Three Arabs beaten nearly to death as nationalism sweeps Israel

Shocking violence against three Arab Israelis is just the latest disastrous consequence of the right's hateful policies.

al-monitor Arab Israelis and their supporters take part in a rally to protest the Jewish nation-state law in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, Israel, Aug. 11, 2018. Photo by REUTERS/Ammar Awad.
Shlomi Eldar

Shlomi Eldar


Topics covered

jewish terrorism, israeli politics, avigdor liberman, benjamin netanyahu, nationality law, nationalism, arab-israeli conflict, arab-israelis

Aug 27, 2018

Had Yair Elalouf not intervened when a group of young men was beating three Arab Israelis with clubs and chains, the Aug. 23 attack on the Kiryat Haim beach could have ended in murder on the grounds of nationality.

"I saw a group of young [Jewish] Russians beating [the Arabs] with clubs and chains. They had jumped three people there, who were already unconscious on the ground, covered with blood," Elalouf told Ynet. "One of them asked me for help, said they were going to kill them. I went there, I got the young guys away from there and called the police. I did what I thought was right, to help them." According to Elalouf, none of the 70 or 80 other people on the beach did anything.

The three victims are residents of the Arab Israeli town of Shfaram. One is a doctor at Tel Aviv’s Suraski Medical Center, another a nurse at the Sheba Medical Center. The three sustained bruises and cuts and were taken to Rambam Hospital in the nearby city of Haifa. They told police that a group of young Jewish men had asked them if they were Arabs, then came back with clubs, chains and knives and beat them.

Deeply humiliated, the three victims of the brutal beating asked police and the media to refrain from naming them and showing their faces. The cousin of the nurse told Al-Monitor that his relative cares for Jews and Arabs at the hospital where he works regardless of their religion or race and is dedicated to his work. The three friends do not want to be pitied and therefore asked to remain anonymous, he added, also on condition of anonymity.

In addition to the physical pain, said the cousin, the three were deeply hurt by the hateful reactions that followed reports about the event. “This is disgraceful. What is this? There was glee over what had been done to them,” said the cousin. Nonetheless, he added, “Among the cursing there were also reactions that moved us, of Israelis who claimed they were ashamed.”

This is hardly the first time nationalist Jews have beaten up fellow Israelis simply for being Arabs. Most such violence in recent years occurred during periods of heightened tension, such as the 2014 Gaza war, the wave of terror attacks that began the following year and clashes on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

This time, the violence cannot be attributed to rockets fired at Israeli communities from Gaza, nor Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis. This time, it appears to be the result of a climate created by the leaders of the political right, among them Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, that marginalizes and villifies Israel’s 21% Arab minority.

Knesset member Ayman Odeh, chair of the Joint List, described the phenomenon well on Twitter. “The hidden clause in the nation-state law: attacks on Arabs based on racism. These are not fringe elements, but reality under the auspices of government policy of incitement,” wrote Odeh, referring to the controversial legislation adopted by the Knesset last month enshrining Israel’s status as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

The litany of responses to Odeh’s tweet leaves no room for doubt about public sentiment. The slogans of the political right against Arab Israelis in general and their parliamentary representatives in particular have permeated Jewish society.

“Ayman Odeh, you are the great inciter … a fifth column in the Knesset,” was one such comment by an Avi Moskovich, echoing repeated diatribes by Liberman, dubbing Arab legislators “terrorists.” "Those people belong in prison rather than the Knesset. It's time for them to pay for their actions,” Liberman tweeted in May.

Another response from an Avi Saban read, “Too bad the Nationality Law does not grant immunity to those attacking and expelling Arabs.” Another from Shimon Snir noted that “Ayman” rhymes with “Eichmann,” in a reference to one of the Nazi architects of the Holocaust.

Netanyahu has not condemned the attack, perhaps because he was on a visit to Lithuania. At the Choral Synagogue in the capital Vilnius, rebuilt on the ruins of the Vilnius ghetto, he delivered an emotional speech Aug. 26 about the persecution of Jews before the advent of the State of Israel. However, even the team of writers employed by his office, who respond on social media to any event that can be exploited to strengthen his political base, did not find it needful to address the violence against Arab Israeli citizens from the prime minister’s Twitter or Facebook accounts.

Let us not forget that Netanyahu himself chose to sow horror among right-wing voters on Election Day in 2015, when he felt his Likud might lose its hold on power and warned his supporters against the Arabs “coming out in droves" to vote.

Knesset member Aida Touma Sliman of the Joint List blames Netanyahu and those she dubs his “chorus.” In an interview with Al-Monitor, she said the impact of the nationality law “is starting to be felt and the ground is starting to burn, and those who poured oil on the bonfire and fed the flames are standing silently by.” She pointed out that the nationalist attack on the Kiryat Haim beach was followed several days later by the beating of two Arabs from the town of Taibe in another attack by Jews motivated by nationalist sentiment.

She was referring to the Aug. 26 stabbing of two Taibe residents in the Jewish town of Binyamina. One of them sustained moderate injuries. An initial investigation suggested the attack was the result of a falling out among contract workers employed by the local council, but the victims contend they were targeted because they were Arabs. One described the attacked for Ynet: “This was not a brawl. Someone wanted to enter the space where we were working. We asked him to move his vehicle and he refused. Suddenly he started shouting and saying, ‘Arabs,’ ‘terrorists’. A girl with him called the police and claimed we wanted to rape her. A few minutes later, more people showed up and one of them stabbed me. We ran away and went to the police. When I got to the station, I fell, they called an ambulance and I was taken to hospital. This incident could have ended in tragedy. I could have been shot because someone said ‘terrorists.’”

Sliman urges any Arabs experiencing physical or verbal violence due to their origin to speak out and not be afraid. “We have to flood the police with complaints and to raise these things and nationalist events in the media so that everyone knows where the nationality law has taken Israel,” she said.

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