‘The threat among us’: Post-terror attack racism in Israel

SETH J. FRANTZMAN

In the aftermath of the gruesome terror attack in Jerusalem on Tuesday tensions between Jews and Arabs have understandably increased in Jerusalem and the rest of Israel. One person wrote on a popular Facebook group that it was time to “boycott the Arabs.” Other people on Facebook expressed similar statements. “Boycott stores that have Arabs working in them.” Another person thought it would be good to tell supermarkets and restaurants that “we won’t shop there until they remove the Arabs.” Others were outraged that Egged bus drivers had not come to work on Monday after an Arab driver, Yusuf al-Rumuni, had been found hung in Jerusalem before starting his shift. “Fire them all, I was late to work.”   There was no understanding that the bus drivers might have felt shaken by the death of a colleague or friend. The same Israeli public forgives Ashdod port workers who leave their work to attend funerals of colleagues. But not Arab bus drivers.

An Arab woman at a Jerusalem Aroma cafe

An Arab woman at a Jerusalem Aroma cafe

The theory that people have is that it is “dangerous” to have Arabs “among us.” That is the serious thought among sections of Israeli society. Most fascinating is how this perception is common among some English speaking immigrants to Israel. “Get them out of our supermarkets” and “don’t let them work in our areas,” people posted on Facebook. Our areas? Interesting that someone should immigrate from New Mexico to Israel and, six months later, decide that Arabs who worked at a store for ten years should not be in “our area.” Ridiculous is the theory that a Jerusalem Arab from, say Beit Safafa, whose family lived in Jerusalem since Ottoman times, should be told not to be in “our area.

There is hypocrisy in the fact that pro-Israel commentators hold up pictures of Arabs and Jews on a train and say “diverse Israel” but then shrug when they hear statements like “keep them out of our areas.” Voices that supposedly support “Christian Arab service in the IDF,” don’t speak up when labeling all “Arabs” as a “danger.”

Mayor of Ashkelon discusses Arab workers on Facebook (screenshot)

Mayor of Ashkelon discusses Arab workers on Facebook (screenshot)

But besides the hypocrisy and ignorance-laced racism of the sentiments, is another amazing fact. 800,000 Arabs go to work everyday in Israel, which includes between 50-100,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and also another hundred thousand or so from East Jerusalem (not all the Arab population works, hence the number is less than the overall population).  Yet on Channel 2 a mayor said that contractors should stop using Arab workers at some locations.

800,000 go to work, they are not a threat. 99.99% of Arabs in Israel and the West Bank have not been terrorists, are not terrorists and will never be terrorists. Yes, some Palestinians support terrorism. Some of them hate Israel. Maybe some hate Jews. But this ignorant, racism-tinged, view that “they are a threat” is nonsensical.   By the logic that all Arabs are a “threat” who “work among us” because a tiny tiny minority who are terrorists, one might as well also ban food, because some people die of food poisoning, and ban water, because people drown in water. And more than Arabs, cars are a major threat to the life of people, more are killed in car accidents than by Palestinian terrorists. Cars “drive among us,” and they are, in the words of one person who describes Palestinians, “a growing disease.”  Of course the actions of the terrorist are purposeful, but from a standpoint of blaming the massive majority for the actions of a tiny minority, the illogic is the same.

The same sentiments motivated calls by Jewish residents of the West Bank to have public transport service Arabs and Jews separately, which was derided as “bus apartheid.” Some claimed that they didn’t feel safe with “them riding among us.” What an irony that they don’t feel safe on a bus with an Arab who is commuting to Israel to work. So they feel safe with the same person working construction thirty feet over their head working with large concrete blocks? “They can’t be trusted to ride the bus with us,” wrote one commentator about the “threat” of Arab workers. But they can be trusted to work in the kitchen preparing your food, or working as cleaners in your building? Just not on the bus, not good enough to be on the bus with you? But they can build your house for you, prepare your food, clean your toilet and even take care of your elderly at a hospital?

A cartoon in Israeli daily 'Haaretz' expresses the fear that the public feels (screenshot)

A cartoon in Israeli daily ‘Haaretz’ expresses the fear that the public feels (screenshot)

The hatred for Arabs is a result of ignorance and also it is startling in how it creeps up in different places. At a neighborhood health clinic an Arab student nurse from Silwan worked for almost a year. She was quick, efficient and friendly and people liked how she was attentive and gentle to patients needing blood tests or other issues. She didn’t show up to work on Wednesday. One of her coworkers said “we don’t want Arabs, I hope she never comes back. You see, she is a threat.” They had worked together, all year, and now suddenly this young woman was “a threat.” Why? Think of all the terrorism she could have committed in the last year: Poisoning needles, infecting people with HIV, stabbing people. Who knows. But, no, for the other 364 days of the year she was fine. She was trusted with the most intimate details of people at their most vulnerable in a neighborhood where 100% of the patients are Jewish. But now she was a “threat.”  Instead of embracing a young Arab woman who enjoyed working with Jews, patients and employees shun her.

The Arab who works as an assistant butcher, who you trust with your meat all year, now people think he is a “threat.” But he is trusted to work with knives. Yet a major newspaper in Israel publishes a cartoon of Arabs in a kitchen with knives saying “al-Aqsa is in danger,” implying they will commit terrorism.

An Arab man who works as a butcher's assistant (Seth J. Frantzman)

An Arab man who works as a butcher’s assistant (Seth J. Frantzman)

It’s madness.

A million Arabs drive on the roads everyday in Israel, but people say “their cars are a threat.” What percent of the cars again? .00001%.

It is essential in these difficult times to not let terrorism tear society apart and for communities not to exacerbate tensions through propagating ignorance-based racism.  People can be vigilant and security can be increased, but blaming all Arabs in Israel is nonsensical and slanders people who have nothing to do with terrorism and hate it as much as the Jewish community.

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