impressed with my fluency in Arabic, Hebrew and English, so we scheduled an interview. After explaining the requirements of the job, she told me: “First, we have to do a security check. You’re an Arab Muslim, so your check will probably take longer than usual.” This came as no surprise to me; after all, I have 21 years of experience living in Israel. A week later the Israeli offensive on Gaza erupted and I received an email from the coordinator telling me, “Sorry we have too many employees. We are not going to hire you for the moment; we will contact you in two weeks when there is a position available.” I never heard from her again.
I am a U.S.-born Palestinian Muslim living in Israel, my great-grandparents lived in the Palestinian village of Al-Lajjun that was depopulated in May 1948 by the Israeli army. They fled the village and settled in Umm El-Fahm, a town that became a symbol of political resistance for Palestinians living in Israel. I grew up in a Jewish town with my family before moving to Umm El-Fahem. I was two years old when my parents applied to live in the Jewish town of Katzir; they thought we would have more opportunities there and a calmer environment away from the noise of Umm El-Fahm’s ghettos. Their application was rejected; the committee had decided that no Arabs would live in their town.
My father decided to fight for our right to be treated equally and not to be discriminated against. We ultimately won the case and lived there for eight years. When I was old enough to understand what Arab and Jewish meant, my father told me: “I did this for you because I want you to know you have rights, and that no one can take them away from you.”
I spent half of my life in coexistence summer camps, where Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel met to discuss the conflict and tried to find ways of connecting, despite our differences. At the core of these camps is the importance of listening to and understanding “the other side” in order to promote dialogue and reconciliation. I’ve participated in every possible peace-building project there is. My brothers and sister went to an Arab-Jewish school. The eldest of them goes to a Jewish boarding school and he just got back from California, where he attended a peace-building camp for Palestinians, Israelis and Americans called Hands of Peace.
Until now I’ve been really hopeful about the future of this land – too hopeful, perhaps – and have been certain that the conflict would someday end. The growing hatred and recent waves of racism I’ve witnessed in Israel over the past six weeks – both from the government and the streets – have exposed the true face, apparently, of the so-called coexistence here in Israel. That face is nasty, racist and refutes the existence of the “Other.” It does not accept that I am Palestinian. The truth is that I’m scared; I’ve never seen this kind of hatred in my life. I’ve been discriminated against before, like all Arabs here in Israel; I was even strip-searched at the airport for imposing an alleged “security risk” at the age of 19. But this time it is worse – more explicit, much more violent, and widespread.
When I have “discussions” with Israelis about the political situation they inevitably tell me to “go to Gaza, go to Syria,” and that I “should say thank you” that they even let me live here. Every time I enter into these discussions I am asked to leave my home and to thank my occupier for having me here; I have to be a good Arab – either I say thank you or I remain silent.
Not even academia is safe. At Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Arab students received death threats, hateful slogans were sprayed in dormitories calling for “Death to Arabs. Long live Israel.” Numerous Facebook pages have recently been to publish the personal information of Palestinian citizens of Israel who expressed solidarity with Palestine and Gaza; opinions that do not fit the Israeli consensus. A campaign was launched to locate Palestinian students from Tel Aviv University who expressed opposition to Israel’s latest assault on Gaza and then have them expelled from the university. The fact that these Israeli students felt comfortable enough to target us and threaten our right to education is deeply worrying.
Meanwhile, in the work place Arab employees are targeted as well; those who called Israel a “terrorist state” and Netanyahu a “war criminal” were fired during Operation Protective Edge. One such person is a medical resident who condemned IDF soldiers for their “massacre in Gaza.” He was suspended from his job.
While at the same time many Israelis have expressed happiness over the death of Palestinians in Gaza, wishing for more “terrorists” to die. Yet no one is condemning or firing them. They act with impunity because nobody will stop them. The Israeli police have arrested Arabs for mere Facebook statuses; peaceful demonstrators have been arrested and denied their right to protest. A total of 350 protesters have been charged by the Israeli police since early July. None are Jewish. Furthermore, in the Israeli media’s coverage of these protests we are always portrayed as violent rioters, but never simply as protesters.
I think about all my years at those coexistence summer camps, about the way I was raised to accept others and respect their different opinions, about the vision of peace and living together, and for the first time I feel like there is no hope – even the word peace is starting to sound to me like some naive and unachievable utopian idea.
“Promoting dialogue” was at the core of all those peace camps I attended; we learned that understanding someone else’s pain promotes dialogue, that to express your opinion and then listen to someone else’s is called dialogue. Unfortunately Israel is proving to be a dialogue-free country, and like so many Palestinians living here in Israel, I am now paralyzed by fear, frustration and sadness. How can there be peace when a country that claims to be democratic silences and discriminates against a minority that constitutes 20.7% of the population? How can there be peace when this country does nothing to stop the violent attacks against us?
Sadly, despite all my years of coexistence camps with Jewish Israelis, I’m starting to lose sight of peace; it seems to me it is only moving further out of reach.
Shadan Jabareen is a 21-year-old psychology and English literature student at Tel Aviv University. She is from Umm El-Fahm and currently lives in Tel Aviv.