Rassegna Stampa Elezioni Israeliane 2009

Monitoraggio attraverso i media internazionali delle elezioni in Israele del Febbraio 2009

Gaza Conflict Angers, Alienates Israel’s Arab Citizens

Posted by valecardia su 20 gennaio, 2009

UMM AL-FAHM, Israel — Three weeks of bloody conflict in the Gaza Strip and a crackdown on dissent inside Israel have fueled slow-burning anger among members of Israel’s Arab minority and will continue to sow division despite the tenuous cease-fire that went into effect Sunday, Arab citizens and their leaders say.

During the fighting in Gaza, Israeli police arrested 763 antiwar demonstrators inside Israel, the vast majority of them Arabs accused of causing “violent disturbances,” according to Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld. Dozens more were brought in to be “warned ahead of time not to cause trouble” and then released, he said.

Perhaps the most divisive blow came last week when a parliamentary elections committee banned two Arab-led political parties from competing in next month’s national vote, charging them with disloyalty under a 2002 law that permits the exclusion of factions supporting “armed struggle” by a terrorist organization or foreign country. Both were highly critical of Israel’s Gaza operation.

Arab Israeli political leaders say distrust of the Jewish state runs deeper now than at any time since the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, triggered a wave of violence across the country more than eight years ago. While no one here expects that level of unrest to recur, local residents point to a steady stream of protests and avoidance by Jews of places that once brought the two groups together as signs of deteriorating relations.

“It is the worst we have seen since 2000,” said Mahmoud Aghbariyh, secretary of the Arab party Balad here in Umm al-Fahm, Israel’s second-largest Arab city. As he spoke Saturday, a dozen volunteers adorned yellow placards with messages of protest for an evening rally. “There is a tension between the two communities as a result of this war that killed so many innocents, and a cease-fire won’t stop it,” he said. “Their massacres have moved our people as never before.”

Residents of Umm al-Fahm, where 13 Arabs died in clashes with Israeli forces in October 2000, said that during the current conflict, Jews stopped visiting local cultural sites and eating in restaurants that line the country’s main north-south highway. A modern art gallery on a steep hillside was nearly empty this weekend, its usual crowd of a few hundred Jewish patrons reduced to a lone visitor.

“Either they are afraid or they are punishing us,” said Kamle Aghbaniyh, a curator at the gallery, which is currently displaying historic photographs of the region dating to 1903. Several shots depict rock-throwing youths clashing with Israeli police and soldiers during earlier periods of tension.

Just up the street, the normally packed El-Babor restaurant, which serves stuffed lamb neck and other Arab delicacies to a mostly Jewish clientele, had a roomful of open tables. The owner, Nashaat Abbas, said that business was down 70 percent and that he had temporarily laid off all but 10 of his 50-person staff.

Asked to explain the lull in business, he responded: “Fear, fear. Maybe 20 percent are boycotting, but the majority are afraid.” Unsure when business will recover, he said, he recently opened another restaurant in a nearby Jewish neighborhood.

Meanwhile, at a busy highway junction, a group of Arab lawyers and white-coated physicians protested Israel’s 22-day “war-criminal assault” on Gaza and the heavy toll it took on their “Palestinian brothers.”

“We regard the attack on the Palestinian people as an attack on us personally. Before we became Israelis, we were Palestinian Arabs,” said Muahammad Lufti, a lawyer and one of the demonstration’s organizers, who held a sign bearing a photograph of dead Gazan children wrapped in white cloth. “Never before, even in the previous wars, have we seen such pictures on our television screens.”

Protests by Israeli Arabs have been larger and more frequent than any in recent years, they said. Recent rallies in the West Bank, which is policed by the Palestinian Authority, a rival of Hamas, have been quickly, and sometimes harshly, broken up.

“Things are particularly difficult for Israeli Arabs at times of conflict with other Arabs, and even more so with Palestinians because often their cousins or relatives are the ones fighting against Israel,” said Mordechai Kedar, a lecturer in Arabic studies at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University. “Their loyalties will definitely be with their brothers.”

Making up about a fifth of Israel’s population — and growing much more rapidly than the Jewish majority — Arab citizens say they face discrimination in immigration policy, land ownership, education and public employment, either explicitly or in the application of the law. Israeli leaders often argue, however, that their country’s Arabs are accorded more civil rights and liberties than they would be in Arab countries and that few would choose to live elsewhere.

The move to disqualify two Arab parties — the National Democratic Assembly, or Balad, and the United Arab List, or Ta’al — from upcoming elections came in response to public statements from Arab politicians calling for Israel to be “a state for all its citizens,” as opposed to considering itself a Jewish state. “They accuse us of being enemies because we said no to their war,” said Ahmad Tibi, leader of Ta’al.

Although most legal analysts predict that Israel’s Supreme Court will strike down the decision as soon as this week — a 2002 attempt to bar Arab parties was reversed by the court — Arab leaders and their advocates say it has only deepened the disaffection felt by many Israeli Arabs.

All of Israel’s leading parties, including the left-leaning parties that make up its governing coalition, voted in favor of the measure. A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose Kadima party backed the ban, declined to comment on it.

We are fighting it, but on the ground the situation is deteriorating, no matter what the court does,” said Abeer Baker, a lawyer with the civil rights organization Adalah, which on Sunday filed an appeal against the elections committee’s decision.

The decision does not affect other Israeli Arab parties or candidates. Israel’s Knesset, or parliament, currently has 12 Arab members, including at least four from the banned parties.

In December, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a leading candidate to be Israel’s next prime minister, angered Israeli Arab leaders when she said that the formation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza would provide “a national solution” for Israeli Arabs and that their “national aspirations lie elsewhere.” She later clarified that she did not mean Arab citizens would be forced to leave Israel.

“They regard us as a threat to their democracy, a time bomb,” said Aghbariyh, the local party leader. “And they treat us like that.”



Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 20, 2009; Page A18



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