Plainclothes police officers are filmed beating an Arab man in the middle of Tel Aviv in broad daylight. What would you have done if you were there?
How would Jewish Israelis react if they saw a group of men starting to beat an Arab man to a pulp, breaking his bones right next to us? How many of us would rush over to help him, just as some of Maysam Abu-Alqiyan’s friends did in central Tel Aviv Sunday — friends who paid the price after they too found themselves on the receiving end of police brutality, returning to the supermarket where they worked together bruised and shocked?
How many of us would automatically assume that if a young Arab man is being beaten, there is probably a good reason for it? That perhaps the man is a terrorist and we are actually witnessing the police bravely “neutralizing” him?
How many of us would have tried to call the police, despite the fact that the attackers identified themselves as police? How many of us would quietly — or frightened — remove our children from the scene so that they couldn’t see, so that they aren’t terrified by the violence? How many of us would have taken out a camera and start filming?
I assume that most of our responses would fit somewhere on this spectrum. Apartheid limits the ways both sides can act. A segregation regime traps even the white person in role built for her or himself. What else is there to do?
There is something else to do. It is possible to resist the very idea that this country is made up of landlords and their tenants. One can admit that the good will of the landlords is not itself a guarantee of a democratic regime. One can openly admit that this vicious attempt has not worked, that its inner logic only serves to create more and more Maysams. This is what has been done for nearly 70 years.
We can put aside enlightened supremacy and talk about real, full equality — not about kind gestures toward an indigenous minority. We can understand that we have a choice between shaking our heads at the physical, political, and economic violence that is part and parcel of daily life of Palestinians in Israel, per definition, and giving up some of the privileges granted to us by a destructive regime in favor of a life of dignity in which we are not forced to be humiliated in the face of such sights. We can work toward that goal, before we forget the meaning of the words dignity, equality, and decency.
This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.