Discrimination, Police Brutality, and Racism: The Struggle of Arab Palestinians in Israel

Video & Transcript
Jafar Farah & Nabila Espanioly
Transcript No. 509 (October 2, 2018)

Mr. Jafar Farah:

Thank you. We should say good afternoon now. Thanks for hosting us here; it’s our pleasure to be again at this place. We are proud that there is Palestinian space in Washington and we hope that more and more people will be involved in the daily activities of this place. You know, to see the space and to see the people here make us feel at home even if usually we feel that the American people care less about what’s going on with the Palestinian people on our side. So as Mossawa Center, this is our last day to be in DC. We have been here all over this week and we met with members of congress, senators and staffers and civil society organizations. We came here actually in a critical point for the Palestinian people. Shutting down the embassy and the representation of the Palestinian people in Washington, something that wasn’t a surprise by the Trump administration, but we think that we should act against such actions that have been taking place from the current administration.

So, let’s start with the fact that we Palestinian people deserve to have political representation that represents the Palestinian people in every place. This is part of the self-determination of the Palestinian people that we will be able to be present. We will be able to talk on our behalf and nobody else can talk on our behalf. We as a Palestinian minority inside the green line, we have huge challenges because we have been marginalized by the Palestinian people and we have been marginalized also by the international community. So, the Palestinian community in Israel since 1948 actually struggled to build our institutions. It wasn’t easy to build the Palestinian institution inside Israel. As you probably know, the word Palestine was a big challenge for us to mention the fact that we have a Palestinian identity.

Later on, [there was] the whole issue of putting [up] the Palestinian flag in different places. It was a big challenge; some people paid the price of being jailed. My brother, for example, was jailed in 1988 because he was putting [up] the Palestinian flag in Haifa. So, our connection and our attempts to try to build or rebuild the family connections to our Palestinian brothers and sisters after 1948 wasn’t an easy mission to be implemented by us as Palestinians. We have been isolated in Israel and we have been isolated also from the Arab countries in the region. But for us the challenge was to build our community and to build our villages and cities and to be able to bring our voice around the table and to build community.

So, if you think it was easy for people in (Nazareth??) to stay in Nazareth and to build institutions, think about the fact that Palestinians at the occupied territories have universities and in Nazareth there is no university. Actually, today it’s easier to build universities in Jenin but we can’t build a university in Nazareth. So, our struggle to develop our community was a struggle that for some people they thought that it was a very easy mission to compare it with the people living under occupation. But actually, it was easier to have a vision under occupation that in the end day you will have one Palestinian state while we will be forever, if it will be, a two-state solution minority inside the state of Israel. This vision is dividing the Palestinian people for different realities.

You know Palestinians inside Israel, East Jerusalem, occupied territories, Gaza, refugees—it’s a huge challenge to try to build one identity and to try to act and cooperate, and also to coordinate efforts. So, we are happy today that we are able to coordinate efforts also with our Palestinian sisters and brothers in the occupied territories. And we hope that we will be able to do more in the future to challenge the whole division of the Palestinian in different areas.

In the last few years the Palestinian community in Israel is targeted by the settlers’ organizations in the West Bank, targeting us mainly to prevent us [from having] an impact on the decisions when it comes to a two-state solution, occupation, war. I think they like the idea that we can be a part of the job market in Israel, but the settlers’ organizations would like to prevent us from taking decisions, for example to end the occupation. Since 1992, actually the first time between 1992 and 1995 the Palestinian community in Israel was able to participate in strategic decisions about the future of the region. For the first time, actually, the Arabic Knesset members, the political leaders of the Arab community, have been able to be part of a decision to go for any kind of regional solution for the Palestinian tragedy. So, in this sense it was the first time that the Arab members of the Knesset guarantee any political majority. Knesset parliamentary majority is needed to go for any kind of regional solution. It happened again in 2005 with the disengagement from Gaza. Without the support of the Arab political leadership, the disengagement from Gaza wouldn’t be approved by the Knesset. We as a community were against the disengagement. We believe that we should find a solution for the Palestinian tragedy. Disengagement from Gaza had been proved as a failure and we see the results. The disengagement from Gaza and the Oslo process challenged us and the main challenge is actually what kind of peace will [there] be when the peace that has been promoted and presented to both nations and to the international community was based on separation. We are here, they are there. The two-state solution that has been presented to the Palestinians and the Jews was based on separation. In 2000 it was clear that you can’t separate the Palestinians inside Israel from the other Palestinians especially after the break down of the second intifada.

The breakdown of the second intifada was putting the Palestinian community inside Israel on the front line in the sense that also Palestinian citizens inside of Israel were killed during the demonstrations that were taking place in Nazareth and even in Haifa. The challenges we faced since 2000 led us to create also new political platforms. I think if you look at the Middle East today, the only political platform that put Islamic movements and secular in the same political platform—you can call it unity and you can call it joint forces—but for the first time actually in the last election the Arab community came together. We decided to establish some kind of a Joint List that Islamic movements and communist party and secular party can work together and try to challenge the discourse in Israel. We became actually the third political power inside the green line.

So, this new atmosphere [where] for the first time the Arab community is not small political groups, divided, but we are united and we can challenge the settler organizations, created a new reality. And the new reality that was created in the Knesset put the Arab community in the front line of the debate about the future of the two states and future of the two nations. That’s why we see more and more laws targeting the Arab community. Of course, there are the laws that try and normalize the occupation, the annexation of Jerusalem, etc., but the nation state law, the purpose of it is to prevent us from commemorating the Nakba which is the main event that you know we should commemorate to remember what happened to us and to our people in 1948. But since then you have more and more laws that have been presented to the Knesset and I would just talk about two of them. [There is] the [inaudible] law which is the law that will make it easier to implement home demolition inside the green line. So, you find cases of villages like Al Arakeb or Milheran. Al Arakeb has been demolished 130 times.  And Milheran, the plan is to evacuate the village to build Heran as a Jewish village.

We went to the courts for the last 20 years and we used the legal system. For example, when we talk about segregation in housing, we challenge the system because all our lands have been confiscated since 1948. Ninety three percent – it’s a very unique democracy, Israel.  Confiscated our lands and the lands have been allocated to the Jewish majority and they were able through the years to build more than 600 villages and cities and [inaudible] all over the country. So, in the new law why [do] they need to promote segregation and why [do] they need to promote segregation as a basic law in Israel? It’s not because they need it, it’s because they feel in Israel today that they can escalate, they can humiliate people and they can violate people and nobody will do anything to prevent them from doing that. This is exactly what was done in Gaza, this is what was done in the West Bank, this is what was done in Jerusalem, and this is what is [being] done today when it comes to the citizens of the state of Israel. We pay taxes in a country and they still feel that they need to humiliate us and to create second class citizens.

Segregation in housing is taking place today. Segregation in housing is implemented today and there is a court decision that hasn’t been implemented to prevent segregation in housing and allocation of land only to Jewish citizens. They would like to present to us no segregation also in workplaces to make it possible to discriminate [against] the Arab community. So, when Mossawa center goes to the court and says it’s illegal to discriminate in employment, they will find ways to make it legal because you have to give privileges to the Jewish people not only in Israel. If you are Jewish American you will get more privileges than us, the citizens of the state or the taxpayers of the state. So, in this sense downgrade of the Arabic language, segregation in housing, and discrimination in employment. These are actions that create [the]apartheid regime in Israel, not only in the West Bank, and we have to put it on the table. It’s not a question of security anymore, if anybody says we need this and that to do this action or that action against Gaza because of the rockets or because of Hamas and Fatah. Why do such actions against the Arab community that haven’t been involved in violence since 1948. We are the only nonviolent community in the region, so why [do] you need to target and to discriminate and deepen the discrimination of the Arab community in Israel. I will tell you why. Because the Jewish people in Israel and especially the leadership of Israel today don’t want to be part of the Middle East actually.

I think it will be very important for you to understand [that] the downgrade of the status of the Arabic language will not affect us. It will humiliate us, but we will keep using the Arabic language. But the Jewish immigrants that came from the Arab region to Israel and Palestine, they have their background, they have Arabic as their mother tongue. It was their language, so you prevent them actually from using this language and you downgrade their historical links to the region. The isolation of the Jewish people from the Middle East and the effort to build a whole nation has to be dealt with. The Jewish people have to decide whether they want to be part of the Middle East and to see us as their neighbors and to treat the Palestinians as their neighbors. It’s our houses and our lands that have been given to Jewish people after 3,000 years. I don’t know any God that promised somebody else’s houses and lands to somebody. Do you know anybody promise you? I think everyone here bought a house and paid and he worked [for it]. In our case we were willing to share our homeland with the Jewish people because we thought that it will end our and their tragedy. For us it will be very important to give a message to the Jewish people. We are willing to live with the Jewish people as equal. It can be one state or two states. We really don’t care. We don’t care more than Trump doesn’t care really. We think that it will be more effective to have a two-state solution as soon as possible. We don’t want our people that are living under the occupation and also isolated in Gaza, we don’t want them to suffer for more years until the one state will come. But if the Jewish people don’t want the two-state solution, they have to be brave and to come to the international community and stop talking about security. They have to come and say, “We want one state and then we will come to some kind of a solution.” It’s similar to the Belgium one or to the Spanish one but it’s about time to put the Jewish population in Israel on this exercise. What [do] you really want? Do you want to live in the Middle East? Do you want to treat the Middle East as your neighborhood? Or [do] you want to be hostile to the region and treat us as a jungle? This is not a jungle for us. This is a place where we want to build the future for ourselves and the future for our children. And we can offer the Jewish population to be equal. We can offer them to live together but the way that they have been treated in Europe in the thirties should not be the way we are treated today in Israel and Palestine. This can happen if we will be more serious also about ourselves.

The end of the occupation, the end of the discrimination needs to be done through international pressure. You are living here; you have midterm elections in the US. We have been lately in Brussels also [referring to the October elections there]. You have midterm election in all over the US today. We hope that you will be serious and you will hold the people that will be elected in the US responsible for the future of our kids. The tax money that is paid by American citizens here is the money that is used for military purposes, is used to discriminate the Arab community in Israel. And if you want to live in real democracy and if you want to live with us as human beings, it’s about time to take responsibility and to hold your elected representatives responsible to the future of the Palestinians and the Jews in the region. The midterm election for us is very important; we need you to be much more proactive all over the US. We think that it will be very important to ask your representatives, do you want Israel to have separation, occupation, discrimination and poverty? Or you want to have solidarity, peace, equality, democracy and social justice?

In Israel and Palestine the issues are about democracy. As Palestinians we want to promote peace, real democracy. We want to promote equality, we want to promote social justice. We the Palestinian community in Israel are the core actors against separation, occupation, discrimination and poverty. That’s why we are targeted today by the settler leaders and NGOs and political groups that targeting the Arab community. They don’t want us to be players. They want us to look at the reality that is created all over because we are the only Palestinians that are able to be part of the decision-making process inside Israel and Palestine. So, I would like to thank you for hosting us, I would like to call you to go and vote, I would like to call you to be involved in the next election. This is part of your responsibility toward the people in the region and I mean that the people who are sitting here and the people that are listening to us in this or seeing this conversation. It’s very important for us to see different American leadership that will be responsible to the future of the Palestinians and the Jews. There will be no good future for the Jewish population in Israel if we will not feel that we can live in dignity and live as human beings. Thank you and we will be open later on for questions and I think Nabila will do also a great job in talking about the challenges that we face internally as a Palestinian community. Thanks.


Nabila Espanioly:

Good afternoon, I don’t know how much you know about our struggle, the daily struggle that we are living in. I mean when we’re speaking about the Palestinian citizens of Israel, we were left to be like in Arabic [speaks in Arabic]….we were left as orphans on the tables of the (inaudible). For years we were actually segregated from our Arabic roots. We were segregated from our Palestinians sisters and brothers in West Bank and Gaza and in Diaspora. We were left alone and this created a lot of… in a government or in state that used to define itself as Jewish and democratic. Nowadays we are facing a new definition, which is a Jewish state that is the democratic state [inaudible].

So, what’s actually the challenge that we’re facing? We are facing challenges in all spheres of life. If we’re speaking about education, our education system is totally dependent and controlled by the state of Israel. The curriculum is decided by the state and it’s centralized down on us and that means we are in a segregated school. We learn in Arabic school but we learn the curriculum that the state decides to teach us so we don’t have any connection in our curriculum to our identity, to our culture, to our roots, to our history. In that context we have to survive, and we have to develop, and we have to keep to ourselves and we keep our identity.

So, some of our ngo’s that were created in the time, in the ‘80s we began reorganizing ourselves. I mean from 1948 until 1966 we were under military government and we didn’t have freedom of organizing, no freedom of our movement, nothing. After ‘66 we began to see our collective rights and to struggle for our collective rights, which actually reached a high point in Land Day, in ‘76 when we decided to have a strike in the whole Palestinian community, for the first time we behaved as a nation, as part of a people and we created that day which is today recognized by all the Palestinian community and all the Arab world as one of the important national days. On that day it was the first time that we confronted…, the confrontation between us and the state had left us with six people who were killed and many were injured on the Land Day.

So, the Land Day was the first collective activity that was organized by us but…. And after that we have been developing ourselves, and partly, we re-organized and we rebuilt our institutions. In 1948 it was the destruction of the Palestinian community and the infrastructure of the Palestinian community that used to be in our villages and in our town was destroyed. So, we have to rebuild ourselves and to restructure ourselves and part of that restructuring is building our ngo’s and building our organizations.

Like, if I speak about, I’m co-founder of Al Mossawa but I’m also founder of Al-tafula Center which is, al-tafula in Arabic is “early childhood” where we work on development of early childhood in the Palestinian community as well as women’s empowerment in our community. In 1992 we decided we have to look at the children’s literature as an example. We found very very few quality children’s books that we can provide our children with. We listed these books and we were publishing them. And we decided that, one of the analyses that we did find, for example was that for babies, for the first books, we don’t have anything which speaks about us, or speaks about our traditions, about our culture, about our existence.  We decided to begin creating such books.

So, the first book that we tried to begin, we say normally children need the books before they read because they need books that are from their culture to be able to read them. So, and one field of books you see in general is a book about food. So, until then there was no Palestinian food book for the children in our library. We began developing this book. When we decided what is the content, we were looking or an illustrator to illustrate this book. We didn’t find an illustrator, so we have to begin the process of building an illustrator so she can illustrate our book on food for our children. It took another two years to be able to present this book. By the way, when she was drawing, she has drawn something like a monkey. So we remind ourselves with a traditional song that we used to sing, “Sada sada sadaani, shofini…” that is a traditional Arabic children’s song, and we took it, we created on it, the wording for the new book, which says, “Sada sada sadaani, shofini ma ahlani,  ….”. So, the manoushe and the zeit and zaatar and the khubz wa lebna and zaatar and the kusa wa wara and the teen, we put them in that book with a song. This book was a beginning of establishing a new culture for our children which is based on our culture, and the process continues. For years now we have a huge amount of resources that give respect for our culture and provide our mothers and children with respectable children’s literature and literature that is related and built from our culture.

So, the latest book that we established or the series of books we published was Korana al baqina ya fina, Our Villages that Stayed with Us. This is three children’s books that tell the story of the destroyed villages in 1948. Three of these stories. One is the Fisher of Bassa, Sayad al Bassa, and Shaer al Birwi, you know who’s Shaer al Birwi, Mahmoud Darwish, and Rassam al Shajara which is Naji al Ali. So these three books that were written by us and published by us [were] to provide resources for our teachers, for our children, for the mothers of our children and the fathers of the children so that they can be proud of themselves, proud of their identity, proud of their heritage and in some areas we were actually the only Arabs who created resources to support identity. It is because identity was a very important issue for our community and because we realized that without the existence, without our existence, without being proud Palestinians, we can’t build for the future, for any future that we want.

This was done by ngo’s like our ngo, besides, until a period when we said and thought that it’s not enough to develop services, to develop materials, to develop resources. We need to upgrade our struggle and upgrading our struggle is advocating for our struggle. And this is where Mossawa came into being. And when we developed Mossawa and went to the register and registered Mossawa, the register didn’t allow us at the beginning to use the word “mossawa” because mossawa is about equality.

So, equality today, when we speak about equality, which doesn’t exist in any basic law inside Israel, we’re speaking about the fact that equality not only doesn’t exist, but it’s frightening. The use of the word “mossawa” created a fear by the institution [of the state, such] that they tried to prohibit us from the use of the name Mossawa. And of course, we went to [the] Supreme Court and we won, and we stayed because we knew what we wanted, and we planned what we wanted, and we stayed with the name Mossawa. And by this development today, we are coming and saying equality is a basic value in the democratic system.

So, where are the forces who are speaking of Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East? Where is the democracy now when we are speaking about the nation state law? What happened to these demands? So, this is something that you see that when we are working at small levels, developing a new infrastructure for our community, at the same time we are advocating for our rights and for building. This is why we are here, Jafar and I, coming to this event and coming to this tour. We have been doing that for the last 20 years, advocating for our rights. But when we began in international advocacy, when we wrote the first report, CEDO report in 1997,…. in 1996 Israel wrote a report about the status of women inside Israel and this report was about fourteen pages. In that fourteen pages we were mentioned in two sentences. One as Christian, one as Muslim women, nothing about Palestinian, not even Arab [distinctions] they are using in that paper. We decided to write a shadow report. A shadow report that we presented to the commission on CEDO to the UN. In 1997 we prepared that report and the report became a book. This book became a resource about the status of Palestinian women inside Israel, which until today is a basic book on that concern.

When Israel saw that we wrote that report, they withdrew their first report and they presented another new report, more respectful for women. That’s what I tell my Jewish friends, “You benefited from our struggle.” Not only do they respect women’s issues but they took us seriously and they began to write their report in a serious manner. This work, which began in 1997, has been continuous. Every time that Israel is writing a report, we write a shadow report, and lately in 2017, we had presented our last report. The international advocacy tool that we were using has been developed over the years, and now, we’re not only doing international advocacy for the civil society organizations, the ngo’s which actually began that international advocacy systematically, but we are offering the political parties a platform for advocacy. This is what Mossawa did in Europe, when they took seven parliamentarians to Europe to advocate for the Palestinian issues inside Israel. This is the way we are struggling, this is how we develop ourselves. I just gave you one small example, but you can’t imagine how much effort and how much belief in yourself you need to be able to continue that struggle. And that’s why we need any support, from friends and from friends like you. Thank you for having this opportunity. We can speak the whole evening and we won’t even give a glance of this continuous struggle since 1948 but the fact that we are here and we are speaking up, and that we are a powerful community today is only because of that long years of struggle and long years of learning. Thank you.