“Jews wake up. Stop assimilating.”
That was the message scrawled on the stone walls of Jish, the majority-Christian, Arab-Israeli town in the northern Galilee, which was the target of an attack this week that left nearly 200 vehicles vandalized. This foreboding message invokes a fear of miscegenation and of Jewish women and Arab men intermingling.
Of course, rates of intermarriage between Israeli Jews and Arabs are astoundingly low, in the low single digits. Nevertheless, warning against hitbolelut or “assimilation” is the rallying cry of extremist groups like Lehava. “Assimilation” is how these hooded hooligans choose to describe the notions of neighborliness and equality in the Galilee. These young men, armed with knives, spray paint, and ill intentions, came to Jish to remind its Arab citizens that they do not really belong in Israel.
In the eyes of these racists, only Jews can be “real” Israelis.
This week’s attack is the third time Jish had been targeted. (The last episode took place in April 2019.) The fact that that no one has been arrested or prosecuted is not an anomaly. The hate crimes committed in Jish, part of a category of crimes known as “price tag” attacks that are too often ignored by Israeli authorities, especially when they are carried out in the West Bank. NIF’s grantee, Yesh Din: Volunteers for Human Rights, tracked Israeli law enforcement responses to crimes perpetrated by Israeli civilians against Palestinians or their property in the West Bank in the past fifteen years and found that 91% of cases were closed without an indictment.
The perverse logic of these attacks relies on a kind of economy of violence in which a “price” is exacted by these extremists for actions that the state and its security services carry out — by enacting violence against Palestinians’ bodies and property. It’s the logic under which Palestinian lives and communities are not accorded human dignity — they are a chalkboard used to “send a message” to others.
But the message meant to instill fear and sow division is being sent on a far larger scale as well.
The so-called “Vision of Peace,” which the Trump Administration released with great fanfare a few weeks ago, does more than just envision unilateral Israeli annexation in the West Bank. It’s notable also for its embrace of another once-fringe idea.
The Trump plan endorses redrawing the boundaries of Israel to exclude a large population of Arab citizens, effectively stripping citizenship from a vast number of citizens of Israel who reside in a densely populated region of the country known as the “Triangle.”
In other words, ethnic cleansing by gerrymander.
This extreme provision, once the calling card of Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman, was disavowed this week by Israel’s Opposition Leader Benny Gantz. Gantz, clarifying his earlier support for the plan, called for the ethnic transfer aspect of the plan to be “removed [from] the agenda,” declaring that “no Israeli citizen, Jew or Arab, will be transferred forcefully to any other country.”
The Triangle is home to 260,000 Arab citizens of Israel. As Hassan Jabreen of Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel told the Washington Post: the residents of the Triangle “are citizens of the state and they have the duties and the rights not to be forcefully displaced.”
Trump’s plan contemplates removing Palestinian citizens of Israel without their consent or consultation. This would be like the Trump administration announcing that they were redrawing the map of the country to ensure that the heavily Latino suburbs of San Diego were no longer part of America.
Whether or not such a policy is carried out, the message of Trump’s “Vision” and those who unconditionally embrace it is clear: the citizenship of Palestinians in Israel is conditional, contingent, and tenuous; subject to the whims of everyone except the very people who would be stripped of their rights.
The truth is, there are two visions on offer today for Israel’s future. One in which Israel is not merely a state of the Jews, but a state for Jews exclusively. This is a vision of perpetual occupation and conditional citizenship for Israel’s Palestinian minority.
But there is a second vision. It is an alternative to annexation and endless occupation, hatred and violence. That alternative is premised on equal citizenship, human rights and democracy.
And what is becoming increasingly clear to all, is that this vision only stands a chance if it’s rooted in a genuine Arab-Jewish partnership and common commitments to democracy.
Israel’s civil society is showing what it means to embrace that second path. Without fail, the citizen activists of NIF grantee Tag Meir shine a light into the darkness of racism and hate. In the wake of the Jish attack, these activists organized to say no to terror and stand in solidarity with the village of Jish.
The Jewish and Arab organizers and activists of Omdim Beyahcad (Standing Together) showed up to send a clear message to the people of Jish who, in the wake of Trump’s plan for transfer and annexation, woke up to slashed tires and “price tag” graffiti.
The forces of division in Israel, and around the world, will continue to sow hatred and mistrust, to divide neighbor against neighbor. It is up to us, the standard bearers of democracy, to link arms, hold strong, and show that another path is possible.
It’s the work of the New Israel Fund to stand behind those brave Israelis whose eyes are fixed on the horizon — on a vision for Israel’s future grounded in equality.