Friday, April 18, 2008

Who is Israeli?

Two articles in Thursday's Haaretz illustrate the great divide in Israel between Jews and non-Jews. This gap in rights and respect is consciously perpetrated by government policy and even elder statesmen.

Among the twenty Palestinians and three Israeli soldiers killed in the IDF's incursion into Gaza yesterday was a Bedouin Israeli IDF tracker. The first article below reports that the soldier, Manhash Al Baniyat, age 20, lived in one of the "unrecognized" villages that does not receive electricity, sewage treatment, schools, health facilities, paved roads, or any other basic services from the state. In a terrible irony, his newly built home had an Israeli home demolition order upon it, because building permits are not given to residents of the "unrecognized" villages some of which pre-date the founding of the state and he thus was forced to build illegally.

These soldiers, who are prepared to fight and die for their country, are not given even the most basic rights as citizens, based purely upon their status as Bedouins.

Also on Wedneday, Haaretz reported (based on reports in the Ultra-Orthadox Mishpacha weekly), that Shimon Peres, President of Israel, discussed trying to bridge the deep fissures between Orthadox and secular Jews. In the course of his comments about the need for even secular youth to learn Torah, he said, "You cannot be an Israeli without being Jewish."

Twenty percent of the population of Israel are Palestinian Arabs, and are both Christian and Muslim. It is hard to imagine what they, in addition to the foreign workers and their children, as well as the many non-Jewish spouses and their children who live in Israel, think when they hear that kind of remark.

On a day with news reports like these, it is hard to defend the idea of Israel as a democratic state. Unfortunately, it's no different than any other day, except for the fact that it was reported in the press.

Rebecca Vilkomerson


Rela Mazali added:

In recent years, the list of Israeli troops killed in action shows disproportionate numbers of soldiers from groups marginalized by mainstream Israel, including non-Jewish Druze and Bedouin soldiers and Jewish recent immigrants to the country and underprivileged Mizrachi youth from peripheral disenfranchised areas (as found by Israeli sociologist Yagil Levy and reported in Haaretz in 2005; Yagil Levy, "The war of the rejected", 2 February [Hebrew]). As this striking and troubling finding indicates, the state capitalizes on its marginalization of various groups, leaving army service as one of their only options for employment, for (limited) social mobility or, as reflected in the article below, for "belonging".

Bedouin soldiers, unlike Jews (with the exception of Jewish yeshiva students) are not conscripted but rather volunteer. In recent years, enlistment rates among the Bedouin have dropped dramatically. Nevertheless, given that their community that has been forcibly stripped of most of its traditional means of livelihood and is plagued by unemployment, those who do enlist often do so predominantly for employment and for the promise of (the usually very limited) social mobility it holds out. The systematic neglect and under-servicing of Bedouin by the state, leaving young Bedouin men with extremely circumscribed choices, can be seen as a form of coercion, pressing them towards enlistment into the combat units to which Bedouin recruits are directed.

Key to the mechanism at work here is a widespread assumption that it is logical and natural for entitlement to basic state services to be conditional upon military service. A distinct symptom of a militarized state and society, this assumption testifies to the normalization of conflict, war and combat in Israel. I believe that all citizens of any given state (and arguably non-citizens too, although that's a somewhat different issue) should be entitled to basic state services regardless of their service in the military. At least ostensibly, that is what states are for. While it's both ironic and enraging that a state can claim a young man's life while refusing his community "recognition", i.e. water, electricity, a sewage system, a school, etc., I believe that the fact of military service (or abstinence from it) does not and should not bear upon people's fundamental entitlement to full services from the state.

Finally, in addition to the groups of non-Jewish citizens listed by Rebecca's introduction, hundreds of thousands non-Jewish Israelis (estimates have cited 250,000-300,000) immigrated to Israel from the former USSR under the law of return, while the Jewish identity of the entire Ethiopian community (numbering 85,000 in 2001) has been contested by Israel's official religious institutions.


w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m

Last update-02:13 17/04/2008
Baniyat died for the state that's razing his home
By Mijal Grinberg

Driving along the road from Be'er Sheva to Arad, shortly before the turn toward Darijat, you can see the unrecognized Bedouin village that was home to Manhash al-Baniyat, the Israeli soldier who was killed yesterday in a clash with Palestinian gunmen near the Gaza Strip border, across from Kibbutz Be'eri.

In order to reach the village, you have to travel for several hundred meters along a dirt path, until you come to a few houses, built close together. One of these is the house Manhash built for himself in preparation for his marriage, next month. Since building permits are not granted to Bedouin, he had no choice but to build the house illegally. A demolition order has already been issued. The only water pipe leading to the village is also disconnected. Yesterday, a mourners' tent was added to the already harsh landscape, erected by the army. Now that the army's there, at least there's water, someone remarked half-jokingly.

Musa al-Baniyat was notified of his nephew's death on his pager. The uncle is in charge of the Zaka rescue and recovery service for the unrecognized Bedouin communities dispersed throughout the Negev, and surmised it was his nephew. His fears were confirmed when he, and the rest of the family, arrived yesterday morning at Soroka Medical Center, Be'er Sheva, where the doctors had fought in vain to save Manhash's life.

The uncle, a tracker in the Israel Defense Forces reserves who served in the career army and whose five sons all served in the army, struggled to take in the news. For two days he had felt his nephew's death was imminent. "I feel guilty, because I persuaded him to enlist," he said, adding: "He was like a son to me. Every time he'd come home he would come see me first, to talk."

Manhash, 20, was the eldest of 18 siblings, born to his father's two wives. He served in the IDF as a tracker, as is customary in his family.

"Here all of the brothers and cousins serve in the army," one relative said yesterday.

Manhash attended high school in Kseifa, the Bedouin permanent community near his village.

A younger brother is currently in the army.

Asked whether Manhash liked army service, his cousin Awada Smaana gave a sad smile, and said: "That's a tough question. It's a very big dilemma for us, whether or not to enlist. Sometimes you feel like belonging to the state, but sometimes you get fed up because you build a house and they come and destroy it."

Smaana grappled with this dilemma himself when he enlisted, caught "between the need to belong and the fact that you feel like you don't belong. It's constant agonizing. I hope our situation will change, but so far it looks like it isn't changing."

Among the mourners who came yesterday was Faisal Abu Nadi, head of the forum for discharged Bedouin officers and soldiers. The first words he said to the press were: "Why don't you write anything about us? Why do you keep silent about our problems?"

The forum he heads works to increase army enlistment among Bedouin youth. Later he spoke about the challenges army service poses: "The Bedouin soldier who serves is between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand he wants to be part of the state, on the other hand the state does not treat him well, and on the third hand those among Bedouin society who are opposed to enlistment say to him: 'You volunteered, served, and in the end this is how they humiliate you?'"

According to Abu Nadi, 50 percent of Bedouin discharged from the army remain unemployed.

"No matter what we do, no matter how much we prove our loyalty to the state, we will still be third-class citizens, discriminated against," he said.

Reporters yesterday suspected that the person who persuaded Manhash's relatives not to talk to the media was Yossi Haddad, commander of the tracker unit. In phone conversations with family members, as well as at Soroka, they agreed to let reporters come. But the first reporters to arrive - two Arab reporters from the south - found that Haddad was not permitting access to the family. The IDF Spokesman's Office responded that the reason the family did not want to talk was that army service is not accepted among residents in their area. Nonetheless, family members openly talked about enlistment.

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Shlensky
Alistair Welchman
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