photo opportunityWe continued onto Nazareth in the Galilee, another spectacularly beautiful region where the majority of Israel’s 1.5 million Arabs live. Muhammed Seydan from the Arab Association for Human Rights, who gives us a presentation, doesn’t like the term Israeli Arab and calls himself a Palestinian Arab living in Israel. It’s obviously an important distinction for him since identity is so enshrined in language here. Either way they’re the descendents of the Palestinians who were not expelled/fled during the 1948 war. They have Israeli passports, the right to vote and representation in the Knesset. All the Jewish Israelis I know say that gives them equal status, so I was interested to hear Muhammed’s take on it.

He says between 1949 and 1967 there was clear apartheid, with Jews living under a civil system and Arabs under military law. When the military regime was abolished, discrimination continued on four levels. Briefly, he identified them as: direct legal – such as restriction on who Arabs can marry; indirect legal – like the consequences of being exempt from military service because many benefits (mortgages, jobs) are tied to being an ex-combatant; institutional – the uneven distribution of resources and services in the two communities (you can see this quite clearly right there in Nazareth, as you can in Jerusalem); and then the good old culture of racism present in our own societies in which the majority treats the minority as inferiors –except the majority is usually indigenous and the minority immigrants, and in Israel it’s the other way round.

Coincidentally, Jonathan Cook, author of a book I’m reading called Disappearing Palestine, lives in Nazareth. And also coincidentally, the page I’ve just read takes me back to my almost-encounter with Sir David Richard (or Sir Jock Stirrup as was later corrected in the press) overlooking Gaza. He writes:

‘Over many decades Israel has developed and refined policies to disperse, imprison and impoverish the Palestinian people in a relentless effort to destroy them as a nation. It has industrialised Palestinian despair through ever more sophisticated systems of curfews, checkpoints, walls, permits and land grabs. It has transformed the West Bank and Gaza into laboratories for testing the infrastructure of confinement, creating a lucrative “defence’ industry” by pioneering technologies needed for crowd control, surveillance, collective punishment and urban warfare.’

Chilling to wonder if Sir David (or Sir Jock) was asking how the drones had performed. The ‘Ruths’ and ‘Erics’ in Israel are probably horrified at this vision, and the ‘Bobs’ of the settler communities would claim it wasn’t true, that their system was benign. If only the ‘bridge to peace’ lay in their hands and not in his.

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