A protest by Palestinians waving Palestinians flags in the heart of Tel Aviv: last Thursday’s demonstration was a rare event, an alternative reality that interposed itself into the convenient daily routine of the urban crowd, leaving some in shock, some wondering, and others in hatred and anger. “Die, die you Arabs!” shouts one passer-by towards the demonstrators, a mix of politicians and younger activists mainly from the National Democratic Assembly (NDA), an Arab political party in Israel.
The reason for the protest in front of Israel’s Ministry of Defense was the growing effort by the state – which is defined as explicitly Jewish – to compel Christian Arabs in Israel serve in the Israeli army, which is occupying Palestinian territories.
“We must send a message to Israeli society that the Israeli army is a symbol of occupation and oppression,” Hanin Zoabi, a member of the Israeli parliament for the NDA, said at the protest. “By calling Palestinians into the army, the Israeli oppressor even asks us to be loyal to this oppression. This is not just discriminating, but also humiliating.”
The army has now sent letters to a first group of Christian men, more and more of whom are expected to join. This development comes together with a recent shift in Israel’s official policy towards the Arab minority: a new law distinguishes between Muslim and Christian citizens of the state, recognizing the Christian Arab population as a separate entity. According to the bill’s sponsor, a member of parliament for the right-wing Likud, Yariv Levin, Christians are “natural allies, a counterbalance against the Muslims who want to destroy the state from within.”
Although Tel Aviv is often seen as a quite liberal and open city, the reactions of passer-by’s to the peaceful protest suggested otherwise. Maybe some of those aggressive reactions were based on Levin’s belief that the activists are destroying the state from within? One man spat out of his van window towards the demonstrators as he drove by. A second one called on them to “die”. Others told them to “go back to Gaza”, to “be happy that you are not in Syria.”
One man walked by shaking his head in disbelief and told the protesters to leave the country immediately: “I will give you the visa, just get out of here.”
A motorcyclist urged the police who were standing alongside the protest to stop it.
Awad Abdel Fatah, the General Secretary of Balad, said in response: “He is shocked. He wonders how the police can allow us to be here. When they see a Palestinian flag in the heart of Tel Aviv they are shocked. And this shows how isolated and blinded they are. They don’t want to see anything except of themselves.”
 In short Balad (Hebrew) or Tajamu’a (Arabic)
This post was originally published in Transformations on June 1, 2014.