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.
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.
“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.
In the Israeli city of Dimona, 'death to Arabs' graffiti is visible directly across from a playground. pic.twitter.com/S0AdYzVYPU
— Dan Cohen (@dancohen3000) August 17, 2015
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.
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.”