I am from the Negev

With these words Sheik A Tori began his speech at the Emergency Conference for Democracy held in the Knesset last week (October 19th). Sheik A- Tori, chairman of the local committee of the Bedouin village El Arakib, spoke with great pain about the ongoing struggle to hold on to the land after his village had been demolished six times. The Sheik's sincere words touched the hearts of those present. On concluding his talk, the entire audience rose to its feet, applauded the sheikh and wished him well.

Jerusalem 19/10/2010 photo: Moshe Balmas

Every day the government declares a war on civilians in the Negev

The Sheikh told how the police entered the village at three o'clock in the morning. He described the horror the little children experienced when forced violently to get up and watch the houses where they had just been, destroyed to the ground. He described how police officers spilled their water and milk. He described the brutality of the police, the mounted police and the police dogs. He described how the entire content of a large warehouse where the whole village kept food and equipment was loaded on to trucks leaving them exposed under the hot desert sun.

He told how buses filled with Jewish youth came to El Arakib with the police. He described how terrible he felt when they applauded each time one of the houses was knocked down by a bulldozer and sang "Am Yisrael Chai" (People of Israel Live).

"The children are raised to a great hatred", he concluded sadly. It was clear that these images are engraved in his memory and cause him pain every time he tells the story.

Young village children aged ten, provoke him with questions like why he tells them that the Jews are good? How can he still believe in coexistence and good neighborliness when the police wreck their homes and property to the trumpeted cheering of Jewish youth?

He knows that the children no longer believe him.

Where is the equality he wishes to know, where is democracy?

Sheik al Tory. Photo from Ynet- See video

We will not be uprooted from our land

As the conference went on many of the talks stressed that the new legal demand for loyalty endangers the delicate fabric of Israeli society.

Professor Yaron Ezrahi noted that in the absence of a constitution based on the values of equality and justice, the demand of loyalty to the state turns the democratic order on its head. Loyalty laws protect the regime rather than protecting the citizens from the regime. These laws are directed primarily against Arab citizens. You can not impose loyalty as you cannot force love. Loyalty laws might disintegrate the society from within.

MK Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash party) opened his speech by referring to the Negev and with words of encouragement the residents of El Arakib. "They promised to hold on to their land even after 100 demolitions. The state did not reveal to the Bedouins even an inch of loyalty" he said.

MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad party) said, referring to the Loyalty Laws promoted by the government, that the new laws are designed to force the Israeli Arabs to choose between losing their homeland and loosing themselves. If they do not give up their identity and narrative, threatens the government, they will be forced to leave. Israeli Arabs will not become shadow-like people, he promises. We will not give up our rights and above all will not give up our country.

The road to a Hollow Democracy

The new right-wing that Netanyahu and Lieberman represent is not the democratic right-wing of Menachem Begin, said MK Said Nafa (Balad party). This is right-wing politics in the European model of fascist right-wing. It is a regime that demands unwavering loyalty to the state but does not distinguish between the state and the government.

Prof. Yehuda Shenhav said that the term racism does not describe the government's treatment of Arabs anymore, as this term implies a democratic context. The intention of the current race-oriented legislation is to serve as an infrastructure for a nationalistic regime. It is way beyond racism. The word "anti-Semitism" is more appropriate to describe this policy. We should reclaim the use of this word.

Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer said that the rights of the Arabs are the lifeblood of Israeli democracy. Loyalty laws place us on a dangerous path were we gradually empty the contents of a substantive democracy. Iran also calls itself a democracy.

From Kahana to Netanyahu

It so happened that the Emergency Conference was held close to the Memorial Day for the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. MK Daniel Ben Simon (Labor party) and MK Mohammed Barakeh noted that Rabin's government was delegitimized by the right wing because of its reliance on the Arab MKs. The partnership with the Arabs made Rabin a traitor in the eyes of Bibi Netanyahu. The rest is history.

Muhammad Barakeh also pointed out that exactly 22 years since Kahana's racist party was outlawed we witness Bibi and Lieberman embracing Kahane's ideas.

Rabbi Gilad Khalifa said that the current Knesset has among its members a student of Kahana, and that some members of the house are known for their admiration to Baruch Goldstein. It is no wonder then that the idea of population exchange that 15 years ago was considered outrageous is now promoted by Liberman, a senior member of the government.

Under the current government we see the full extent of the policy aimed to force Arabs out.  Blatant threats of expulsion and deprivation of citizenship are deepening inequality in the Negev region. The dispossession policies taken by the state against its Bedouin citizens fit well with the wave of nationalism. Any opposition to government policy becomes the new definition of treason. Bedouin are not only forced to lose their homes and land but are also expected to accept this silently.

Sheikh Sayah called for every person with a conscience to visit El Arakib and support the residents. Now it is clearer than ever that not remaining silent about the rights of the Bedouin – is not an option. Every citizen has to decide whether they support the policies that scatter hatred and shatter dignity and hope, if not – they must stand up and fight for a state that is loyal to its citizens and their rights.

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