‘Anyone with a weapon can kill me, thinking I’m a terrorist simply because I’m Arab’

Since the war broke out, many Israeli Arabs are afraid to leave their home. They tell of attacks, threats of murder, humiliations and racist slurs, as well as termination or suspension of employment in Jewish cities

Police officers detaining Palestinians in the Old City of Jerusalem, mid-October 2023

Deiaa Haj Yahia and Eden Solomon report in Haaretz on 26 October 2023:

At the beginning of the week, a young Arab couple came to a park in central Israel to take photographs ahead of their wedding. But before they could take a single one, they were attacked with racist curses by two young Jewish women.

“I’ve never been humiliated like that,” said the photographer who accompanied the couple and was attacked first because of her hijab. “What did we do wrong? What do I have to do with what happened?”

Since the war broke out, many Israeli Arabs are afraid to leave their home. They tell of attacks, threats of murder, humiliations and racist curses hurled at them, as well as having their employment in Jewish cities terminated. Many describe the feeling in one word: dread.

The photographer who was attacked, Manal (all the names in the article have been changed at the interviewees’ request), says that with shouts and curses, the young women insisted that she leave. “They shouted, ‘We’ll burn all the Arabs,’” Manal said. “I thought if I respond it would only get worse, and the police would come to arrest me. So I only photographed it.”

Manal was scarred by the incident. “I’m not going to take pictures again in an open space,” she says fearfully. “Going around with a camera and taking pictures is my hobby, but in the near future I won’t be photographing. I cancelled what I had lined up in my schedule until I find a safe place.”

Waheed Alsana, the director of the community security organization in the southern Arab city of Rahat, says that these days, many in the Arab community are afraid of contact with the Jewish population. “A lot of work places report that Arabs don’t come to work because of this fear,” he says. The fear stems mainly from social media posts like the one calling to attack Bedouin on the streets of nearby Be’er Sheva. A young Bedouin sitting near Alsana says he avoids going to Be’er Sheva precisely for this reason. “Anyone can carry a gun now,” he says. “Anyone can think I’m a terrorist and pull the trigger.”

Mohammed, a gardener from one of the Arab towns in the eastern Sharon Plain in central Israel, had difficulty persuading his employees to return to work. “We work in the street, outdoors, so we run into a lot of people,” he says. “After I managed to persuade some of them, we were attacked with curses at the work site.” He says a Jewish driver passing by started cursing the workers for no reason. “He shouted to us: ‘I’ll murder you, I have a gun, you should be in Gaza, we should burn you alive,’” Mohammed says. “You killed 1,500 of our people and you work for us? I’ll murder every Arab I see.”

Like many others, Mohammed is afraid the curses will turn into actions. “You can’t tell where it will end,” he says. “It’s frightening and dangerous. And there are a lot of armed people in the streets.”  The situation is also hurting him financially. “I have commitments, expenses to cover, and every day’s work I miss takes me several weeks backward. My employees have families to provide for, and every day we don’t work harms us.”

Closed Muslim-owned shops in the Old City of Jerusalem, late October 2023

Omar, who works as a gardener in the center of the country, already felt the changes on the first day of the war. On his way to work he was stopped by the police, who conducted an extensive search on his person, in the middle of the street. They let him go only two hours later. “There have always been terror attacks and difficult days,” Omar says. “But what’s happening today is inconceivable. I’m not going back until things calm down. All my friends feel the same – fear rules.”

Khaled, a resident of the eastern Sharon who installs smart home systems, feels the change in attitude toward Arabs firsthand. “I came to the house where the installation was taking place, and the woman wouldn’t open the door,” he says. “Her daughter came out and said she doesn’t want to talk to Arabs. I was insulted, but continued working.”

Later that day Khaled traveled to Holon, south of Tel Aviv, to carry out another work order. “There was a crowd gathered outside the building, and people asked me who I was and what I was doing there,” he says. “When I said my name they surrounded me and cursed me. I felt threatened. I didn’t say a word until someone sane arrived and told them to leave me alone. He walked me to the car. Without that guy I don’t know how it would have ended.”  After the incident in Holon, the company suspended Khaled and since then he’s been sitting at home, unemployed.

Ibrahim, a construction worker, also stopped going to work since he was involved in a violent incident in the area of Hadera, between Tel Aviv and Haifa. He says he arrived at a construction site with the contractor in the latter’s car when four armed young men surrounded them, drew their weapons and interrogated them. “They searched our car, held us there for at least an hour, checked our identity cards. After that, they walked us to the work site,” says Ibrahim. “After half an hour a few men came and started throwing stones at us. We called the police, but when they came, they only suggested we stop working for a few days. The police escorted us out of town and since then we haven’t been back.”

Ibrahim, a father of four and the family’s sole breadwinner, has been home since then. “I’m trying to find the money to make it through the month, perhaps borrow from relatives, but I know most people are having a hard time right now,” he says. He says he’s afraid to go back to work in Jewish cities. “When they raised their weapons at us I thought the end was near. I don’t know how I can go back to work in this climate,” he says.

The increasing economic distress among the Arab public could strengthen the gray market, says lawyer Abed Jaber. “Many people will be economically harmed by this war, especially the contractors, who are the big source for the gray market, which fuels the Arab crime organizations.”

Jaber believes the war will create an even greater economic burden on the Arab community than the coronavirus crisis. “If during the coronavirus, the gray market economy spiked by hundreds of percent, then after the war it will grow even more. This will raise the bar for crime and violence.”

Rowan, an engineer, experienced violence from a totally different direction – her employer. She posted something on her personal social media account that was unrelated to the war, and was suspended from work. “I explained that it was taken out of context, that it had nothing to do with the war,” she says. “But the projects I was working on were simply frozen. They blocked me without calling me for a hearing, without hearing my side of the story. Their announcement about suspending my employment was also blatant and racist.”

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