Death in a Palestinian town

Israel/Palestine
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In Palestine, not all the killing takes place in the West Bank and Gaza – and not all the killers are Israeli security forces. Certainly, Palestinian residents of Israel are not immune from state violence. In October 2000, 13 Palestinian youths were shot dead by Israeli police during demonstrations of solidarity with the Second Intifada beginning across the Green Line. And Arabs in Israel often face the same arbitrary applications of security law, confiscation of property and restrictions on their choice of where to live or work as imposed on the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories – even though they are supposedly equal citizens according to Zionist propaganda. Lately, however, a growing wave of violence within the Palestinian towns of Israel has caused serious concern among community leaders.

Qalansuwe is a smallish municipality of 15,000 located among the cluster of Arab population centers in the southern part of what is called “The Little Triangle,” just across the Green Line from the occupied West Bank cities of Tulkarem and Qalqiliya. Nearby Taibe, Tira and Kufr Kassem are the other important Palestinian towns in the area. Although Israel contains urban ghettos of a type familiar in the US in so-called “Mixed Cities” like Jaffa, Lid and Haifa, most of its 1.2 million Palestinians live in separate and unequal segregated communities, mostly in the center and north of the country, along with a fairly large Bedouin population that is under pressure in the Negev/Naqab area of the South.

These areas are mostly crowded and impoverished, face high unemployment, while under resourced by government funding – and they are plagued by rising rates of crime and violence. Parallels with segregated communities of color in the US are obvious, though the Palestinian in “1948” Israel face even more discrimination than African-Americans in a society that is openly racist and within a state which proclaims that it belongs only to the favored Jewish population. When Palestinian hear their supposed national anthem, Hatikva, rhapsodize about the triumphant conquest of the land by “returning” Jews, they know that it does not even pretend to included them. Imagine if the US national anthem were “Dixie” and you get the idea.

A few days ago, We’am Zmaru, the City Manager of Qalansuwe, was gunned down by automatic weapons fire outside his house in a brazen gang-style hit. Last September, the Mayor’s brother was also murdered during an assault that also left one bystander dead and five wounded. Local leaders see the response by Israeli police tepid at best, contrasting with the overwhelming deployment of resources to investigate crimes against Jews – or to provide security to Settler communities deep within the West Bank.

In fact , there have been 18 murders in Qalansuwe during the past 15 years and 73 in nearby Taibe, a city of 40,000 that is sometimes known locally as “Chicago” after its gangland atmosphere of rival drug peddling families and protection rackets. Only one of these murders has been solved, apparently “by accident” according to locals. Community leaders give little credence to the official claim that police resources are limited in a country that spends many billions of dollars on its war-making power, a costly occupation infrastructure and the construction of a wall/security barrier hundreds of miles long in the West Bank.

Palestinian on Palestinian crime is apparently tolerable, so long as it remains largely confined to their own communities and does not spill over to the more favored Jewish population centers. State-subsidized Jewish communities of privilege are often located close to and among the Palestinian the Palestinian towns in a conscious policy to “Judaize” areas of Israel with high Arab population, much like the settlement project in the West Bank. Just down the road from the mean streets of Taibe can be found the lushly landscaped streets and spacious red-tiled roof houses of Kakhav Yair, with excellent schools, a modern shopping mall and numerous parks and playgrounds. (In the absence of government-financed resources, the only public park in Qalansuwe was established through private community fund raising.) Defense Minister Ehud Barak and other high government officials live there, but the gated community, like most favored Jewish town in Israel, is off-limits to Arab residents through a complex web of legal barriers and community rules. Recently, a large group of Orthodox Israeli rabbis issued a letter urging Jews not to rent apartments to Arabs in those few mixed communities where it is legal.

Yesterday, at the mourning tent for the slain Qalansuwe was filled with local mourners as well notables from many of the Palestinian towns of Israel. The leadership of Qalansuwe was joined by the mayors of Tira, Kufr Kassem and Jaljulia. In the kind of language that could be equally heard from US African-American leaders, Ramiz Jeraisi, the mayor of Nazareth, Israel’s largest Palestinian city, who is the elected leader of the Council of Arab Municipalities, urged local anti-crime initiatives and community mobilization, but he also condemned the lack of economic opportunities for Palestinians and the apparent indifference of government ministries to violence among “Israeli Arabs.” Jeraisi reported on a meeting with the Israeli police chief held several months earlier, where promises were made for increased law-enforcement resource were made, but no new actions followed. The mourners, drinking the traditional bitter coffee beneath the black tent nodded in agreement.

Later that Saturday evening, young people from Qalansuwe gathered at a local outdoor café to watch a large-screen projection of the soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Palestinians are mad for Spanish futbol especially, with posters decorating the walls of stores and restaurants in every town in the West Bank and Israel. When Barcelona scored the first goal early in the second half of the game, after midnight local time, the crowd cheered among the wafting clouds of nargila (water pipe) smoke and horns honked loudly outside. The Catalans, once a long-oppressed national minority under Franco’s Fascist regime, had made startling progress and prosperity, along with regional and cultural autonomy, in the modern Spanish democracy. They were the clear local favorite. But Madrid later scored a tying goal and the game ended in a draw.

About Jeff Klein

Jeff Klein, is a retired local union president, a long-time Palestine solidarity activist and a board member of Mass Peace Action. He has a blog: http://atmyangle.blogspot.com/

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