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Ben Gurion University

Ben Gurion University - Haim Yacobi (Dept of Politics & Bimkom Board Member) rants that the Acre Riots were a result of a national “intentional policy” to repress the 1948 “internal refugees” and ignores that the Acre Rioters were not from Acre

More on Bimkom’s Anti-Israel activities can be seen here

Separate and unequal

By Haim Yacobi

The term "mixed cities" is often perceived as pertaining to an idyllic image of a shared urban space. But it's a misleading idiom, as it hides from the Israeli public the extent of segregation and poverty experienced by Arab citizens living in cities such as Acre, Lod, Haifa and Ramle, where they constitute between 20 and 30 percent of the population.

Mixed cities, shared by Jews and Arabs since the state's establishment, are an exception to the rule. Usually, these two population groups are separated spacially along ethno-national lines. A significant portion of the Arab population in mixed cities within the Green Line (Israel's pre-1967 border) is comprised of internal refugees, who were disinherited from their lands following the establishment of Israel. Not only do they suffer from the trauma of displacement, but they are also socially and economically disenfranchised.

This status is not coincidental, evolutional or neutral: It is the product of intentional policy, mostly implicit but occasionally explicit, operating according to ethno-national logic. Its main objective has and continues to be maintenance of the demographic dominance of the Jewish majority over the Arab minority in mixed cities. It is in this light that the violence of recent days in Acre should be viewed.

In the year 2000, shortly after 13 Arab citizens were killed during the "October Riots," I began my field work for a doctoral dissertation on Israel's mixed cities. The political reality I uncovered was harsh: According to plain statistics, Israel's mixed cities have become a two-fold discrimination trap for their Arab residents. The Or Committee investigating the events of that October also stressed that Israel's Arab citizens continue to be discriminated against in resource allocation across the board, whether it be for education, infrastructure or welfare. But for those living in mixed cities, there are the added insults of being disenfranchised socially and culturally, suffering from discrimination and inequality in housing, infrastructure and access to municipal services.

The country's highest unemployment rates are found mostly in Arab cities and villages, including Acre and other mixed cities. In Acre, as in Lod, 30 percent of the Arab population is forced to live in houses declared illegal by the authorities. Unlike common perception, this is not a simple matter of Arab citizens unwilling to uphold the law. Rather, it is a direct result of a policy that has created a severe housing crisis among Arabs of the mixed cities, a policy designed to control and limit the number of Arab residents in these cities.

In addition to long-lasting discrimination against Arabs in planning procedures and housing projects, several projects in mixed cities are promoted for Jewish residents only, such as Ramat Elyashiv in Lod and housing projects funded by private organizations in Ramle. In some mixed cities, disenfranchisement takes the extreme form of separation barriers and walls, creating segregated Jewish and Arab communities, as in the case of the (Jewish) Ganei Dan and (Arab) Joarish neighborhoods in Ramle, which have an actual wall running between them.

The harsh Israeli economic and social policies of the past decades, which emphasized a reduction in government assistance to underprivileged groups, have taken their toll on the Israeli Arab population, leading to a rise in its poverty rates and to an increase in crime in Acre and Lod, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. Eight years after the events of October 2000 - and despite the Sharon government's nominal endorsement of the Or Commission's recommendations - Israel has done little to rehabilitate or restore its relations with the Arab population, in particular with its members living in mixed cities. A reasonable course of action would have been to allocate resources for infrastructure, education, housing and employment, but this has not been done.

Under these circumstances, the recent events in Acre should not surprise anyone. They expose the instability of the authorities' control mechanisms in mixed cities. The politics underlying these control mechanisms enhance the demonization of the "other," the fear of Arab citizens and their delegitimization within their own cities. There is a great gap between the promise of a mixed city as a shared space for all its residents and the ethno-national logic underlying the reality in these cities.

The riots of the past week in Acre provide yet another warning sign for Israel about its policies of discrimination. This warning sign will soon fade away and we will all return to our daily lives, but for Arab citizens living in mixed cities, the harsh reality will continue.

Acre, Ramle and Lod are not disconnected from our daily lives; in many respects, they are a microcosm of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel as a whole. It is my hope that civil solidarity will emerge from these events, demanding that policy makers rectify this severe discrimination by allocating funds for housing and equal resources in education and welfare. Equally important, Arab communities in mixed cities should be acknowledged as a legitimate component of those polities and a central element of Israeli society.

Dr. Haim Yacobi is a board member of Bimkom: Planners for Planning Rights, and a lecturer in the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University.


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