Israeli Arabs boycott Barak, await Sharon
February 1, 2001
"Palestinian Citizens of Israel" says Sharon
As the extreme right-wing revolution in Israel nears, as Ariel Sharon and
friends prepare to take over political power, the "Israeli Arab vote" will
not be enough to save Ehud Barak, and in fact it will not even be mobilized
on his behalf this time, though Yasser Arafat and his friends have surely tried.
After generations of second-class citizenship, after decades of various forms
of discrimination, and after the Israeli army was set loose against the "Palestinian
citizens of Israel" by none other than Ehud Barak, neither of the big Zionist
parties is very palatable to "Israeli Arabs"; and understandably so.
This new phrase, "Palestinian citizens of Israel", is one Ariel Sharon has
just started using. And knowing Sharon, the term should not be considered
benign. "I am on the point of creating for the first time a new kind of relationship
with the Arabs of Israel who, because of their origins, are Palestinian citizens
of Israel," Sharon told Israeli radio a few days ago making his first use of
the term. Sharon and his ideological cohorts have few supporters and no friends
among this minority population in Israel; and one has to wonder just what Sharon
really has in mind for them down the road when his "offer" is not accepted
and tensions explode into still more fighting and possible war.
Just a year and a half ago Barak was riding high, and charismatic Netanyahu
was exiled to the political wilderness. Back then Sharon was thought to be
completely unelectable -- too extreme, too old, too untelegenic.
How fast things have changed. How dangerous are the times now ahead.
ISRAELI ARABS ON SIDELINES
Dismayed by recent violence and ongoing discrimination,
many may sit out election
Dina Shiloh, Chronicle Foreign Service
[San Francisco Chronicle - 29 January]:
Umm El Fahem, Israel -- Mohammed Adiv gets up every day at 6 a.m. to
travel from his hometown in the Galilee to Tel Aviv, 60 miles south.
There he goes straight to the market, where he chooses the fruit and
vegetables for the upscale produce store in north Tel Aviv where he
has worked for the past 21 years.
"I've always worked with Israelis and never had any problems," said
the 38- year-old, who is an Israeli citizen. "But the truth is, we
Arabs in Israel are discriminated against.
"We are not allowed to build new houses. We are not allocated money
for schools, for infrastructure in our towns. So people have always
felt angry. But now, with the killing of the 13, even my 6-year-old
son is angry with (Prime Minister Ehud) Barak."
In separate clashes in October, 13 Israeli Arabs were shot to death
by Israeli police -- 11 of them during three days of violent
demonstrations in the Galilee and two more a week later in Nazareth.
Israeli Arabs, who constitute 20 percent of the country's population,
also are angry that so many Palestinians have been killed in the West
Bank and Gaza.
Many are threatening to boycott next week's national election out of
anger at Barak, who is being blamed by Jews and Arabs alike for
failing to stop the unrest besetting Israel and the Palestinian
"In the last elections, there was a very high turnout of Arab voters,
and 96 percent voted for Barak. This time, we cannot predict how many
will vote at all. They are very, very disappointed with the
government," said Sara Ozacky-Lazar, director of the Gi-Haviva
Arab-Jewish Center for Peace, who has conducted research into the
voting patterns of Israeli Arabs.
With Barak trailing far behind right-wing opposition leader Ariel
Sharon in the polls, the Arab vote has become absolutely essential to
his hopes for re- election.
In the last elections, Labor Party activists were out for weeks
before the elections, trying to persuade Arabs to vote, bringing in
government ministers to public meetings and promising changes under
Barak. There is no evidence of any such activity now.
"There's a terrible feeling of apathy, that we have totally lost the
faith of the Arabs and there's no point in trying to get them back,"
confided one Labor insider.
Israeli Arabs want the state to recognize that an injustice has been
perpetrated. On Jan. 21, the Arab Monitoring Committee, which
represents the families of the October riot victims, submitted to a
state commission of inquiry its accusations that the police and
border police used excessive force and engaged in undisciplined
The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, known as Adalah,
is leading the protest. "Our findings lead to the clear accusation
that the security forces did not behave according to the minimal
rules of human rights, " said Adalah director Hassan Jabareen.
Israelis on the left, who have been slow to criticize the police for
the killings, are now siding with the Arabs. Last week, the
left-leaning Ha'aretz newspaper published accounts of eyewitnesses to
the shootings. Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres apologized to
Israeli Arabs "on behalf of the government" for the 13 deaths.
On Wednesday in Nazareth, Barak stopped short of an apology, telling
a group of Arab Labor Party activists that he felt "sorrow and a need
to express condolences."
But all that may not be enough. Even if the commission finds that the
police bear responsibility for what happened, Israeli Arabs are
unlikely to be mollified.
They are disappointed by Barak's failure to address the
discrimination Arabs face in their own country.
Despite their support for Barak in the last election, he named no
Arab ministers and takes the votes of Arab Knesset members for
granted, Israeli Arabs say. They cite years of bias in the allocation
of government resources.
Thirty percent of Israeli Arabs live below the poverty line. Arab
towns get smaller allocations than do Jewish ones, and many lack such
basics as sewers and sidewalks. Israeli Arab children attend more
crowded and worse-equipped schools. Twice as many Arab babies as
Jewish ones die before their first birthday.
That the peace talks, which were suspended yesterday until after the
election, went on as long as they did is a point in the prime
But Israeli Arabs -- many of whom prefer to call themselves
"Palestinians who live in Israel" -- say that they were disappointed
by what Barak offered.
Polls show most Israeli Arabs believe that Jerusalem should be
divided, giving Palestinians control over the Arab eastern part of
the city, and that remote Jewish settlements on the West Bank should
The right of return for thousands of Palestinians who left or were
forced out of their homes when Israel was created in 1948 -- one of
the chief sticking points in the peace talks -- is another sensitive
"When the conflict has ended, the question is: What will happen with
the refugees? Four hundred and thirty-one Arab villages were
destroyed. Land was confiscated. Israeli Arabs believe it would be
just for all of these people to come back here," said Salem Jubran, a
prominent Israeli Arab author, journalist and lecturer.
"But then again, we also know that it is perhaps unrealistic. More
urgent is the question of Jerusalem, and the settlements."
Jubran is one of the few Arab intellectuals publicly urging Israeli
Arabs to vote for Barak.
"I am against a boycott of the elections. Although Barak was
responsible for the death of 13 people, Sharon was responsible for
the death of thousands in Lebanon, at Sabra and Chatilla," Jubran
He was referring to the massacre of Palestinian refugees in 1982 in
two Beirut refugee camps by Christian militias who were Israel's
allies at the time. Sharon, then the defense minister, was severely
criticized by a commission of inquiry, which recommended that he be
"Sharon is the most dangerous politician in the history of Israel,"
Jubran said. "So I say to my Arab brothers, we must vote for Barak.
We have no choice. "
Adiv said he respects Jubran's views, but he has not quite made up his mind..
"If Barak can make an agreement with the Palestinians before the
elections, then I will vote for him. But I will still be angry about
what happened. The picture of the 13 will stay on my living room