By Abdul Hakim Mufeed
Following the march by right-wing Israelis in the northern Israeli Arab city of Umm al-Fahm this week, we need to pass more than a political eye over the situation. It is possible, of course, to regard the demonstration as simply a provocation by the extreme right-wing and shrug it off as something done by a marginal group holding views which are marginal in society; it has happened before and will probably happen again. Without wishing to invest more in the event than it is actually worth, however, it does need to be taken seriously.
The slogan used by the demonstrators was selected carefully; it wasn't against Arabs per se, but against Umm al-Fahm as a stronghold of the Islamic Movement in Israel, the home of the city's former mayor and president of the movement, Shaikh Raed Salah. This was to "reassure" the "other" Arabs and although it determined the nature of the confrontation it was not a new message; the intention was to isolate the Islamic Movement from the wider Arab community. Marzel and the thugs who went to Umm al-Fahm with him did so with court and police protection, even though both institutions must have known what the outcome of such a visit would be.
This itself is not a new tactic, it dates from the days of military rule; "good Arabs" and "bad Arabs"; "extremists" and "moderates" were not produced out of thin air by Baruch Marzel and Ben-Ari who sought to justify the attack on Umm al-Fahm in a ridiculous way. The incident in the Galilee this week has to be considered along with Israel's Judaisation policy in the coastal cities of Acre and Jaffa, and Lod, along with the unprecedented campaign of house demolitions in the Negev and the Triangle (adjacent to the Green Line). Added to these is the package of laws enacted by the Israeli Knesset (parliament). Go one step further and think carefully about what the Israeli government is considering as the "final status solution" for its Arab citizens and things might become clearer.
All of these incidents and programmes are not on the margins of society in Israel; they are government policy. As such, they cannot be ignored. They are part of a process of the de-legitimisation of Palestinian society in Israel, making it easier – "softening up the wider society – for action to be taken against one-fifth of Israel's own citizens.
Voices are being heard loud and clear calling for such policies to be implemented. We cannot say that the Minister of Foreign Affairs is a marginal figure, but he advocates "population transfer". On the other hand, we cannot place the whole burden of extremism on his shoulders when the Knesset ratifies proposals to carry out such acts against Israeli Arabs.
There is a sense of déjà vu, with a rerun of what happened in the eighties when the late (unlamented) Rabbi Meir Kahane's party was banned for its extremism. Today the circumstances and atmosphere may be different, but a possible link between the two periods cannot be ignored.
The behaviour of some right-wing groups regardless of their position, name or location, serves the interests of the Israeli establishment; if it didn't, the latter would have put a stop to it. Such extreme behaviour actually eases the pressure on the government, which can pin the blame for extremism on others while giving them tacit encouragement. Those on the receiving end of the government's support in this way include the illegal settlers across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the extreme religious groups Judaising the coastal plain and the likes of Marzel and his thugs. Although they have a disparate appearance, they are basically one and the same, all working for the same goal as the government (which would admit this if it was honest).
The government, in fact, has a choice: it can either protect all of its citizens – Arabs included – and stop demonstrations like the one in Umm al-Fahm, or it can do nothing and thus give them the green light by default. It looks as if the Israeli government has chosen the latter.
Thus such groups and their extremist actions become the big stick being waved by the government, a warning for the Arab community to toe the line or else. Accepting the Jewish identity of the state, pledging allegiance and other discriminatory laws take on a new meaning. Suddenly, in fact, rhetoric about population transfer and expulsions – ethnic cleansing by any other name – becomes a very real "final status solution" for the Palestinian citizens of Israel. We ignore it at our peril.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.