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No Shelters, Sirens for Israel’s Arab Citizens

StoryAugust 14, 2006
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While hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken refuge in bomb shelters, many Arab-Israelis in say they have had no such protection. They say they have been left on their own, thereby exposing some of Israel’s worst inequalities. We go to Haifa to speak with the director of an Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens and to a Jewish Israeli who lives in an Arab town in Northern Israel and wrote a book about her journey across the Jewish Arab divide. [includes rush transcript]

We want to turn now to an overlooked aspect of the war as it’s affected Israel’s northern residents. Israel’s civilian death toll is now at forty. But not all are Israeli Jews. Almost half of the victims of Hezbollah’s attacks are Arab-Israeli. They’re part of a community of more than one million living inside Israel.

While hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken refuge in bomb shelters, many Arab-Israelis say they’ve had no such protection. They say they’ve been left on their own, thereby exposing some of Israel’s worst inequalities.

  • Jafar Farah, director of the Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel, which campaigns for equal rights Israel’s Arab citizens. He joins us on the line from Haifa.
  • Susan Nathan, a British-born Israeli Jew who lives in the Arab town of Tamra, in Northern Israel. She’s written a book about her time there titled “The Other Side of Israel: My Journey Across the Jewish/Arab Divide.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Jafar Farah joins us on the phone from Haifa. He is the director of the Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel, which campaigns for equal rights for Israel’s Arab citizens. And we’re also joined on the phone by Susan Nathan. She is a British-born Israeli Jew who lives in the Arab town of Tamra in Northern Israel and has written a book about her time there. It’s called The Other Side of Israel: My Journey Across the Jewish/Arab Divide. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

Let’s begin with Jafar Farah in Haifa. Can you describe what it has been like for Israeli Arabs in Haifa? And is that the term you use? Do you say Palestinian? Do you say Arab citizens in Israel? What do you say?

JAFAR FARAH: We use Arab citizens, but we mean by that Arab citizens and also Palestinians and also citizens of the state of Israel. Actually, we have complicated identities and we have complicated reality. So it’s, you know, like — but don’t use “Israeli Arabs,” because we are Arab citizens of the state of Israel, and we are parallel Palestinians.

In any case, for the last month, it wasn’t an easy time for us. From one side, we have to suffer from the rockets from Hezbollah, but also incitement against the Arab community that is taking place by extreme rightwing people in the Israeli policy — political system. And also in the media, people in — also in the media, people in the mainstream media in Israel were for several days, they were inciting the Hezbollah community and the things that were similar to hate speech against the Arab community were — you know, some people were talking in a way that they have to choose, they are with us or against us.

But in the end of the day, we were more than 40% of the victims of Hezbollah rockets. So we know where we are, but actually some people in the extreme right wing were trying to push us outside and abusing this war to make it black and white, to make the picture all the Arabs against all the Jewish. And this is not the reality, because it’s not the way that we see things from our unique place as Palestinians, as Arabs and as citizens of the state of Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: What about these reports of whether you have shelters or sirens?

JAFAR FARAH: Yeah. Look, for the first several — for actually for the first ten days almost, we didn’t have — most of the Arab villages and cities didn’t have even an alarm system, until two kids were killed in Nazareth, in the middle of Nazareth. Only then the army offered an alarm system to Nazareth’s municipality. But actually, Nazareth, you have to take into consideration, is the biggest Arab city. More than 70,000 people are living in the city. And for more than ten days, they haven’t been — you know, they haven’t — nobody was thinking about giving them alarm system that can give them alarm when there’s rockets on the way to Nazareth.

Most of the Arab cities don’t have shelters, and villages, of course. Only a few Arab villages that are in the area of the border have shelters, but also, not for everybody. Almost half of the civilians in the villages around the border have shelters. Most of the Arab villages like Tamra or like other villages and cities don’t have shelters, even not public shelters or private shelters. Usually the private shelters — for the last ten years, the government forced anybody that built a new house to build a private shelter as part of the new house. But before that, we had a system of public shelters that the government was building for years in many cities and villages. And for now, we don’t have — more than 70% of the Arab population don’t have shelters in the area that rockets actually were killing civilians and were injuring civilians.

Now, parallel to that, if you take the media, most of the media is in Hebrew. If you have the three main channels — Channel 1, Channel 10 and Channel 2 — in Israel are in Hebrew. Nobody thought that they have to make simultaneous translation or to make a similar campaign, like the one that was done in Hebrew, to explain to civilians in Arabic what’s the danger from these missiles, from these rockets and how you should protect yourself. So actually for weeks, most of the Arab civilians didn’t thought that this war will include them, until people started to die in villages and cities.

And now the shock is huge, and people, you know, like, that suffered from these rockets, didn’t have even treatment, psychological treatment that can help them. And in most of these villages that suffered from rockets, the evacuation of victims were done by private companies that is acting in most of the Arab villages and cities, emergency medical companies that give emergency services on private basis. And they were giving this, mainly the saving process and medical support for the first hours.

AMY GOODMAN: Jafar Farah, I wanted to get your response to the Haifa mayor, Yona Yahav, who was responding to Hassan Nasrallah’s request that Haifa’s Arab citizens evacuate the city to avoid further Hezbollah attacks. Nasrallah had said, “We don’t want to shed your blood, which is our blood.” This is the response of the Haifa’s mayor.

YONA YAHAV: …because whatever he did in the last months in the shell of rockets he shot at Haifa caused a terrible reaction and a criticism among the Arabic population in Haifa. The Arabic population in Haifa is very much rooted in the life of Haifa. They are part of the view of Haifa. They are part of the life of Haifa. We, the Jews and the Arabs, we embrace each other throughout the last hundred years. This is the only place on earth in which we are exercising full peace between Jews and Arabs throughout the last hundred years. This is the reason why the population remains. They don’t listen to him. They won’t leave here. We don’t want them to leave here. We love them. And they are part of us.

AMY GOODMAN: Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav. Jafar, if you could respond?

JAFAR FARAH: Yeah. Look, you know, like it’s sad, because the Haifa mayor himself was helping in evacuating Jewish citizens of Haifa to many places. And in response to Hassan Nasrallah’s call, he was calling the Arab citizens not to leave Haifa.

Now, we have our trauma of leaving our city. Most of the Palestinians became refugees, because they listened to Arab leaders during the war in '48 and to Jewish leaders that called them to evacuate their cities and villages during the war. And like this, as you probably know, they became refugees. And for the last 58 years, most of them didn't come back. So the ones that stayed in place like Haifa, like our family — our family is a family that stayed in '48 in Haifa, like my father's part of the family. We stayed in Haifa in '48, and we didn't listen to leaders in the Arab and the Jewish community — in the countries, and we stayed in Haifa. And as a result, we stayed, and we didn’t become refugees. My mother’s village became — was evacuated and forced to leave their village, even to Lebanon. And they came back as part of an international agreement that took place later on, because this village was evacuated by force.

Now, we were very sad, because of the call of Hassan Nasrallah. We have our trauma, our memories from calls — you know, from calling us to leave our houses. We don’t want to leave our houses. Most of Haifa’s citizens didn’t leave their houses. And people that would leave their houses, they should do that if they feel like they secure their families, their kids. Kids don’t have to suffer from this war.

And, you know, sadly, I have to say that the current mayor, Yona Yahav, he showed irresponsible behavior during all this war. He was calling the military forces to act against Hezbollah and against civilians. And I think the example of Haifa, the mayor of Haifa before ’48 and most of the leaders of the Arab and the Jewish community during years were calling for peace and not calling for war and not calling for the Israeli army to use more violence against civilians. The civilians in Haifa, the Arab and the Jewish civilians in Haifa, have the same status of the Lebanon civilians and the Palestinian civilians in Gaza Strip.

AMY GOODMAN: Jafar Farah —

JAFAR FARAH: I would expect Yona Yahav and many people in the Israeli side will call to stop attacking civilians if they are Palestinians or Lebanese or Jewish or an Arab in Haifa. So this is something that we didn’t get actually and sadly. The leaders of Haifa have to think again why they were calling to go on with this war against civilians.

AMY GOODMAN: Jafar Farah is director of the Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel. As we turn now to Susan Nathan, who is an Israeli Jew, who lives in the all-Arab town in Northern Israel of Tamra and has written about her experiences in a book called The Other Side of Israel: My Journey Across the Jewish/Arab Divide. Can you talk about the situation in Tamra during this month, Susan Nathan?

SUSAN NATHAN: Yes. It’s been very tense, very, very tense. Every bomb that has dropped, every Katyusha, we hear it. And there’s been this terrible feeling all the time, that not knowing where it’s going to land. It’s one thing hearing the bombing going on, 20-30 kilometers up the road. This is terrible enough. But also, to see and to hear the Katyushas coming and to hear the sirens going off in places like Karmi’el and Haifa, in the Qiryat area near us, and not knowing where it’s going to land, so people have been very, very tense here.

And I, you know, back up completely everything that Jafar has said. The main issue here for us has been totally that we have no protection. No protection whatsoever. I was interviewed on Al Jazeera only two weeks ago, and they asked me exactly about this point, and they said, “Is it really true?” And I said, “Yes, it’s completely true.” These are people who are discriminated against at every level of life here within Israeli society.

AMY GOODMAN: So when you say they have no protection, if you could explicitly explain, are you saying no sirens to alert them, no shelters?

SUSAN NATHAN: No sirens. I mean, you know, we are not actually a village. We are 25 — I think actually, since — the correct figures are actually that we are 30,000 people here. So, we are actually a town. We have absolutely no shelters at all and no warning sirens. And I think that that is a disgrace. That reflects very, very badly on the citizenship, on our level of citizenship. And when I say our level of citizenship, how we’re valued by the society here. I include myself in that, because I choose to live the Arab life here in Israel, never forgetting, of course, that I am still essentially privileged as a Jew here. However, I live an unequal life, because I’ve chosen to live the Arab life. So I live the everyday discrimination in my everyday life. And it has been a revelation to me.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to have to pick up this conversation another day to talk about why you chose, after making aliyah to Israel, after moving to Israel as a religious Jewish woman, you ended up in Northern Israel.

SUSAN NATHAN: I’d like to correct you there. I’m not religious. I was simply in love with the Zionist narrative, as many Jews are who are educated in the diaspora. But I’m not religious.

AMY GOODMAN: We will have you back on to talk about why you chose to live in Israel and then chose to live in the Arab town of Tamra. I want to thank you both for being with us, Susan Nathan, author of The Other Side of Israel, and Jafar Farah, director of the Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel.

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