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The other pandemic: Racism

A Jewish settlement blocked an Israeli Arab medic's entry based solely on his race. When I inquired, I was shocked to learn that I too would be barred
The entrance to the settlement of Yitzhar, in the West Bank on October 20, 2019. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)
The entrance to the settlement of Yitzhar, in the West Bank on October 20, 2019. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

This past weekend, just before the second lockdown began, when the state was busy with political battles over prayers and protests, Fadi, an Israeli-Arab currently in his medical internship, came to the Yitzhar settlement in order to conduct a coronavirus test for a patient. But when he arrived at the entrance to the settlement, the security guard refused to allow him to enter for the sole reason that he was an Arab.

A shocked Fadi tried to explain to the guard that as a medical professional, he doesn’t differentiate between religion and race, but the guard was adamant: “We don’t allow Arabs to enter.” This disturbing incident was published in the local news, but was ultimately buried under the shocking news of the record breaking number of coronavirus cases. After all, in a pandemic such as this, who has time to deal with shocking news of racism?

But for me, I couldn’t shake it off – so I reached out to a senior member of the settlement of Yitzhar to investigate the story. As an Israeli Arab working to enhance partnerships and social connections between different sectors in Israel, the incident shocked me to my core and I had to find an answer. I expected to hear an apology or perhaps an attempt to explain the incident, but to my great surprise, he told me that the guard acted correctly. He then elaborated even further explaining that in Yitzhar there is a clear directive not to permit Arabs to enter for “ideological reasons.”

Despite that, he stated that he knows me and appreciates my work in the field of Israel advocacy, as well as my work in the fight against BDS. He added that he also knows I served in the IDF as a combat soldier and was even seriously wounded in the Second Lebanon War. Yet when I asked him if they would permit me to enter Yitzhar, he tried to dodge the question before ultimately admitting, “they will not let you in.”

Instead of receiving the apology I’d hoped for in the conversation, I felt I’d received a punch in the stomach. No excuse covers up the true name for what this is – racism.

Denying entry to an Israeli Arab doctor based solely on his race? Not allowing a disabled IDF soldier, myself, to enter the settlement simply because I am an Arab? This is completely unacceptable.

When I wrote about the story on social media, I was relieved to find support and agreement from the majority of people, which demonstrated that the extreme minority does not reflect the true face of the country, and also helped to silence the extremists who wrote things like, “suddenly the Arab who supports Israel found it problematic here.”

Sadly, there were also a few who justified the procedures in Yitzhar and claimed, among other things, that it was not due to racism but because of past incidents in which the settlement experienced terrorism. Except that those past incidents came from Palestinians, not from Israeli citizens who happen to be Arab. But for the sake of argument – Gush Halav, an Arab village in the Upper Galilee, (incidentally with a high proportion of residents who volunteer in the IDF) has experienced numerous “Price Tag” attacks in recent years. Should the village declare in response that they are refusing entry to Jews? How would the public react? The same politicians who are silent in response to Fadi’s case would waste no time coming out with statements of condemnation from the north to the south.

We cannot take these incidents of racism lightly, regardless of which side they come from, or who they are discriminating against. Even more so when it turns out that these incidents are official procedures of a town in Israel.

It’s clear to me that even in the town of Yitzhar, there are also many people who oppose this, some of whom actually wrote to me privately apologizing. But at the end of the day, Fadi, myself, or any other person from Nazareth, Taibe or Tamra, will not be permitted to pass through the gates of the settlement of Yitzhar simply because of who they are.

It is precisely in these days, as the coronavirus rages throughout the country infecting people of all faiths and races without discrimination, that we must find our civil unity and rediscover mutual respect in Israeli society. Jews and Arabs – we are all part of the national struggle against the coronavirus. Jewish and Arab doctors are currently fighting, together, for the lives of patients from all over Israel. As a society, we must be unified as well.

The health situation is very grave, the economic situation is grave as well, but the social situation in the country worries me the most. Racism must not be tolerated in any capacity, and while it is true that there are quite a few burning issues in the country today, this story should also be one of them. Only if we recognize it and deal with it can we eradicate the virus of racism that is creating enormous, potentially irreparable damage in Israeli society.

About the Author
Yoseph Haddad is a social activist and director of "BeYachad -- Aravim Zeh la-Zeh," an organization that works to connect the Arab sector to Israeli society.
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