We Must Raise our Voices Against Systematic Discrimination

Earlier this week there was another attack of hatred against innocent Palestinian Arabs living in Jerusalem in a neighborhood which has suffered systematic discrimination over many years. Here’s the story.

Last Tuesday morning, August 27th, a young Muslim woman who is a mother of a three year old boy, woke up as usual and got into her car to drop off her son at her parents’ home around the corner, on her way to Hadassah hospital in Ein Kerem, in western Jerusalem, where she works as a nurse on an internal medicine ward.  After driving a few minutes, she discovered that she had a flat tire and then all of a sudden she noticed that the car had been spray–painted in a few places with words like “Death to Arabs,” “Revenge,” and “Tag Mechir” (Price Tag). She was utterly shocked, but had to get to work on time. So she jumped in a cab and her family called the police, who came to investigate the scene. It turned out, the stone wall adjacent to her home and neighbors’ cars were also vandalized.

When the news broke, together with a group of Israeli Jewish activists who are part of the coalition known as Tag Meir “The Value of Light”, I visited the residents of this quiet Palestinian neighborhood called Beit Safafa (the residents still refer to it as a village!) in southern Jerusalem, next door to the huge post-1967 neighborhood known as Gilo. We have been very busy during the last 20 months visiting churches, mosques, and homes of Christian and Muslim citizens of Israel which have been vandalized by right-wing hooligans on a regular basis without serious law enforcement by the authorities in Israel for reasons that are not the least bit clear to us.

The neighborhood of Beit Safafa has also been in the news here for other reasons. The Israeli authorities have begun to build a six lane highway through their neighborhood, to make it faster for settlers to get from Jerusalem to Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem, in the West Bank. Despite the residents’ appeal to the Supreme Court a few months ago, which succeeded in getting the court to ask the state to think of other more reasonable plans, construction is moving forward  full speed. If completed as planned, the road will make life in this Palestinian neighborhood of Jerusalem, which has suffered systematic neglect for years, all the more difficult – cutting the neighborhood up into inaccessible enclaves. And, there is no question that this road would never have been bulldozed through a Jewish-Israeli neighborhood in the same way, without tunneling or covering most of it. The simple truth is that the authorities simply do not care since this is part of systematic discrimination against Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem as well as all over Israel.

One of the local Palestinians whose car was vandalized in Beit Safafa asked us:

How is it possible that the Jewish people – who has known so much suffering and discrimination throughout its history—can allow this to go on in its own state?

Good question, but there is no good answer.

We must raise our voice against this systematic discrimination in our country. It is unjust, immoral and not Jewish. It shouldn’t be happening. And it should not be continued in the future. I wonder why there is so much apathy about this among the Jewish mainstream in Israel and in North America. Why have people been so hardened? Why is there so much outcry about a place for women to pray next to a wall in Jerusalem and so little outcry over the ongoing discrimination against the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel (not to mention in the occupied territories).

As I reflected on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington this past week—and Rev. Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech– which we heard excerpts from on the radio all week in Israel—I was mindful of the partnership that he had with Rabbi Joachim Prinz of New Jersey, who also spoke at that famous demonstration, and later with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. In those days, American Jewish leaders stood side by side with African-American citizens, raising their voices in a clarion call for freedom and justice for minorities who had suffered so much discrimination.  I wonder where these voices are today when it comes to speaking out for justice for minorities in the state of Israel.

We are approaching the “High Holidays” of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the Jewish calendar. It is time for some serious soul-searching on this issue. Speaking out against unfair treatment of minorities in our midst ought to become a mainstream phenomenon. It would be the most serious, sensitive and substantive change we could make in the New Year, as Jewish individuals, as a community and as a nation that pursues justice.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr Ron Kronish is the Founding Director the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), which he directed for 25 years. Now retired, he is an independent educator, author, lecturer, writer, speaker, blogger and consultant. He is the editor of 5 books, including Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel--Voices for Interreligious Dialogue (Paulist Press, 2015). His new book, The Other Peace Process: Interreligious Dialogue, a View from Jerusalem, was published by Hamilton Books, an imprint of Rowman and LIttlefield, in September 2017. He is currently working on a new book about peacebuilders in Israel and Palestine.
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