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Death at Rahat and how to avert disaster

A call for reeducating police and the wider public to fight violence and prejudice against Arab citizens

The Or Committee, which investigated the deaths of 13 Arab demonstrators in October 2000, found serious flaws in the actions by the Israeli police taken against Arab citizens. The atmosphere within the Israeli police, then and apparently also now, can be summed up by one sentence from the committee’s recommendations: “The police must implement the approach that views the Israeli Arabs as Israeli citizens with equal rights.”

The violent events that took place in Rahat in the past week, which led to the police killing two residents and wounding of tens of others, demonstrate that the Or Committee’s recommendations have clearly not been adopted by the police. This should flash a red warning light for all of us. The degree of force and violence used against the residents and the light trigger-finger policy on the part of the police generates a harsh sense of discrimination against the Arab public. And, as if we have not learned anything from the past, we once again find ourselves calling upon the law enforcement agencies to initiate an investigation into events that led to such severe consequences.

The protesters who demonstrated have voiced complaints regarding police conduct and their “itchy trigger fingers” that has resulted in their loss of faith in the police. If the violent behavior that led to the death of Sami Al-J’aar for no fault of his own wasn’t enough, the attempt by the police to besmirch Sami’s name on the false pretext of drug dealing made it clear to the residents of the city that the law enforcement authorities had no intention of seriously investigating the events. The violation of the agreement signed with the mayor of the city, and the police car’s appearance at the site of the funeral, generated a dangerous and needless provocation that led to a multitude of people being wounded and the death of Sami Alziadna.

The feeling in the streets of Rahat is that when it comes to Arabs the police allow themselves to take steps they would never use against Jewish demonstrators. In addition there was complete disregard for events on the part of senior politicians, and one-sided and limited media coverage that made no attempt to even check out the protesters’ claims. One way or another, residents have the impression that the police actions were motivated by ulterior motives and it would behoove the Minister of Internal Security to announce the establishment of an external investigative committee to objectively examine the events in depth, reach conclusions and punish those accountable.

The police must relate severely to events such as these and begin a deep educational process among their ranks with the purpose of changing ingrained attitudes from relating to all Arabs as a threat to seeing Arabs as equal citizens of the country. This is a process that requires direct acquaintance with Arab society on a non-patronizing basis and without the intervention of so-called ‘experts on Arabs’. This process should not be limited solely to the police but to children and young people in the educational system as well.

Violence and prejudice against Arab citizens is not a recent development, nor is it a result of the last war in Gaza, which led to an all-time low in the relations between Jews and Arabs in the Negev. These are the result of a continuing decline in educating towards shared living values in the curriculum of the educational system that has almost completely stopped since the start of the second Intifada in the year 2000. The report published in 2009 of the public committee established to examine the subject of educating towards shared living between Jews and Arabs in Israel, found that in these educational areas, “there is no comprehensive policy actually being implemented in the education system today”. Even the previous Minister of Education who adopted the motto “the other is me” as the theme in the educational system for a full year will find that most schools preferred to select an “other” who had a physical handicap rather than an “other” such as an Arab pupil from a school in a neighboring community.

Without education we will march on a one-way road that will only lead to worsening the already charged relations between the Arab society in the Negev and the police and the Jewish population in the country. Along with the obligation of the police to investigate how this episode developed with such tragic results, I call upon the leaders of the Arab community, as they always have, to calm the population. I call upon all of us to support people from both sides of the conflict, who reject racist and violent values. We must demand that the existing local educational programs, like those that bring Jewish and Arab youth together for an extended period will be adopted as a general educational policy on a national level. This is the only way our children will become messengers of a fair, democratic and more equal society. This is the only way we can make sure that events such as those that took place in Rahat in the past week will not re-occur in the future.

About the Author
Kher Albaz is the Co-Executive Director of AJEEC-NISPED - The Arab Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation.