Fighting racism

It may occur infrequently – or just publicized infrequently – but it happens often enough to raise warning signals about the future of Israeli society.

Sometime after midnight on Wednesday, Shfaram residents Dr. Muhammad Yusifin, Muatasim Ayoub, and Mawd Ayoub were sitting on the beach in Kiryat Haim near Haifa, when they were attacked, apparently for being Arab.

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According to the Ynet report of the incident, two Jewish men walked past the group, asked them if they were Arab, and returned minutes later with friends and proceeded to attack the trio with knives, metal bars and chains.

“They started hitting us with no mercy, on all parts of our body, while we were sitting down. They wanted to kill us just because we are Arabs,” they said, adding that the assailants called them “Arab dogs.”
 Other people on the beach eventually interfered, called the police and Magen David Adom, and provided the victims with assistance for their injuries before they were taken to Rambam Medical Center in Haifa for treatment. On Tuesday, the Krayot Magistrates Court extended the detention of one of the alleged attackers, a 20-year-old resident of the Krayot (the cluster of five towns in the Haifa Bay area).

Yair Elalouf, who emerged as the hero of the sordid incident, told Ynet that at least 70-80 people witnessed the attack, but none of them intervened or called the police.

“One of them asked for my help, said they were going to kill them. I went there, got the young guys away from there and called the police. I did what I thought was right,” Elalouf said.
Elalouf’s attitude is just one of the glimmers of light emerging from the hate attack. Ayoub, one of the victims, told reporters that he had received an outpouring of support from “citizens from all over the country – Jews and Arabs alike.”

Yusifin, a physician, said: “It pains me, because in my profession I treat Jews. I have never looked at a man’s origin. I also have Jewish friends and I live among Jews.”
The specter of racism is always lurking around the corners of the fabric of Israeli society: sometimes in subtle forms, sometimes blatant – and sometimes boiling over, as in this case, into violence.
It’s nice to think that most Israelis are tolerant, inclusive and open to the minority populations that make up the country’s mosaic, but one can’t go very far – on the street, in schools, in the Knesset – before hearing disparaging remarks about the Arabs, the Mizrahim, the Russians, the Ethiopians… and yes, even the ‘Amerikaim.’

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How do we diminish the factionalism, pettiness and disharmony? In a visit to Kafr Kassem this week, to participate in the annual memorial ceremony of the 1956 massacre in which 48 Arab civilians were killed, President Reuven Rivlin warned that it behooves everyone to understand that extremism of the kind just expressed in Kiryat Haim can lead to a situation beyond control.
 Disputes which Israel’s citizenry have with one another can go on for years, Rivlin acknowledged, “but these disputes cannot be resolved without the implicit comprehension that we are all destined to live in this land.”

We should all emulate the attitude and words of Elalouf, who this week met the three people he had saved last week.

 “They are very nice guys; they thanked me and asked me where I live. They took my phone number and invited me for dinner at their home in Shfaram. They also want to visit my home. I told them they are more than welcome,” Elalouf told Ynet.

“People ask me all the time, ‘Did you know they were Arabs?’ Of course I did, but it doesn’t matter. It has nothing to do with that, it doesn’t matter who asked for my help, I would have helped anyone, whether they are Ethiopians, Arabs or Jews – it doesn’t matter. I wish the country would do the same.”

At a time when, due to the Nation-State Law, Israel’s Arab citizenry is already feeling marginalized, it’s all the more vital and urgent to be vigilant when society’s norms show signs of cracking; to stop being tolerant of ‘good-natured’ ethnic slurs. And, like Elalouf, to act when no one else will.

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