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Free Speech for Arabs, Too..
Last uploaded : Thursday 30th Dec 2004 at 18:57
Contributed by : Ray Hanania


Occasionally, you might read a letter or an opinion written by an Israeli Arab in one of Israel's leading newspapers. Certainly, there are very few Arab columnists, but those that do appear are limited to a narrow vision of self-deprecating themes.

One of the complaints from Israelis is that when Arabs do express their opinions, they are "racist" and "anti-Semitic", the usual response to anything critical of Israeli policies towards Arabs.

Yet the Israelis are the first on their feet to criticise Arab speech. They especially love to exaggerate the complaint that official Arab texts and literature disparage the Israelis.

One of the most popular accusations is that the Arabs deny Israel's existence and exclude Israel from its maps. Of course, the Israelis are experts on this subject as they often do unto others what they complain bitterly others do unto them.

Most maps of Israel only show Israel in Israel. Most Israeli maps don't even acknowledge the existence of the "occupied territories", which are nowadays reclassified as "disputed territories". Few identify the West Bank, Gaza Strip or East Jerusalem as being Palestinian or Palestine.

When the Israelis do identify the territories with a dashed green line, they usually refer to them as Judea and Samaria, supposedly the names given to the regions in Biblical times. I guess we understand that to many Israelis, Biblical references are a matter of convenience as their maps fail to refer to most of Israel as belonging to the Canaanites.

The Israelis always use exceptions among Arab literature to exaggerate their claims against the Palestinians, ignoring the many examples that exist everyday in their own society, especially among the settlers who use Israeli government texts and texts they produce on their own that reflect fundamental racist views of all Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims.

This week, during a trial of five Islamists in Haifa, the judge allowed "expert testimony" from prosecution witness Dr. Rafi Israeli.

As reported in Haaretz, he testified that the Arab mentality is made of "a sense of being a victim", "pathological anti-Semitism" and "a tendency to live in a world of illusions."

A lecturer in Middle Eastern studies at Hebrew University, he added that the Arabs neglect sanitation in their communities. "Most of the Arab villages are dirtier, physically - it's a fact," he said.

Imagine the uproar from the Israelis if a Palestinian professor expressed similarly racist stereotypes of Jews in, say, an Israeli or American university.

Israelis love to point out the racism of others. It helps strengthen their defence against Palestinians whose homes and land they have stolen over the years. It helps justify the illegal violations of Palestinian rights that have continued undeterred since 1948 in Israel and the occupied territories.

Yes, many of the Palestinian villages are "dirtier" than many Israeli villages and cities. But maybe someone might ask why.

I did. I interviewed Tawfiq Zayad, the late mayor of Nazareth, the Arab city in the Galilee.

Israel created a new city called Nazareth Ilit. It is for Jews only. A few Arabs make it into the city, but racism stirs them out quickly.

Zayad explained that Israel provides endless government funding to Jewish cities and Jewish citizens, but offers far less support to Arab cities.

Some Palestinians argue the intent is clear, a part of the Israeli mentality to make life so miserable for Arab Christians and Muslims in Israel and the occupied territories that they will flee so the privileged people of Israel can enjoy their comforts unbothered by the "riff raff".

Israeli textbooks are replete with passages denying Palestinian rights, denying Israeli state terrorism against Palestinian civilians, denying Palestinian grievances and portraying Palestinians who challenge Israel as extremists, fanatics and terrorists. These are "acceptable" to many Israelis.

Week after week, officials in Israel's government express the most outrageous and egregiously racist views of Palestinians and Arabs.

Sure, there is an outcry from some Israelis. There are many good Israelis who oppose this racism and who fight hard to end it and achieve a just peace.

But Israelis still need far more effort before they can step out of their glass houses.

Ray Hanania is an Arab Media Watch member and award-winning writer. He can be reached at www.hanania.com and writes for the Palestine Chronicle:



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