Israel’s Arab community has nothing but contempt for its young
Abed Abu Shehadeh, +972 Magazine, May 3 2016
Abed Abu Shehadeh is a Balad Party member and a student at the School of Government and Society of Tel Aviv / Yaffo Academic College. Balad is an Arab Left Party (my apologies for having confused it with Hadash). This column, “ha-Oketz” (“The Sting”), is supposedly dedicated to Mizrachi Jewish Israelis, not Arab Israelis, as I recall from once straying there, and they are the rudest Israeli Jews I have met online so far (which is quite an accolade, actually). The Arabs, obviously, are just young fools nursing the perennial dream that there might perhaps be someone who is not an utter thug and sadist in some position of influence, but I could have told them there won’t be, especially not here. In general, when I see foreign Arab youths patronized by 972 Magazine, I assume the commission is from Mossad; with domestic ones like this, Shin Bet. Such youths may be fooled into believing that they are being recruited by Euro intelligence. Obviously it’s necessary to be as careful as possible with the texts, when making serious accusations. In a few small ways that I am certain do not change the underlying meaning, but rather serve to bring it out, I have improved some of the english. For that alone, hot-eyed Lisa could quite legally subject me to the “banana position,” which actually would offer us both some enjoyment. I talk below about “subject positions.” I think of these literally as visual positional “viewpoints” within the interior space of my own head. In the first paragraph, the subject position (“I”) is Arab-Israeli youth, when he was 17:
I have zero expectations from racist Jews, but I’d expect the Arabs, my own community, to be less judgmental of young people. You have no idea what it’s like to walk down the street fearing the police and criminals, as well as your judgment. Every time a young Arab is killed in our society, social media is flooded with condemnations and expressions of shock for about a week until their authors go back to their arrogant, stand-offish selves thanking god, deep down, that some night clubs in our community don’t let young Arabs in. One of the most formative moments in my life came when I was 17. I went to a have a passport photo taken at a shop on Jaffa’s Jayloomia Blvd with two friends. An Arab woman in her 40s stood before us in line, and the minute she saw us she clung to her handbag, assuming probably that we were about to rob her. I have no words to describe the humiliation I felt, because at the time my friend and I were ready to do whatever favour she might have asked us (This already suggests either extreme arrogance or just a made-up adolescent fable – RB). But since that was her attitude, we decided to reciprocate. We came closer and suggested menacingly that she be very mindful of her handbag. We later found out she was a famous local politician.
Second subject position (“we”) below, implicitly, is Arab-Israeli parents – RB
This problem is endemic to Arab society. We stereotype and stigmatize our youth, only to be taken aback when the sky-high crime rate comes back to haunt us. How about just being straightforward with our youth and saying that we have nothing but contempt for them? Every young Arab is a potential menace unless he is educated, enlightened, rich or better still a hipster (? – RB). No sector in our society is immune to that kind of prejudice. The religious moan that we’re not religious enough, and the secularists moan that we’re too religious. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t. When demonstrations take place everybody wants to know why we don’t show up, but in the day-to-day routine nobody gives a toss about us. Only when we stand up to the establishment we get some sympathy, but usually from people who want to recruit us to their political ends. I used to think it’s unique to Arabs within Israel, but I was once humiliated in the same way in Ramallah, where portraits of illustrious revolutionaries can be seen everywhere and Che Guevara t-shirts are the latest fad among café owners. However, they inflate the prices to keep the young residents of nearby refugee camps away. Last February I was in Jordan. I made plans to hang out at one of the country’s modern malls with friends, but they categorically told me not to come under-dressed, because I may not be let in. Single young men, especially in groups, are frowned upon (This ultimately sexual apartheid is absolutely universal, though variously disguised in different cultures. Its aim is to protect respectable families from layabouts. It is absurd to pretend it is abnormal – RB). This kind of behaviour deliberately ignores the social and political challenges that we face by virtue of being Arabs. Westerners see us as potential terrorists, but at the same time our own society sees us as a nuisance.
Now who are the “we” and the “they” in the next few sentences? The “we” has become a phantasmatic, spurious subject position generated by the trace of the Israeli-Jewish mass media, shared by imaginary young Israeli parents both Jewish and Arab. And this in turn is embedded in the fraud of the column’s existence. In reality, the “them” that “we” don’t want is he himself and his friends, as he knows. But the boy cannot bear to weep in front of these girls. He knows he does not belong to the “we” in whose name he is attempting to speak at this moment, that’s the whole point. He is trying to recruit himself to the “we” of those who deny his existence and his young manhood, if anybody should find such things as manhood persuasive, manhood and womanhood and boyhood and girlhood too … We all do it 100 times everyday. As Burroughs says, “To speak is to lie. To exist is to collaborate.” – RB
Young Arabs are dehumanized. We don’t give them the opportunity to integrate, we don’t want them next to us, we’d rather have them as far away as possible. But then they are being slagged off for not being hard-working or accomplished enough. Our society chooses to ignore our interpretation of the institutional racism in Israel, thanks to which we end up unemployed and badly off. With the Plastelinan national struggle in the background, the Israeli government does its utmost in every walk of life, to make sure we don’t succeed. I’m not sure which is more strident a manifestation of Jewish-Israeli racism: white Ashkenazi Tel Aviv, a liberal environment for Jews only, or Jayloomia, where MAGAV cops strip-search young Arabs just to address their own inferiority complexes! (This statement implies very neatly & accurately that MAGAV cops are generally lower-status dark-skinned Mizrachi Jews, but without saying so – RB). I have few expectations from the pervasively racist Jewish society, but I’d expect our very own, especially the educated middle class, to champion an alternative and harness us. I’m not here to preach or educate anyone. All I’m saying is, don’t lie to us. If you’re not willing to see us as bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh, don’t bother to turn to us. You don’t know what it’s like to walk down the street and be equally terrified of the police, the criminals and your judgement. Please forgive us for not growing up in wealthy homes that could afford to buy us private and higher education. Please forgive us for having little patience. Please understand, this is the only way we could survive in an environment that wants to undo our existence. I don’t know what could be the excuse for crime being such a central feature in our lives. But whatever it is, our hospitals and cemeteries are full of the victims of that situation. (Here beginneth a fable of sorts – RB). A few years ago, a childhood friend of mine got out of prison. We sat at his home, and a social worker came by and started lecturing him about how he should behave. He looked at her, wiped the smile off his face and said:
My dad convinced me to drop out of school so that I could help him make a living! My brother used to send me to sell drugs! My mother is crazy! And the only skill that I have is stealing! Where were you when I really needed you?
There was nothing any of us could say. Two weeks later I scraped his body off the street, riddled with seven bullets to his head (permit me ever so gently to doubt this little story – RB). Arab society in Israel needs to realize that young people aren’t pawns on a chessboard. Like you, we have dreams and aspirations, and a desire to be allowed into every establishment we want! We don’t want to be blamed for a reality that imposed itself on us! Let’s try to do things together! Who knows? it might be the way out of violence and crime! (Alas for young hope – RB)