Coming Face To Face With Israeli Racism

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A few days ago, an incident in Tel Aviv changed my entire perception of Israel. Naive as I am, I thought that Tel Aviv is a more liberal and left leaning city in Israel. So I figured that I would not feel too incredibility uncomfortable wearing a Free Palestine T-shirt. So I went about my day just thinking that I’m another Israeli walking the streets of Tel Aviv. But I was wrong. I was very wrong. I was not just another Israeli. I had a very dark tan and 2 weeks of facial hair that I was too lazy to shave off. Thus, wearing my Free Palestine T-shirt, I was no longer an "Israeli," I had for all intents and purposes become a "Palestinian."

My semi-Farsi accent in Hebrew and the darkness of my skin made me lose all the Jewish privileges I previously held. If I had dirty-blond hair and fair skin, I would just be another lefty Tel Aviv Jew. But that was not the case. So I went about my day receiving one dirty look after another, getting my entire bag searched before I entered any building, etc. The worst came as I was taking the bus from Tel Aviv to Holon. As I was on the bus, an Israeli man who spoke no English grabbed my arm and accused me of being a suicide bomber. He said that I was wearing a terrorist flag on my T-Shirt, and that I need to be forced off the bus. I tried to explain to him in Hebrew that I was just an American Jew that supported the peace process, but it was worthless. As if I was a black man in Apartheid South Africa this man asked to see my Teudat Zehut (Israeli Identity card). For those of you who do not know, this card is extremely important in sustaining the Israeli system of apartheid because even if you are an Israeli citizen, it lists whether you are a Jew or an Arab. Obviously I do not have one because I reside in the States. So, I decided to give in. There was a busload of people giving me unusual looks, and I just wanted it to end. So I showed him my Israeli passport to calm him down. But that too did not help. He specifically wanted my ID card, so that if I’m Arab I could leave the bus. Luckily for me, the bus driver did not listen to him, but neither did anybody stop him. As the man left the bus, an Israeli women told me that although he was being too intense, I must understand that my shirt represents terrorism (apparently the flag of Palestine calling for freedom from occupation is terrorism). She told me that every time she sees an Arab woman in a headscarf or people speaking Arabic in the streets, she fears for her life. I don’t think she understands that what she said was racist.

So there it is. For one day I felt what it’s like to be Palestinian in Israel. As a Palestinian you cannot hold up your flag or display your national emblems, but on every street corner you see graphiti saying עם ישראל חי-The People of Israel are Living. You are treated like a criminal at every mall entrance, airport security check, and that’s not even mentioning the discrimination against Palestinians in the West Bank. As a Palestinian in Israel, you are considered to be a terrorist before you even speak. It’s time to open our eyes to Israeli racism.

Another instance took place yesterday, after I went to a peaceful protest in the West Bank of non-violent Palestinians and leftist Israelis against the occupation (which ended in soldiers shooting tear gas canisters at peaceful protesters). But it was after I left, that I saw the most blatant example of Israeli racism. At the checkpoint, the car in front of us had an Israeli license plate, but he was an Arab. So legally he should of been treated like the rest of us. But no, he was stopped for ten minutes, and had his entire car searched. However, when we passed, we were not even stopped. I guess that’s just how simple it is when you look like a bunch of Ashkenazi Jews. The airports, the bus stations, the malls, the checkpoints- all are complicit in the Israeli system of apartheid. Roads for Israelis only, settlements with armed forces surrounding them. Everyone should really open their eyes. This is not a matter of security or war, it’s a matter of daily prejudice and racism. As an Israeli, it’s easy to pretend that none of this exists, or to justify it in the name of security. But then again, that’s how Apartheid South Africa justified it’s treatment of Blacks.

So how’s Israel, it’s great, just so long as you steer clear of any semblance of Arab culture and lounge on the beaches of Tel Aviv.

Adam Astan is an undergraduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. He is an Israeli-American who is involved in Kesher Enoshi: Progressives For Activism in Israel, a student organization of progressive Israeli and American Jews who work directly with Israeli and Palestinian activists in the region.

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