Monday Aug. 22, 2011 3:27 PM (EST+7)
Palestinian minority joins Israeli protests - with different goals
By EVAN BARTON
Read more: Palestinian, Israel, Palestine-Israel conflict, Haneen Zoabi, J14, July 14, Israel, Arab Israelis, housing, social justice,
TEL AVIV, August 22 (JMCC) - After attacks in southern Israel killed eight Israelis on Thursday, organizers of protests that have swept Israel in recent weeks decided to transform a demonstration held Saturday night into a silent vigil.
Before the vigil, the tent city on Rothschild Boulevard remained full of people. Israelis from all walks of life – college students, young professionals, engineers, veterans, the unemployed and others – were meeting in the central Tel Aviv neighborhood to protest the high cost of living in Israel and the lack of economic equality.
Notably absent from the camp on Friday and Saturday, however, were Palestinian citizens of Israel who had set up their own tent area focused on issues specific to their community. Signs surrounding the tent were written mostly in Hebrew (though some were in Arabic and English) and emphasized unity between Israel’s Jewish and Arabic citizens.
Even more glaring was the contrast in demands expressed by Jewish and Arab demonstrators involved in what have become known as the “July 14” protests.
Jewish Israeli protesters spoke of the high cost of living in Israel, the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few powerful families, and the lack of affordable housing. A few student protestors suggested that settlement activity in the West Bank was problematic – if not illegal – and thought that state money spent on settlements could be spent elsewhere.
“The main problem in Israel is the Israeli oligarchy,” software engineer Ophir Froydental, 48, said. “Eighty percent of Israeli society is under pressure from a few families who have all the industries.”
Activists were generally less comfortable talking about Arabs in Israel, although one 23-year-old engineering student admitted that there was not a lot of “social justice” – the mantra of the protests – for Palestinian Israeli communities.
More Palestinian Israelis were taking part in the protests in Jaffa, the ancient port that until recently had an Arab majority and is now connected with Tel Aviv. There, protesters said ongoing discrimination had motivated them to join the demonstrations.
“Seven hundred families in Jaffa are in danger of losing their houses,” said Fatmeh Hlewa, a 28-year-old housing rights activist, raising the issue of a wave of evictions threatening Jaffa’s residents. “How can they maintain their families without being able to keep their homes?”
Another key concern for Palestinian Israelis was the rate of housing demolitions in Arab Israeli neighborhoods and villages.
Israel has not approved new building plans in several Arab towns and villages for almost two decades, said Knesset member Haneen Zoabi, who is critical of the protests for not engaging Palestinians. As a result, 10,000 houses built in Palestinian Israeli neighborhoods and villages were declared unlicensed and slated for demolition by the Israeli government.
Meanwhile, Israel is building housing – just not for its Arab citizens.
“The Israeli government has built 700 villages and cities, none of which are for Palestinians,” Zoabi said.
She described the middle class Jewish Israeli protests as protests of a “first world community,” while Palestinian Israelis, in her opinion, were more of a “third world community.”
Urban planning professor Yosef Jabreen, a supporter of the protests, said that Palestinian demonstrators are also calling for Arab municipalities to be expanded.
Despite their different goals, Palestinians associated with the protests said they needed to join with Jewish Israeli protestors to bring about change for both groups.
“We tried to organize housing protests several times,” Zoabi said, “but no one was listening to the Palestinians. The state doesn’t listen to Palestinians when they demonstrate.”
Palestinians, she said, have been protesting at least since 1976, when the first Land Day demonstration was held. In her view, Jewish Israeli protestors were actually joining the ongoing Palestinian Israeli protestors in a common quest.
‘STRUGGLE FOR EQUALITY’
“We’re not struggling for quality of life, but for equality,” Hlewi said. As the poorest community in Israel, the Palestinian need to remain in their homes was a necessity for survival, she went on.
A Jewish demonstrator in Jaffa backed up her claims, adding that while Jewish citizens can attend demonstrations without being intimidated by police, Arab Israelis are frequently visited by security officials when they protest state policies.
Other Jewish Israelis made a broad connection between the search for equality and the needs of Israel’s Arab citizens.
Daniel Tavoli, a 21-year-old student at the tent city protests on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard, said simply that more people are involved in the recent protests because more people are being affected by the lack of equality in the country.
Froydental said that, for too long, Israel had pushed off social concerns with the argument that it was still in conflict with Palestinians and other Arab states.
“The people of Israel didn’t believe you could protest because when there is war, you put the war first.” Now, people are tired of waiting for peace in order to demand social justice, he said.
Avi Hazan, a 42-year-old veteran, thought Israel’s resources should be accessible to all its citizens.
“There is no difference between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” he said, referring to Palestinian citizens of Israel. “Everyone born in Israel deserves a house.”