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Racism is part of the landscape in the southern Israeli town of Dimona (Updated)

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Less than 24 hours after the publication of this article, the “Death to Arabs” graffiti on a sign at the entrance to Dimona was painted over. While this is a positive first step , the “We hate the N*****s” and “Death to Arabs” graffiti  – both directly visible to young children – remain.

I posted a link to the original article on the City of Dimona’s official Facebook page, however, the post was immediately deleted.

Sign at the entrance to Dimona, with "Death to Arabs" graffiti painted over

Sign at the entrance to Dimona, with “Death to Arabs” graffiti painted over Photo: Dan Cohen

Original Post:

To American sensibilities, the Negev town of Dimona in Israel recalls the Jim Crow south. Throughout the town of 33,000, racist graffiti can be seen in abundance on signs, walls and buildings. “Death to Arabs” is a common sight, and stickers promoting Lehava, the state-funded anti-miscegenation group, are posted around town.

Known for Israel’s nuclear reactor, Dimona is home to many Jewish Israelis of North African descent, as well as the African Hebrew Israelites, a group of African-Americans who immigrated to Israel believing that they descend from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.

On the highway sign marking the town’s main entry point, next to a public art installation, “Death to Arabs” is scrawled. Dimona resident and journalist David Sheen contacted the local city hall to have the graffiti removed, but his request has been ignored. The graffiti remains two months after it appeared.

"Death to Arabs" written on the sign at the entrance to Dimona. Photo: David Sheen

“Death to Arabs” written on the sign at the entrance to Dimona. (Photo: David Sheen)

“When I called city hall, they reacted with incredulity,” Sheen said. “The person I spoke to asked me, ‘How did you even find this phone number?’ After explaining the inappropriate nature of the sign, Sheen received a lackadaisical response. “They said they’d get back to me, but they never removed it nor did they contact me.”

Instead of the graffiti being removed, an advertisement for a tire repair shop was put up directly below it, though it has since been moved. “Racism is so pervasive that it’s accepted or invisible to people. It doesn’t even show up on people’s radars as something that is problematic,” Sheen remarked.

Recently, while the mayor of Dimona, Beni Bitton, was visiting Dimona’s sister city of Andernach, German journalist Martin Lejeune confronted Andernach’s mayor about the racist graffiti. Still, nothing happened.

This was not an isolated incident. “Death to Arabs” is painted across the street from the local bakery on an apartment building. Around the corner on another face of the building, a large advertisement for the realtor hangs, facing the street.

Only a couple meters away from the apartment building is preschool where two- and three-year-olds use a playground directly across from the “Death to Arabs” graffiti.

The graffiti is not limited to an anti-Arab racism.

At a Jewish kindergarten a few blocks away, “We hate the N*****s” is scrawled on the adjacent building, visible from the playground. Sheen and I asked teachers about the graffiti, but they told us the kids weren’t able to see over the wall and couldn’t read it anyway. However, as illustrated in the photo, kids who weren’t tall enough to see the graffiti stood on chairs, and it is questionable whether kids were able to read the graffiti.

Shot from the kindergarten playground, the graffiti reads "We hate the N*****s"

Shot from the kindergarten playground, the graffiti reads “We hate the N*****s”

Children peer over the wall as the "We hate the N******s" graffiti."

Children peer over the wall as the “We hate the N******s” graffiti.”

The climate of racism in Dimona peaked last summer during the war on Gaza, Sheen recalled. “When I walked down the street to the local bakery, there were adult men sitting outside the entrance openly speaking of mass-murdering leftist Israelis. They spoke without inhibition from making these statements aloud in one of the most popular public spaces in the city.”

Dan Cohen

Dan Cohen is an independent journalist and filmmaker based in Palestine. He tweets at @dancohen3000.

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38 Responses

  1. Marshall on August 24, 2015, 12:02 pm

    But, textbooks!

  2. lysias on August 24, 2015, 12:07 pm

    This is the attitude of the people who make Israel’s nukes.

    • Marnie on August 24, 2015, 12:45 pm

      this is the attitude of people with their fingers on the trigger.

  3. pabelmont on August 24, 2015, 12:12 pm

    A feeling of limitless entitlement (and, of course, of societal support and entire impunity and immunity) certainly encourages people to let all their aggressions hang out! Ain’t it wunnerful? And of course it’s not just the people (the “street”) — it’s also the gummint.

    Israel has a fairly cohesive Jewish sub-society, by now, cohering to a right-wing racist standard. The sometimes-“liberal” Ashkenazi leaders of yesterday might not have felt entirely comfortable had they predicted this outcome, but they set it all in motion.

    The Beinart’s of the world can ponder this if they like. Or hide from it. And when they think about the Israeli Army, let them think about the Israeli Army of today, as it actually is, doing what it actually does.

    • lysias on August 24, 2015, 12:21 pm

      I imagine the people who make Israel’s nukes are rather well educated. Then again, a disturbingly large proportion of SS officers had doctorates.

      • Citizen on August 24, 2015, 6:42 pm

        In general, the largest proportion of those who joined the SS were from the same classes most harmed by the Versailles Treaty: working to middle-middle class people. But that’s not inconsistent with what you said about SS officers often having doctorates.

  4. Brewer on August 24, 2015, 1:15 pm

    How does a society get to be this way?
    In my view, this essay goes a long way towards explaining:

    The populace is “educated” at schools and the universities staffed with submissive, and cowardly teachers and professors.

    The populace is “informed” by hundreds of thousands of servile journalists and “analysts”. There is almost no deviation from the official narrative.

    Congratulations, Western Empire! You have succeeded where others tried but failed. You have achieved almost absolute obedience and discipline, a total servility.

    And more than that most of the people actually think that they are free, that they are in control. They believe that they can choose, that they can decide. They are confident that theirs is the greatest civilization ever built on Earth!…..
    The extreme degree of compliance of the majority of men and women living in our societies makes old books like “Fahrenheit 451” and “1984” only moderately disturbing. Our reality of “2015” is much more psychedelic, bizarre and appalling… as well as shameful!

    • amigo on August 24, 2015, 2:33 pm

      “The populace is “educated” at schools and the universities staffed with submissive, and cowardly teachers and professors. – See more at:

      Does Jon S come to mind.

      • jon s on August 25, 2015, 7:11 am

        It’s nice that you’re thinking of me…
        Am I an example of a “submissive and cowardly” teacher?
        (OK, maybe when I’m confronted by my wife.)

    • Citizen on August 24, 2015, 6:27 pm

      Bernays and Goebbels would love to be living today; they’d have many more tools to work with, although it wouldn’t be as easy for them since the internet is here, not just free government radios.

  5. weiss on August 24, 2015, 1:19 pm

    This proves that BDS is the logical way to expose this Apartheid State and hold it accountable for its war crimes.

    Israel is Jim Crow personified

    • Marnie on August 24, 2015, 2:11 pm

      The United States had “sundown towns”.

      Sundown town – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

      A sundown town is a town, city, or neighborhood in the United States that is purposely all-white, excluding people of other races. The term came from signs that were posted stating that people of color had to leave the town by sundown. They are also sometimes known as sunset towns or gray towns.[1]

      In some communities, signs were placed at the town’s borders with statements similar to the one posted in Hawthorne, California, which read “Nigger, Don’t Let The Sun Set On YOU In Hawthorne” in the 1930s.[2] James W. Loewen, the Washington, D.C.-based author, told The Washington Post in 2006 he found reports of thousands of such places, and sometimes, the sign makers tried to get clever. “Some came in a series, like the old Burma Shave signs, saying, ” . . . If You Can Read . . . You’d Better Run . . . If You Can’t Read . . . You’d Better Run Anyway.”[3]

      In some cases, the exclusion was official town policy or was promulgated by the community’s real estate agents via exclusionary covenants governing who could buy or rent property. In others, the policy was enforced through intimidation. This intimidation could occur in a number of ways, including harassment by law enforcement officers.[4]

      Since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and especially since the Civil Rights Act of 1968 prohibited racial discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing, the number of sundown towns has decreased. However, as sociologist James W. Loewen writes in his book on the subject, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (2005), it is impossible to precisely count the number of sundown towns at any given time, because most towns have not kept records of the ordinances or signs that marked the town’s sundown status. He further notes that hundreds of cities across America have been sundown towns at some point in their history.[5]

      Additionally, Loewen notes that sundown status meant more than just that African-Americans were unable to live in these towns. Essentially any African-Americans (or sometimes other ethnic groups) who entered or were found in sundown towns after sunset were subject to harassment, threats, and violent acts—up to and including lynching.[5]

      The city of Goshen, Indiana was a sundown town for much of its history, forbidding African Americans from living in, or entering, the town, often under threat of violence. In March 2015, the city acknowledged this part of its past, apologizing and saying that it no longer condones such behavior.[6][7]

      GO BDS!

  6. Jackdaw on August 24, 2015, 2:01 pm

    Lucy Aharish, the pride of Dimona!

    Aharish was born in 1981 in the southern Israeli town of Dimona, to Maaruf and Salwa Aharish, Arab Israeli Muslim parents originally from Nazareth.
    Growing up, she was the only Arab student at her school. On Purim she dressed up as Queen Esther, and on Israeli Independence Day she wore blue and white.
    Later, in 2015, Aharish praised her former high school principal Meir Cohen (then a Knesset member for Yesh Atid) for having fostered an uncompromising stance against racism.

    She went on to earn a degree at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is seen daily by millions of Israelis, presenting the Evening Edition of the news broadcaster i24news, and serving as a morning anchor on a current-affairs show on Channel 2.

    • John O on August 24, 2015, 4:22 pm

      Hey, Jackdaw; if you’re going to cut and paste from Wikipedia, at least cite your source, plagiarist.

      • a blah chick on August 24, 2015, 4:47 pm

        Jackdaw, for some odd reason, left out this little tidbit concerning Ms Aharish. Here she is on Netanyahu’s infamous “the Arabs are voting in hordes!” statement:

        “This is shocking simply shocking to hear this…I could understand it from every other Knesset member, every other party head, because many things were said in the course of the campaign: Sephardim against Ashkenazim, Left against Right, against Arabs…”
        “But we are speaking of a prime minister. When it gets to this point, when the prime minister of Israel– who is the prime minister, not of the People of Israel as he likes to say in his speeches, but of all the citizens of the State of Israel– says “The Syrians are on the border, the Arabs are coming on busses—“ it is impermissible, simply impermissible…”

        She goes on for several paragraphs but don’t worry, after this temporary trip off the reservation she went back to being the “Good Arab.”

    • zaid on August 24, 2015, 6:41 pm


      your jewel is nothing but a house slave.

    • talknic on August 24, 2015, 7:56 pm

      @ Jackdaw August 24, 2015, 2:01 pm

      Did you have a point?

  7. diasp0ra on August 24, 2015, 2:19 pm

    If someone suggested that change could have come to the US without a massive civil rights campaign, you’d laugh them out of the room.

    Why then do people on the Israeli side keep saying that change can come from within by itself? When have oppressors ever voluntarily given up their power?

    This is why BDS is necessary. It’s only going to snowball.

  8. just on August 24, 2015, 3:09 pm

    “This was not an isolated incident. “Death to Arabs” is painted across the street from the local bakery on an apartment building. Around the corner on another face of the building, a large advertisement for the realtor hangs, facing the street.”

    So does this hate graffiti make swallowing a bagel or bialy easier? Does it improve and increase property values? Is it what proud Israelis want to teach their kids?

    It’s sick on so many levels that it spells putrefaction of the soul(s).

    Thanks, Dan.

  9. Bornajoo on August 24, 2015, 5:19 pm

    “When I walked down the street to the local bakery, there were adult men sitting outside the entrance openly speaking of mass-murdering leftist Israelis. They spoke without inhibition from making these statements aloud in one of the most popular public spaces in the city.”

    Oi vey

  10. a blah chick on August 24, 2015, 5:54 pm

    Does anyone outside of Israel even use the term “Jewess”?

    • Mooser on August 25, 2015, 12:07 pm

      “Does anyone outside of Israel even use the term “Jewess”?”

      Thank you for bringing that up “abc”! You don’t know how tempted I was to post a song parody which began: “If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, don’t make a….”(okay, you can figure out the rest) or maybe a music hall song from the Yiddish theatre:

      “Don’t you dare even think of a Jewess!
      When looking for girl-friend or wife.
      Such tsuris her family will give you,
      You’ll never have peace in your life!”
      (and etc, etc. Detailing each in-law)

      But that would be flippant, mere persiflage, so I didn’t.

    • Rashers2 on August 25, 2015, 4:08 pm

      Is it racist? I don’t perceive it so. It is arguably sexist; but I guess that depends on whether one bought wholesale into linguistic political correctness. If the word “Jew” were somehow derogatory, I would agree; but it isn’t. The reason “negress” is no longer current, surely, is not the “-ess” (which merely denotes the feminine form) but because it’s the feminine of “negro”, which has fallen into disuse along with other terms that are no longer considered appropriate or respectful? It faintly irks me e. g. that the accepted word for a female dramatic performer is apparently no longer “actress” but “actor” – can you imagine legends like Swanson or Dietrich relishing seeing themselves referred to in print as “actors”? The feminine suffix, IMHO, simply tells the reader two things simultaneously: that the person is whatever the root is; and is female. Something to be said for the romance languages, where every noun has a gender assigned to it….

  11. Citizen on August 24, 2015, 6:20 pm

    Unless you are a Shakespeare student at university, the term “Jewess” is usually believed “anti-Semitic.”

  12. brokebook on August 24, 2015, 8:09 pm

    They’re equally adamant that all non-Judaic ethnic groups should be mixed together. They intend to be the last tribe standing among a global tan people with no history, philosophy, religion or any beliefs at all except the ‘Noahide Laws’ and the Holocaust.

  13. Qualtrough on August 25, 2015, 3:15 am

    In the USA ‘Jewess’ disappeared from acceptable public discourse about the time as ‘Negress’ did. I think this is an indication that their mindset belongs to a much earlier time. I am not talking about 2,000 years ago, more like late 19th-early 20th century, when colonialism was still thought of as a good idea.

  14. diasp0ra on August 25, 2015, 7:57 am

    The Arabic in this poster, and on many signs around the area really shows how little Israelis care about Palestinians and their language.

    You’ve been occupying us for the better part of a century, have you still not learned how to write simple sentences/signs in Arabic?

    They don’t care at all. Embarrassing mistakes and typos are in all Arabic documents released by the military administration and other Israeli organizations. This might seem like nitpicking, but really, how more can you show contempt for a culture, for a people than butchering their language? A language that is supposedly an official language inside their state?

    • chou-chou on August 25, 2015, 8:32 am

      What signs are you talking about?

      • Rashers2 on August 25, 2015, 3:38 pm

        I think, chou-chou, it’s the Arabic translation of, “Don’t you even think of a Jewess!”, which is needed because – funnily enough – it’s not directed at those for whom Hebrew or English may be the first language…..

      • lysias on August 25, 2015, 3:55 pm

        I was always bemused by the signs in New York City saying “Don’t even think of parking here!”, because, as soon as you read the sign, you would have thought about parking there, and thus have disobeyed the sign.

        Do they still have those signs?

      • wondering jew on August 25, 2015, 4:24 pm

        I was just about to ask about the Arabic and you beat me to the punch and told me that it’s poorly written. I read it as, la nfkr l’msh fatah yhudiya. i would think that “don’t think” second person singular would be “la tfkr” and not”la nfkr” and I have no idea what l’msh means. fatah yhudiya means young females of the jewish persuasion. please teach me how the correct spelling would look like.

      • diasp0ra on August 25, 2015, 4:56 pm

        Signs all over the West Bank, I wouldn’t know inside Israel as I’m not allowed in. Some warning signs, some signs that say no parking, some signs that say no swimming..just your daily signs. They are full of typos and errors.

        Hell, even the special passes they issue Palestinians for medicinal reasons, or on Ramadan for instance are full of errors and typos. They have a real case of being “hooked on phonics” with their spellings of names. Especially names that can’t be pronounced by some of their /delicate/ ashkenazi tongues.

    • a blah chick on August 25, 2015, 4:16 pm

      I have heard this complaint for years, about all the bad Arabic there is in Israel. When you consider that a good chunk of their Arabs speak it, that a good chunk of their Jewish immigrants spoke it and that they are surrounded by Arab countries the lack of decent Arabic is stunning. Perhaps a combination of laziness and contempt.

      • Marnie on August 26, 2015, 1:24 am

        Hebrew and Arabic are official languages of Israel, not Hebrew and English or Hebrew and Russian. However, Arabic isn’t taught in most, if not all, Israeli public schools. I think the reason is obvious and incredibly stupid.

    • Marnie on August 26, 2015, 1:34 am

      diaspr0ra – I read your comment after I’d posted mine and noted the same stunningly ironic truth (Arabic being co-official language w/Hebrew). As such, Arabic should be mandatory from gan up. And you aren’t nitpicking but stating the obvious truth; it is contemptuous.

  15. Rashers2 on August 25, 2015, 4:54 pm

    This article tells much – and bad – about Israeli society. Pabelmont’s comment, “A feeling of limitless entitlement (and, of course, of societal support and entire impunity and immunity)….” goes to the core of it. It’s important to realise just how many generations have now been educated, done their IDF/IOF service and grown up within the Zionist state; with each generation, attitudes and “norms” become more entrenched, more ingrained and less amenable to modification or change. The attitudes of the Dimona citizenry are neither irrational nor unpredictable: if a society allows itself to, “let all [its] aggressions hang out” and gets away with it, how will it behave in the future? Where is any incentive for self-discipline or moderation? Just as the spoiled child whose tantrums and manipulation go unchecked and unchallenged becomes the schoolyard bully and extortionist, and may later develop extreme antisocial and criminal behaviour, so with societies. This is an ill society that becomes iller and more dangerous by the year; and it ain’t gonna cure itself!

  16. ejran on August 26, 2015, 2:34 am

    Exclusion, intolerance, violence, murder and land-theft based on sectarianism and religious fanaticism; treating all non-(enter religion) as subhumans- sounds familiar?
    (To all those inside Israel who love to detract from Israel’s crimes by pointing their fingers to neighbors, to another group whose crimes and ideology they pretend to find “appalling”).

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