Jerusalem’s Arabs are victims of state-sanctioned hate
Israeli extremists on Sunday marched through Jerusalem shouting vile chants such as “Death to Arabs,” “A good Arab is a dead Arab,” “The second Nakba is coming soon,” “You will end up in refugee camps,” and “May your village burn.” This was one of the most blatant exhibitions of institutionalized racism in the city’s history.
Of course, if marchers were screaming “Death to Jews” or “Death to Blacks,” we might have seen more of this in the media and condemnations from major political figures. But Arabs tend not to count.
The Jerusalem Day flag march celebrates the Israeli occupation of the eastern part of the city in 1967. To the marchers, it is about Jerusalem’s unification — a myth given its bitter divisions. The level of brutality Israeli forces mete out to Palestinians demonstrates this is the only way they can hold on to the city.
Given that the 2021 version triggered the 11-day war on Gaza, one has to wonder about an Israeli coalition government that permits a repeat; allowing thousands of ultranationalist religious Jews to march through East Jerusalem, including through the Muslim quarter of the Old City, in what was a deliberately provocative act. The Israeli police do not just stand by. A video circulated of police arresting and beating up a Palestinian girl at the Damascus Gate.
Even before the march started, tensions were high. One of these charming racists at the Damascus Gate clapped his hands and shouted out in celebration, “This is not Shireen. Shireen is dead,” referring to the murdered Al Jazeera Arabic journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Palestinians needed no reminding that the “voice of Palestine” would not be covering the march this year, as she had so many times before.
Israeli extremists threw bottles at stretchers carrying Palestinian wounded, while screaming “Death to Arabs.” Another Israeli charmer pepper-sprayed an elderly Palestinian woman. As ever, there was the usual amount of spitting on Palestinians and banging on their closed-up shop fronts. International journalists are called terrorists. Israeli marchers also indulged their violent appetites by attacking Palestinians in neighboring areas such as Sheikh Jarrah. For those extremists who did not get to Jerusalem, “Death to Arab” marches took place in other places such as Lydda, where they sang about wiping out Palestinians outside a school as police watched on.
The march highlighted Israeli Jewish supremacy. Palestinians were forced to leave the Damascus Gate area. Israeli police checked Palestinians and only allowed residents of the Old City to enter. Of course, any Israeli Jew can go anywhere they like. They are protected, while Palestinians are punished. Israeli police beat up Palestinians, but then this is the same police force that beat up mourners at Abu Akleh’s funeral just two weeks ago.
Earlier in the day, the focus was on Al-Haram Al-Sharif, where Israeli authorities violate the status quo at will. This happened again as Palestinian Muslims were denied entry while 2,600 Jews, including Kahanist Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir, entered the compound and started praying, videoing themselves while doing so. The Supreme Court has confirmed this is illegal but, despite thousands of police officers being in the Old City, none of those praying got arrested. Instead, the police facilitated their entry. Palestinians protested and, once again, Israeli forces fired rubber bullets, desecrating this sacred site.
For Palestinians, fears that Israeli groups will succeed in taking effective control of Al-Aqsa Mosque are very real. They saw this happening with the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. Israel is exerting greater and greater control of Al-Haram Al-Sharif, a path that will lead to confrontation with not just Palestinians but the entire Islamic world.
These racists screaming their death chants may have been marching and dancing in Jerusalem, but many of them will be wielding guns later on. Many are Israeli settlers living on occupied territory who are permitted to carry weapons and are, in effect, permitted to shoot and kill Palestinians, such is the climate of impunity. Others may serve in the reserves.
Who knows what this will all lead to in 2022? Last year, Hamas responded to the flag march and violations of Al-Aqsa with six rocket attacks into Israel. Israel then started its massive bombardment of Gaza.
Any responsible state would arrest such racists and ensure they are never allowed to carry weapons. Israel is no such state. This is a state-sanctioned, state-protected march. The commander of the Israeli police for the Jerusalem district just stood calmly by as the extremists chanted “death to Arabs.”
Flag waving is part of the conflict. While Israeli ultranationalists are encouraged to march and wave Israeli flags in occupied Palestinian territory, Israeli police tear down Palestinian flags not just in East Jerusalem but elsewhere in the West Bank. The Palestinian flag is not illegal in Israel but is de facto becoming so. Elsewhere in East Jerusalem, Palestinians waving the Palestinian flag are arrested. It is the system of apartheid in action.
Anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian racism is so normalized and accepted that it does not raise an eyebrow among Western politicians.
It is incredible how potent a piece of colored cloth can be. Flags can arouse emotions and reinforce dangerous nationalist and tribal tendencies. Flags are waved, flags are burned. But all this tension could have been avoided. Israeli political leaders could have forbidden the march from entering the Muslim quarter. They could have also stuck to the status quo arrangements on Al-Haram Al-Sharif. That they did not demonstrates a recklessness that will lead to further bloodshed and increased hatred.
The international community says nothing. Genocidal anti-Arab chanting does not register any concern, let alone outrage. Anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian racism is so normalized and accepted that it does not raise an eyebrow among Western politicians. Not one country has outlawed the extremist Israeli Jewish group Lehava, which orchestrates much of the racist chanting and whose flags were on display during the march. All this and more makes the international community complicit in what is going on.
- Chris Doyle is director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding in London. Twitter: @Doylech