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What have we learned since October 2000?

Physicians for Human Rights Israel
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No lessons learned 19 years after October 2000 - Divisive discourse by public figures filters down to the Israeli public, as does the exclusion of the Arab public.

The events of October 2000, during which 13 people were killed and scores were injured were a wake-up call for Israeli society. After decades of policy-makers neglecting the Arab-Palestinian public, the ethos that the State of Israel strives for a proper balance between providing a home to the Jewish people and full equal rights and opportunities for its non-Jewish residents was shattered. The report of the Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice Theodor Or pointed at fundamental flaws in the policies pursued by successive Israeli governments and highlighted the need to restore trust between the Israeli establishment and the Arab public.

This month marks 19 years, nearly two decades, since the violent outbreak, but no real progress is visible on the ground. The Arab public has been and remains keen to participate in the public and economic life of Israeli society, but it does not always seem as though it has a partner in the Israeli establishment. Inequality and exclusion of Arab residents of Israel can be seen in every sphere of public life – education, culture and health. It is no coincidence that the brightest minds in the Arab public receive their professional training in universities in Jordan or Europe, rather than the Hebrew University or the Technion.

Reality on the ground is not divorced from the political arena. When Arab parties are considered taboo when it comes to coalition forming, when the prime minister uses political participation by Arab society as a “threat” to campaign on, when city rabbis call on local residents not to rent apartments to Arabs and suggest their jobs may be in danger if they do, and when basic laws are passed without even a symbolic attempt at consultation with the Arab public’s representatives, this public’s mistrust of the political establishment and its leaders comes as no surprise. The fact that voter turnout in the Arab sector is much lower than in the Jewish sector is another unsurprising outcome of this state of affairs.

The reckless, polarizing discourse that prevails in significant corners of the political system gradually filters down to the Israeli public, both Arab and Jewish. While most of the public still believes in coexistence, growing segments of the Israeli public feel increasingly comfortable with publicly voicing positions that oppose it and delegitimize the opposing side of the political landscape.

There is a strong sense of lost opportunities. Much like the crisis in left-right relations following the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, Israeli society has failed to take stock. The Israeli public and its leadership are ignoring the danger that inequality could lead to another eruption like the one witnessed in October of 2000 – with potentially much harsher outcomes.

The late apology by Ehud Barak, who was prime minister during the October 2000 events, was seen as an attempt to appease the Arab public in order to get their votes, rather than an expression of genuine remorse. Whatever its motivation, the apology was a positive step and other public leaders must follow this example. The Israeli government must actively pursue full civil and political equality for the country’s Palestinian citizens in all arenas and with every tool at its disposal. These steps should include holding accountable those who call for exclusion, promote racism and undermine coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Israel. The government must pursue these measures while engaging in true, equitable dialogue with the Palestinian leadership with a view to finding shared, genuine long-term solutions.

Yotam Rosner
Residents of Israel Department Director
Physicians for Human Rights Israel