October’s Legacy

Deepening Rifts Between Jews and Palestinians Inside Israel

Grasping the reasons Palestinian Israelis had taken to the streets, then prime minister Ehud Barak last October announced a four-year plan for their communities, earmarking $4 billion for investments in roads, sewage, schools, housing, and job development.

But 11 months later, none of the money has been allocated. "We have to play the game again," says an exasperated Jamil Dakwar, staff attorney for the civil rights group Adalah ("Justice" in Arabic). "We go to court to demand the state make good on its promise, and by the time the courts rule in our favor, they tell us, 'Too bad, the budget has already been spent, so there's no money to give you. Try again next year.' "

In the meantime, the heads of the Arab councils, which represent Palestinian towns and villages, have called for various protest actions. On August 9, nearly 60 of the towns observed a 24-hour strike to object to the government's failure to honor its agreement—but to little effect. "These alerts do not find open ears," says Dakwar. "There was hardly anything in the papers. That in itself shows how marginalized we are. Imagine the impact and attention if 60 Jewish municipalities went on strike. The only way we get attention is when we get into confrontations—and then we're regarded as troublemakers who don't 'deserve' our rights."

Indeed, the prevailing Jewish view of the October demonstrations—some of which turned violent—is that they represented a terrifying betrayal, an expression of loyalty to Palestinians across the green line that superceded allegiance to the state. For Palestinians in Israel, however, the betrayal was all Israel's—not only those Jewish Israelis who rampaged through Palestinian neighborhoods in attacks victims likened to pogroms, but the state itself. "What kind of democracy is it when people go out to exercise their right to protest and get shot?" asks Farah.

It's the sort of question Farah often raises as he and other community organizers seek to improve conditions by appealing to Israel's stated democratic ideals through its democratic institutions. Some 100 civil suits charging the state with violation of citizens' rights during the October events are currently in the works, for example. And in a groundbreaking discrimination case decided last year, Israel's Supreme Court challenged the land-distribution policy on which the country was founded, ruling that the government could no longer allocate land to its citizens based on their religion or ethnicity. More and more, activist organizations are trying to shine a light on—and at least symbolically redress—the huge discrepancies in spending and development in Palestinian areas.

One such group is Ta'ayush ("Cooperation"), a new coalition of Jewish and Palestinian Israelis who carry out direct actions both in the occupied territories and within Israel. It is one of only a few joint Jewish-Arab efforts that are flourishing now. In mid August, Ta'ayush organized a three-day work camp in Dar el Hanun, a Palestinian village just northeast of Tel Aviv that is unrecognized by the state—which means that, though it has been there for at least a century, it does not officially exist and thus is not eligible for water pipes, electricity, a sewage system, and other state-supplied infrastructure.

Some five dozen Ta'ayushniks—teenagers to seniors—pitched in over the long weekend, working alongside villagers to pave a road and build a playground with donated supplies and equipment, and taking long breaks during the mid-day heat to eat and talk and mingle. Police tried to prevent the work, first asserting that it was too noisy, then demanding to see documents proving that the road was on private land and not state property. They also asserted that a makeshift wooden platform to be used as a stage for a concert at the end of one workday violated laws against building houses without a permit and would have to come down. Lawyers on hand—not to mention newspaper reporters looking over their shoulders—persuaded the police to relent, and the project went forward, a three-day utopia in the midst of nightmarish times.

"We are Jews and Arabs working together in equality," says Ronen Wolf, 33, who has been active with Ta'ayush since it began in October. "We offer a practice. That is all." These days, that's a lot, Falasteen Ismail admits. Still, she feels little hope. "The terrible situation in the West Bank and Gaza will eventually find its solution. There will be a Palestinian state," she says. "Our fight is much more difficult."

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