Three Arabs, Three Friends

This story is not allegoric. Mahmud, Ganim, and Husseini all existed.

I met Ganim at university in far away Aberdeen in the 70s. We were the best of friends for four years, we drank together, ate¬†together and spoke openly about the Middle East. Ganim confided in me the hangings in Baghdad were fiction; he knew one of the Jews, and he knew he wasn’t a traitor. Imagine my surprise on the day we parted; Ganim invited me to the local pub. With a glint in his eyes which I had never seen, he said this: ‘you are going to Israel, and I’m going back to Iraq. We will only meet again on a battlefield, and I will do my best to kill you. I will teach my children to kill your children; teach your children the same.’ There was no look of shame or sadness, with that he went. Ganim returned to Iraq, and I don’t know what became of him.

Mahmud, I met in Israel during the first intifada. He lived in Nablus and worked in a well-known clinic as a cleaner. Quite often, he couldn’t get to work because of the restrictions on travel. Whenever this happened, I would make sure the management did not fire him. We became firm friends; often he would bring me a cup of coffee made in the special way he knew I liked. One day, he respectfully knocked on the door, look behind him to make sure no one was watching and sheepishly asked if he could talk with me. I didn’t have long to wonder what was bothering him.’ Doctor, we Palestinians have learned a lot from you; we look, and we learn. There is precisely one thing we haven’t learned, and we have to learn. You will go to the ends of the earth to save somebody’s life, and we will go to the ends of the earth to take it.’ There was a deep sadness in his eyes, he too got up and went without a further word. Mahmud became a policeman in the Palestinian police force.

In the late 80s, I handled the running of our settlement Oranit. As chair of the local management committee, I had day-to-day contact with Husseini, one of our key workers. He lived in the next village, openly supported cooperation and living side-by-side. He wasn’t a collaborator; he refused to sell his family’s land, not that it helped him. One of the first acts on the arrival of Arafat’s thugs, post-Oslo; Husseini was taken out of his car; inside his village, and on his knees, he was summarily executed.

Three Arabs and three attitudes.

Today, we are faced with yet a new uprising. This uprising is different from all others. It is being carried out by Arabs who bear Israeli identity cards. The violence is coming mainly from East Jerusalem, but without any doubt, there is much more than tacit support and incitement from within the Israeli Arab population. And there is a reason for this. The Israeli Arabs, in my opinion, including those in East Jerusalem, have no identity. They are not a lot of things, and they’ve ended up not being anything. Their conditions, for¬†which we are entirely responsible are nothing short of a disgrace. There can be absolutely no doubt that any minority living in such appalling conditions would riot. We supplied the petrol fumes, and it was just a matter of time before somebody lit the match. In other words, and in very clear words, we bear direct responsibility for causing the environment where rioting was inevitable. The social conditions are the cause.

No matter what the cause, the viciousness and determination of the attacks are nothing less than blood chilling. There have been many riots all over the world because of similar conditions the card-carrying Israeli Arabs experience. Nevertheless, I cannot recall any one of them being so vicious. We can no longer ignore the quality of the reaction to their debilitating pathetic social conditions. And I restate, which are our fault. But the quality of violence is entirely their responsibility; it is intolerable.
In understanding human behaviour, we have to take into account three factors, not two. The stimulus, the reaction, and reactor. The reactor is the large unknown in the equation.

I return to Ganim, Mahmud and Husseini. I should imagine our Israeli Arab population is made up of a mixture of Ganim and Mahmud. We must do everything we can to find and promote Mahmud and circumvent Ganim. We must stop Ganim killing Husseini. Are we capable of removing the toxic, inflammatory fumes of rampant inequality?
We must ask ourselves hard questions: is our present government qualified of accepting this parameter? Is the present government capable of defining solutions? I think it’s fair to say that this is highly doubtful.

To explain why, I am going to go way back to the 70s and Ganim. At that time, the new left was proposing the brotherhood of man and power to the people. This movement has moved forward slowly and naively; the insidious supranational economy opposed it and won. The collapse of socialism has left us with capitalism that has morphed into something ugly.

Israel has taken great pride in being a start-up nation. In being so, we have accepted the new form of capitalism; it suits the start-up economy. The result has been that anybody who is not part either directly or indirectly of the start-up economy is nigh on superfluous and neglected. The recent riots by the Ethiopians; the heartfelt cries of a lost generation who cannot afford housing are all witnesses to the outcomes of our economy as it is today. Is it of any surprise that Israeli Arabs have too been shunted aside and badly neglected? The only difference between them and the Ethiopians is we have managed to blame the Israeli Arabs for their plight. We regard them as a fifth column. We want a united Jerusalem, but we do not regard the inhabitants of East Jerusalem as being equals in rights to live our quality of life. Cn we accept Ramle, Lod and Rahat looking more like Mogadishu than Tel-Aviv?

In many respects, both Invade Wall Street, and IS are similar; they revolt against the neo-capitalistic economy. There has to be a sensitive and sensible alternative.

I am pessimistic. Bennett and Netanyahu cannot supply the answer; not because of their political beliefs, but because of their socio-economic ones. I do not see any politician offering a solution. Who will change our society? Without a change in society, we cannot prevent the next set of riots.

About the Author
Born in Leeds in 1944, Michael Benjamin is a retired Psychiatrist and medical auditor, co-founder of Oranit, aspiring author and inveterate cynic.
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