'Being Arab' in Palestine, located in the Arab World, is now like 'Being Jewish' was in yesteryear in the European Christian world.
Ha'aretz, July 23, 2002
When life's a racist beach
A family of adult professionals on a quiet day out is assaulted, for
About two weeks ago, on a Friday, Taghrid and Ismat Shbeita, Wafa and
Jihad Bishara, Ghadir and Ihad Iraqi of Tira, Lubna and Mahmoud
Khadija of Kalansua, and their young children went for an afternoon
to the Givat Olga beach at Hadera. The Bisharas are both physicians
and Ihad Iraqi and Mahmoud Khadija are attorneys. Ismat Shbeita is a
merchant and his wife Taghrid is a civic activist.
They arrived around four o'clock, parked in the parking lot and
settled their things on the lawn. Like everyone else relaxing around
them, the children and adults went swimming, played soccer, had a
game of chess, ate and drank, nibbled on roasted sunflower seeds,
talked, and (mainly) rested. Some in the group knew the location from
previous visits; others were there for the first time.
"Being outdoors like that was refreshing and relaxing. The kids were
happy and we adults felt great, except that an unplanned and violent
incident ruined our evening," related Taghrid Shbeita subsequently,
sitting in her living room in Tira with most of the friends who had
been present when the afternoon at the beach ended so badly.
Around ten o'clock, the account goes, a group of some 15 or 20 young
people in their early twenties suddenly stood over them and demanded
to know if they were Arabs. When they said yes, the youths instructed
them in a threatening manner to leave the beach. One said: "Get up
from here immediately or it will come to blows." Another said: "Get
lost nicely, or the shit hits the fan."
Behind the young toughs, relates Taghrid Shbeita, stood a group of
children who evidently knew them and knew that something unpleasant
was about to happen. Ismat Shbeita, who got up to clarify what the
youths intended, was kicked in the chest. Immediately all hell broke
loose. The youths began fighting with Ismat Shbeita's friends, who
came to his defense. According to attorney Mahmoud Khadija, they were
armed with knives and a bottle.
When the fighting started, some nearby beach goers left quickly while
others watched from the sidelines without interfering. When Ismat
Shbeita stood up, he and his friends saw a bloodstain on his shirt.
It turned out that he'd been stabbed in the chest. He was also cut on
the forehead, above his left eyebrow. His shocked wife used her
mobile phone to call the police. While Dr. Bishara treated the
wounded Shbeita, one of the attackers kicked at his left hand so hard
that bones were broken in the palm of his hand. Jihad Bishara, a
specialist in infectious diseases and a lecturer at Tel Aviv
University, has been in a cast for the last two weeks and will remain
so, on his doctor's orders, for at least six weeks more.
Those attacked say that the police arrived late, after the attackers
had time to disappear. First two police officers arrived on foot, and
later on, a squad car arrived. According to the group attacked, the
police questioned them impatiently. When one officer asked them,
"What led up to the fistfight?," and was told, "racism," the
policeman was annoyed and instructed the speaker to be quiet and not
provide commentary. Otherwise, the officer threatened, he'd put him
in the squad car.
The ambulance that arrived on the scene transferred the wounded Ismat
Shbeita to the emergency room at Hillel Yaffe Hospital in Hadera. He
was treated and, early the next morning, released. Attorneys Iraqi
and Khadija were questioned at the police station in Hadera.
Subsequently, they filled out a complaint of aggravated assault. The
medical documents concerning the injuries sustained by Shbeita and
Bishara were appended.
While Ismat Shbeita was in the hospital, a policewoman took his
testimony. A few days later, he was called by the police to identify
the assailants from mug shots. He identified one of the figures in
the photos as a suspect in the attack. Last Thursday, when he was
asked to identify him in person at the police station, Ismat Shbeita
notified the police that the man was not one of the assailants. As he
explained later on, the photograph he had pointed to earlier was
taken in 1996 and the likeness was thus misleading.
The Shbeita, Bishara, Iraqi and Khadija families allege that the
police, and thereafter most of the media, were indifferent to the
attack. This changed, they say, only after various people, including
members of Knesset and fellow physicians and attorneys, demanded
explanations from the authorities. "Suddenly, in the last few days,
police officers began telephoning us at home and asking us what
happened. But not one of them is prepared to admit that we were
attacked because we are Arabs," says Taghrid Shbeita.
"The police were disingenuous," says Attorney Khadija, "in behaving
as if they had no idea that for a long time now, Arabs have been
unable to travel with any safety in many places around the country.
>From my own experience, I can attest that an Arab who has an errand
in Netanya at the National Insurance Institute or an HMO near the
open-air market, is cursed and threatened. People even throw rotten
fruits and vegetables at you."
His wife Lubna Khadija adds: "Not all that long ago, Arabs with their
families, whether dressed in modern Western or traditional Arab
clothing, could spend time playing, singing, and banging on drums at
public beaches and parks without feeling threatened. Nowadays, only a
few Arabs dare go to such places. They're afraid, and if someone does
something to hurt them, they don't generally complain to the police.
They don't believe that the police will take them seriously."
Chief Superintendent David Harel of the Hadera police, just back from
a vacation, took the attack at the Givat Olga beach very seriously.
"In this instance," he emphasizes, "we're not talking about a
confrontation between boisterous young people. In this case, adults
were injured right in front of their children - respected members of
Harel says that the police investigation of the incident is
continuing, mainly via intelligence work. At this point, they have
preliminary identification of one of the suspects in the attack, a
resident of Pardes Hannah who denies involvement. In the last year,
it turns out, incidents involving attacks that were evidently racist
in character have been written up by Hadera police - two in Givat
Olga, and two in Or Akiva.
Chief Superintendent Harel promised the families who were assaulted
that he would work to prevent further incidents of this kind and to
improve the atmosphere in the city. Last Friday he joined them at an
early evening picnic at the beach at Givat Olga. Present were the
Shbeita, Bishara, Iraqi and Khadija families, friends and colleagues
- Jewish and Arab, doctors and nurses - and a group of artists. The
picnic was the idea of Physicians for Human Rights in Israel.
Taghrid Shbeita said, "Unfortunately, some of our children were
afraid and didn't want to go. Plus, we sat inside a ring of
policemen, squad cars, Jeeps, and even mounted police. The police
simply didn't want to take the risk and protected us from every
direction. For the same reason, about two hours after the picnic
began, they asked us to break it up so that the officers on duty
there could go back to their regular duties or go home for the Friday
Since the beginning of the current intifada and the bloody events of
October 2000 in Arab towns in the Galilee and the northern Triangle,
Arab citizens have complained of racist treatment. Arab newspapers
like A-Siniara, Al-Ittihad and Kul Al-Arab report continually about
such incidents, but they are rarely noted in the Hebrew press.
Among other reports was one about dozens of residents from the Givat
Hat'marim neighborhood of Acre who demonstrated against the family of
an Arab physician, Dr. Amin Safiyyah, who bought a home in the
neighborhood. Dr. Safiyyah wasn't helped by the fact that he runs
hostels for shell-shocked and disabled patients under the aegis of
the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Defense.
The demonstrators chanted, "No Arabs wanted" and "Death to the
Arabs." In Kfar Saba, an apartment was wrecked after having been
purchased by a dentist from Tira, Dr. Sami Sultan: "Tsomet Hasharon,"
the regional newspaper there, termed it "the ugly face of racism." In
Or Akiva, the dental office of Dr. Nihad Gera of Jatt was torched.
In Safed, a flyer made the rounds with the headline "The Arabs Plan
to Conquer Safed." The flyer warned Jews not to sell apartments or
shops to Arab citizens. A similar call was heard in Upper Nazareth.
About three months ago, around Independence Day, anonymous graffiti
appeared on the walls of the home of an Arab resident of Upper
Nazareth - "Independence for us, hell for you."
In April, flyers were given out in Haifa that called for Jewish
citizens to boycott Arab businesses. Last month, an educator from Tel
Aviv refused to come to the municipal high school in Baka Al-Gharbiya
to administer a matriculation examination to students there. Someone
else was sent in his place. At the beginning of July, Ahmed Suwad was
prevented from boarding a flight from Haifa to Eilat, where he was
supposed to travel on business, after his Arab identity became known.
Taghrid Shbeita sums it up: "They're persecuting us, but to justify
boycotts and so forth, the racists claim that we frighten them. It
looks like they won't rest until we're gone from here."
Some of the news items reporting persecution of Arab citizens have
made their way to the computerized database at the Program for the
Study of Arab Politics at Tel Aviv University. Until a little more
than a year ago, the database was collecting information under the
rubric of "coexistence" that dealt mostly with the positive aspects
of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel - joint projects, youth
encounters, and so forth.
Recently, however, the heading for the category was revised, and this
week Dr. Eli Rechess, director of the program at TAU, explained why:
"Ironically, reports began inadvertently showing up under this
"coexistence" category that dealt with instances of racism or injury
to Arabs. The category had to be expanded and renamed. Now it's
called `Jewish-Arab relations.'"
By Joseph Algazy