The following is an edited version of J. Zel Lurie’s column, written April 18 for publication in the April 23 issue of the Jewish Journal of South Florida:
There is no logical reason for Israelis to feel happy and content. Yet they are. At least the middle class … is. … The news, on the other hand, was horrible. Another alleged rape victim of President Moshe Katzav surfaced, making it eleven or was it twelve women who claimed that he used his high office to rape them.
The police were investigating the income tax authorities for taking bribes to lessen tax payments. And the Minister of Finance, a pal of Prime Minister Olmert, was found to have large cash deposits in his bank account. Where did the money come from?
Forty percent of Israelis were still living below the poverty line, which was set by the government a a low level. But business was good and the CEOs were taking higher and higher pay. In a decade or two, Israel had shifted from an egalitarian society to one with one of the largest wage gaps in the world.
There was also a glimmer of good news. Olmert was meeting every fortnight with the head of the Palestine Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. The long freeze, based on impossible conditions for resuming talks, had been broken by the intervention of Secretary of State Condi Rice.
None of this affected my family who were occupied with the fantastic wedding I described in my last column. The daily paper was still delivered every morning but I was the only one who paid it close attention. The days when calls are forbidden between 9 and 10 in the evening, when television news is on, are long over. Israelis are no longer glued to the hourly news.
Some of them never read a newspaper or listen to the TV news. Politicians are by nature corrupt, they say. It is an unfortunate fact of life that these corrupt politicians can declare war, as they did last July, and cost the lives of reservists.
Meanwhile, the miserable days of the suicide bombers are history. The middle class Israeli Jew is happy and content.
Arab Citizens Feel Oppressed
I was occupied, as usual, with the character of Israel and the attitudes and actions of its Jewish and Palestinian citizens.
… I was shocked to read, in a Foreign Office publication, a statement by an Israeli Arab teacher: “I feel oppressed,” she said bluntly, “I need to be liberated.”
I knew that Israeli-Arab citizens, who are 18 percent of the population, suffer discrimination by every government department. I also knew that this became starkly evident during the Second Lebanon War when 4,000 Hezbollah rockets fell on the Galilee, which is 50 percent Arab. Jewish cities and towns had shelters, Arab cities and villages did not. Yet, for the first time, American Jewish charities [and the Jewish Agency for Israel — ed.] have allocated emergency funds for Arabs in the Galilee.
“What’s with this oppression?” I asked Mohammed Darawshe [former communications director for Givat Haviva, who now works for the Abraham Fund — ed.] at his home in Iksal, an Arab town about five miles from Nazareth. First, Mohammed told me how his grandfather had saved the town during the War of Independence in 1948.
During the Arab rebellion in 1936-39 his grandfather had sheltered the Jews of nearby Tel Adashim. When the Palmakh arrived in 1948 and ordered the town evacuated to Lebanon, his grandfather walked to Tel Adashim and got the Jews to rescind the Palmah’s order. Still about a third of the village became refugees in Lebanon.
As for oppression, Mohammed told me many stories of discrimination. Here is the first and the last: Mohammed says that his family’s land, and that of other families in Iksal, was confiscated by the Israeli Land Authority. He pays the authority rent on an enclave that contains his home and those of his parents and two brothers and one large garage.
Mohammed married a woman from Issawiya, a village on Mt. Scopus, which was incorporated into East Jerusalem in 1967. She became an Israeli citizen in 1995. That would be impossible today.
Her sister lives in Chicago with an Israeli Arab who is an American citizen. Her travel document says that she must return home within two years. Last summer she arrived at the Allenby Bridge four days late. She had given birth in Chicago and there were complications. She was hospitalized for two weeks.
She was refused entry to Israel. She won’t see her parents and siblings until she learns enough English to qualify for American citizenship and a passport. Even with an American passport, under current regulations, she won’t be able to land at Ben-Gurion airport, but must go through Amman.
Mohammed is currently organizing the annual Children’s Festivfal of Peace for Arab and Jewish youth on behalf of the Goodwin Foundation in New Jersey. It will be held in May.
I spoke to Shuli Dichter, co-director of Sikkuy, which documents government discrimination against its Arab citizens. I asked him how many of the Arabs he comes in contact with feel oppressed. “All of them,” he replied.
And the better educated they are, I added, the more they have taken advantage of Israeli institutions of higher learning, the more they feel oppressed.