When I learned that Arab maintenance workers were being banned from schools in Tel Aviv, I thought I was about as angry as I could get for a third party problem. Yes, technically the order applies to both Jewish and Arab cleaning staff, but as everyone knows, as with most manual labor in this country, the positions are overwhelmingly filled by Arab laborers. I spent the afternoon questioning how telling 20 percent of the country that despite having done nothing wrong, they were liable to find themselves facing unemployment because of the actions of less than one percent of their fellows. I even asked my friends who supported the measure if it should also apply to Arabs who had fought in the Army or who were publicly defending Israel, like Muhammad Zoabi.
Having lived for several years in a village past the Green Line, I was saddened, but not exactly surprised when several of my friends said that Arabs had earned the ban because of the violence of their extremists. It was too much of an effort, they argued, to simply search all of the school employees, and besides, why put guards in danger of an attack?
I had some reservations regarding whether the ban was the best solution, especially considering that most Israelis already face multiple searches every day. A school guard, charged with defending the precious lives of our youth, couldn’t be expected to check for weapons, but weren’t guards at the mall, bus stations, and train stations – where not incidentally, there have already been actual incidents – supposed to risk life and limb to keep us safe? But then I heard about the terrorist attack on the bus station at Beersheba, and decided I had had enough of anger for one day and went to bed.
And so it was not until this morning that I learned that despite the headlines saying ‘one killed and eleven injured’, there were, in fact, two people killed last night in the Beersheba Central Bus Station. But since only one of them, a soldier named Omri Levy, was killed by an Arab, only he is recognized as the victim of a terror attack.
The other man, an Eritrean asylum seeker named Haftom Zarhum, died of wounds he received during the attack, where he was shot in the leg by a soldier who mistook him for a terrorist. After the shooting, in an act which should shock us out of our collective feelings of cultural superiority, Haftom was then savagely lynched by the crowd. While a medical crew tried to evacuate him for treatment, upstanding citizens decided he was a terrorist, and that he deserved to be beaten, spat upon, and cursed, all while chanting anti-Arab slogans. So, they basically acted the same way that Palestinians are denounced for acting when they riot.
And what has the response to this news been so far? Well, first, to respond, people have to hear about it. The death seems to have racial undertones so strong that, in America, Al Sharpton would already be sharpening his pencil and throwing on some hair gel. And yet, it is appended to the stories surrounding the terrorist attack as some sort of throwaway news item – “It’s crazy… but what can you do?!”
If he had been Palestinian, it would have been even worse, because the media would have spun it that he was somehow at fault, or if not him, then the Palestinian people, for making us so scared that we shoot first and ask questions later. But this isn’t the fault of the Palestinians, or the Eritreans, or even the IDF, although I am interested in finding out the results of the investigation regarding the events that led up to the shooting of someone who doesn’t fit the vaunted “profile” that the Army leans on so heavily when performing security screenings.
No, the fault rest squarely on the shoulders of Israeli society. If Israeli Arabs lose their jobs or their lives, it’s painted as an unfortunate but acceptable casualty, even as we brag about the “fact” that they are citizens with as many rights as Jewish citizens have. And the refugees should just be glad for the chance to be here until we figure out how to get them the hell back to where they came from.
We demean Arabs and refugees as being violent, and when it comes down to it, we don’t think their lives matter as much as ours do. And by saying “ours” I’m being generous, because as a Black convert, sometimes I wonder just how much my fellow Israelis count me as being “part of the family,” so to speak. Thank God I speak English, right? I better add learning how to say “Black lives matter” to my Hebrew lessons.
I bet more than a few refugees are wondering if they should get some pepper spray right now. And my favorite rationalization I’ve heard so far about the incident? It isn’t fair to demonize us as a nation for the barbaric acts of a few. Yah. Ain’t that the truth. I wonder how Israeli Arabs feel about that statement. Can someone tell me how to say irony in Arabic?