′Every dark skin in Israel is now a target′ | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 23.10.2015
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Middle East

'Every dark skin in Israel is now a target'

The recent escalation in violence between Israelis and Palestinians has conjured up an old demon from Israel's past: racism and discrimination against Jews, by Jews.

The recent wave of violence between Palestinians and Israeli Jews has already left at least 49 Palestinians dead, including the alleged attackers. Eight other Israelis have been killed in the attacks, but two additional casualties generated extreme reactions among the Israeli public.

One of them was an Eritrean asylum seeker, who was killed after being mistaken for an assailant. He was shot by an Israeli security guard while crawling on the floor, after an Arab gunman opened fire in a central bus station, killing an Israeli soldier and wounding nine others.

A crowd of people, thinking he was the culprit, surrounded him and began beating him, while several others rushed to his side in an attempt to protect him.

Another Israeli Jew, a 28-year-old Yeshiva student of religious texts and a veteran of an ultra-Orthodox IDF unit, was killed by Israeli soldiers in a different incident in Jerusalem, after he reportedly tried to steal the weapon of one of the soldiers.

"If you are in the wrong color, you have a higher chance to be harassed by policemen," says S., an Israeli feminist activist who is now under personal attacks after posting on her Facebook page about the topic. "This was true always, but with the recent wave of violence it has literally become dangerous to be of non-European roots," she adds.

Israel Mulu Habtom Zerhoma aus Eritrea nach dem Angriff in Bersheba

Eritrean Mulu Habtom Zerhoma is evacuated from the scene of an attack in Beersheba, Israel

Indeed, a recent study has found that about 40 percent of the imprisoned minors in the country are Ethiopians, despite their small part in the total population - only 1.6 percent. This is perhaps not a shocking revelation; however, in a country which is already a patchwork of so many different ethnic origins, this is a very disturbing escalation.

Smaller attacks, resulting in light injuries, hardly make it into the mainstream news, and thus dozens of racial incidents remain within the social media sphere, or at the very best appear as a short sentence on news tickers.

Two weeks ago, a 22-year-old Israeli Jew from the northern town of Kiryat Ata stabbed another Israeli because he thought his victim was an Arab. Unlike the times when the assailant was Palestinian, this time Haifa Magistrate's Court placed a gag order on revealing the attacker's name and other identifiers at the request of his attorney.

The victim was seriously wounded and recalled the moment of stabbing from his hospital bed, telling Israeli media that "even though I shouted to him I was Jewish, he did not leave me alone." A few days earlier another Israeli Jew was attacked by Israelis in Jerusalem.

Some people are now posting pictures of themselves on Facebook wearing T-shirts with sarcastic statements such as, "You can relax, I'm only Yemeni." Another sarcastic post reads: "That moment when I go on a bus and everyone stares at me in fear - out of stress I fake a phone call to a friend in Yiddish and sum it up with singing the national anthem."

Another victim of a similar attack was interviewed by a local radio show, in which he was asked whether or not he was angry at being mistaken for an Arab. "So what, and what if it were actually an Arab, would it make it right?" he replied.

Backed by law

The Israeli cabinet last week voted to back legislation that would let the police stop and frisk people even if they aren't suspected of committing a crime or carrying a weapon.

The bill passed its first Knesset reading in 2011, but then stalled. A few days ago, however, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said he intended to revive it in order to help police battle the current wave of Palestinian knife attacks.

Israel Beersheba Angriff in Busstation

Wounded Israeli policeman is evacuated from the scene of an attack in Beersheba

Many fear that it will be used by trigger-happy security forces who will not hesitate to use their power against the weak, already deprived members of Israeli society, namely asylum seekers, Ethiopian Jews, Israeli Arabs, women and the new addition: anyone with a dark skin color.

"Considering every Palestinian to be a terrorist is already a terrible discrimination, but the current suspicion towards everyone who's just a bit darker shows how much this society has lost it," says S.

"I talked to friends of mine who say they are shaving their beards now, trying to adopt a different style, or clothes, just because they are afraid - not only about attacks, but sometimes about the terrified looks on people's faces."

The discrimination against Israelis with Arab or North African roots goes way back to the times before Israel was established. Jewish immigrants from Europe, who are called "Ashkenazim" in Hebrew, were usually sent upon arrival to richer, more developed areas of Mandatory Palestine under British administration prior to World War Two.

Other immigrants from countries like Yemen, Morocco, Iraq, Iran, Tunisia, Libya and Syria were usually placed in developing towns, with fewer financial options, and until this day suffer from discrimination in the labor market and the academic system, to name but a few.

"I was on a bus today, when all of a sudden someone yelled to the driver from the bus stop 'there is an Arab on the bus! Call the police!'" This Facebook post which was published Thursday (22.10.) has already gained hundreds of likes and shares.

Damaskustor Jerusalem Polizei durchsucht Palästinenser vor dem Freitagsgebet Israel

Israeli border policemen scuffle with a Palestinian man at Damascus Gate of Jerusalem's Old City

"The only Middle Eastern [appearance] guy on the bus understood that they're talking about him, so he got up and said 'I'm not a terrorist, and as a matter of fact I'm not even Arab'," the post continues to tell his story.

"After a few minutes a police vehicle stopped the bus, and two police officers stepped on it with their weapons at the ready. 'Don't be nervous, we are just doing a routine patrol', they approached the guy, pointing their guns at him, but he already held his military ID to show. After a short examination, one of the officers said in his radio 'nothing to worry about. This is an Israeli guy.' When it all ended, the guy called his mother and cried."

"This law will only legitimize a police practice that has been disqualified by the courts and which, in practice, will be used against people with dark skins," said attorney Avner Pinchuk, of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

In the meantime, more sarcastic Facebook posts are being published, but no one knows when one of them might just become another real-life tragic story.

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