Thursday, June 13, 2013


No, it’s not THE most pressing problem in Palestine, but a couple of non-Palestine related reports that I read today “spoke to me” – and, being me, I can always tie them to life in the Occupied Territories.

The first report was about a young Hispanic boy (age 11), a US citizen, born and raised in San Antonio, TX, who was invited to sing the Star Spangled Banner at a San Antonio Spurs basketball game. [] The feedback (via Twitter) on his performance was obscene – mostly along the lines of, “Why should this Mexican be singing the Star Spangled Banner”?  and “I bet this kid isn’t even a US citizen; shouldn’t that song be reserved for real Americans?”  I understand these posts have since been deleted – no doubt out of embarrassment rather than of any sense of wrong-doing!

The second report was about an advertisement by a cereal company that utilized a bi-racial couple and their adorable daughter.  This, too, caused a lot of “flak” and was quickly re-worked to conform to more “appropriate” social mores.  (In protest, a group did its own alternative version of the ad – with a bi-racial gay couple! [] Gotta love creativity!)

And that brings me to racism in Palestine/Israel – something that didn’t escape my notice when I was living there, but was overshadowed by other issues.

My Tulkarm team (Adeline, Roland, me and Esteban)
Let’s start with Esteban, one of my Tulkarm teammates.  Esteban was 21 years old, the youngest member of EA Team 47.  He was from Peru, and it took him five hours of questioning by a number of Israeli interrogators before he was allowed in the country.  Could it possibly be because he was dark-skinned?  And, even when in Palestine, every time Esteban had to cross a checkpoint into Israel, he again got the “full treatment” by the soldiers at the checkpoints!

He wasn’t the only one.  When I was going through Ben Gurion Airport (in Tel Aviv), I noticed that dark-skinned and/or “Arabic-looking” people – particularly young men – were routinely pulled aside for additional questioning.  Coincidence?  I think not!

Segregated busses (shades of Rosa Parks!) are another example.  While I was living in Palestine, one of the Israeli bus companies started providing “separate but equal” bus service for the Palestinians and the Israeli settlers who, of course, live cheek-to-jowl with the settlements towering over the Palestinian villages.

This Palestinian man was ejected from an Israeli bus
Another story in today’s news (I read lots of news files from Middle-Eastern sources, so may read different stories than a lot of you do!) had to do with a Palestinian man who was ejected from an integrated bus (in Israel) because the driver demanded his identification – something he did not ask of any of the other passengers.  A rider on the bus protested – and contacted Ha’aretz (English language Israeli newspaper) – the bus company told the reporter covering the story that the driver had “done the right thing.” []

It should be of no surprise, then, that the Palestinian citizens of Israel are, indeed, second-class citizens in every sense of the word.  The identification cards that they carry are different from the cards carried by Jewish Israelis – and, they are indeed “second class” citizens – in education, employment, housing and every other way you can think of.

It is not only tourists and Palestinians who are victims of racism in Israel and Palestine. Jewish Israelis with dark skin, such as those from Africa, are also treated poorly.  While in Israel, our group heard stories of Ethiopian Jewish women who were sterilized without their knowledge or consent, and learned that “black” Jews had a much more difficult time obtaining citizenship than did immigrants from, say, Europe..  

Obviously, as you can see from the stories reported at the beginning of this post, we in the US are not above criticism for our racist treatment of our fellow citizens.  But, for those who would try to deny the applicability of the term “apartheid” to the present Israeli “regime,” it would be well to look to their treatment of minorities – whether they be visitors or citizens – and wonder anew at the claim that Israel is “the only Democracy in the Middle East.” 

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