Israel: Racist laws, attacks on the rise

July 8, 2012
Anti-African march in Tel Aviv.

A poll released in May by the Israel Democracy Index has revealed most Israeli's hold deeply racist attitudes. The findings come in the wake of race riots and a crackdown on the rights of Palestinians.

The poll found 52% of respondents agreed with interior minister Eli Yishai that Africans were “a cancer on the body” of Israel, the June 7 Times of Israel said.

Yishai was quoted in the June 3 Maariv as saying most “Muslims that arrive here do not even believe that this country belongs to us, to the white man”.

Yishai said he would use all the tools to expel the foreigners, until not one infiltrator remains”.

His comments refer to attempts by the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, to expel African migrants from Israel. In recent years, about 60,000 African refugees have fled to Israel through the Egyptian border.

African refugees and migrants have faced rising hostility from the Israeli population and the government. The hostility exploded into violence on May 23 when youths in Tel Aviv rampaged through the streets, destroying shop windows and houses.

Electronic Intifada reported on June 11 that Africans were often attacked and beaten by Jewish Israelis. Some were seriously injured in knife attacks.

It is tempting to blame the violence on incitement by members of the Knesset, such as Yishai’s racist lies about Africans raping white women. But racism in Israel goes far deeper than individual politicians’ views.

On July 2, Electronic Intifada reported on reactions by Jewish Israelis to a video of the beating of a nine-year-old Palestinian child posted on Facebook. A torrent of racist abuse was posted on Facebook in response to the clip.

One comment said: “This boy threw stones a few minutes before the two soldiers, and wounded one of them in the head (the soldier who kicked) then the other soldier just managed to catch him, I have a friend in the [army] unit there ― all honor to the IDF you are doing a great job Keep at it!

“If it were me, I would have smashed a [concrete] block on his head! Not just a kick!” Another said: “This should be done to all those children.” Some comments were even worse.

In the past few years, the Knesset has debated or passed a series of laws that openly discriminate and dehumanise Palestinians living in the occupied territories and those who live in Israel proper.

The Knesset is poised to pass a bill to force Palestinians living in Israel into compulsory national service. The bill is phrased in the language of “equal burdens”, but ignores the unequal rights enjoyed by Jewish citizens of Israel compared to Palestinians.

New racist laws build on others already passed, such as the law passed by the Knesset in 2008 that extended the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law. The law bans Israelis from living with a Palestinian spouse in Gaza or the West Bank.

In March last year, a law was passed allowing the finance minister to fine or cut government funding to any organisation that commemorated the Nakba (“catastrophe”). Commemorated on May 15, the day marks the expulsion in 1948 of 700,000 Palestinians to make way for the new nation of Israel.

Laws such as these either presume the existence of Arabs and Palestinians as a threat to Israel as a specifically Jewish state, or on erasing Palestinian history and identity. Such racist laws legitimise and encourage the rising tide of racist sentiments among Jewish Israelis.

The Zionist project of building an exclusively Jewish nation, based on the belief that all non-Jews are a threat, encourages the creation of such discriminatory laws and discriminatory violence.

If Palestinian Arabs are an existential threat, why not Sudanese refugees? Why not Nigerian Arabs, who have also been attacked in recent months?

However, there is fresh resistance to the racist Israeli state.

Since the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shilat by Palestinian forces in June 2006, hundreds of Palestinians have been arbitrarily arrested under Israel’s administrative detention laws (which involve detention without charge). Many more Palestinians languish in prison for years on trumped-up charges.

In December last year, 34-year-old Khader Adnan led a hunger strike in which 2000 Palestinian political prisoners took part. Adnan was on hunger strike for 66 days.

On May 14, there were reports of a deal to relax some of the conditions and release some of the hunger-striking prisoners. Israeli authorities said they would end solitary confinement and allow family visits, as well as improve access to televisions and telephones.

Hasan Safadi was one of five prisoners offered their freedom as part of the deal. Safadi was arrested without charge or trial in June last year. He spent 71 days on hunger strike and stopped on May 14 as part of the deal with Israeli authorities.

But on June 21, Israel reneged on its agreement and Safadi resumed his hunger strike. He is now in solitary confinement.

Arkam Rikawi has been on hunger strike since April 12. Rikawi was arrested in 2004 and sentenced to nine years’ jail. A father of eight biological and five adopted children, he suffers from several chronic conditions such as asthma, kidney problems, osteoporosis and immune deficiency.

Another hunger striker was Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak.
In July 2009, he was arrested on his way home in Gaza from a match in the West Bank and has since been held in administrative detention.

Israeli authorities claimed that he was an “unlawful combatant” linked to the Islamic Jihad Movement, but have not charged him with a crime.

Sarsak began a hunger strike on March 19 after his detention period was renewed for the sixth time. Finally, on June 10, Sarsak was offered a release and he broke his hunger strike with a mouthful of chocolate. He is now reported to be in a civilian hospital.

Sarsak’s hunger strike raised the issue of administrative detention internationally. Solidarity protests were held around the world and there were calls to strip Israel of the right to host the 2013 UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship, in light of Sarsak’s treatment.

Israel’s breach of its deal with the other hunger strikers has caused concern that it may do the same to Sarsak.

In protest agsinst the policy of administrative detention, Israeli citizen Yaniv Mazor has refused to serve in the Israeli Defense Force. While jailed as a conscientious objector, Mazor has started a hunger strike in solidarity.

The 31-year-old Mazor told Electronic Intifada he had “become appalled over the last few months by the hunger strike initiated by Palestinian administrative prisoners, but I couldn’t do much about it.

“I decided to start a hunger strike in solidarity [with the Palestinians], and in order to raise awareness on the issue of administrative detention, and not to prompt my own release.”

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