The recent incidents in Acre appeared to be spontaneous acts of racism and a threat to the “coexistence” between Arabs and Jews in the city. But that is only if we take seriously the idealist notion of “coexistence” that some said prevailed in Acre. If not, we are left with a reality where two peoples live in the same jurisdiction but where the minority, the Arabs, are discriminated against in all areas — their rights, services, education, and development.
The majority Jewish population also suffers poverty and unemployment but this majority sees the conflict against the backdrop of religion and takes its anger out on the Arab community rather than the state. It does not see the problem as a matter of methodical oppression.
Though Acre is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage City, some want to change its history and heritage. Acre is one of five mixed cities in Israel. Thirty percent of her population are Arab and live in different parts of the city. Most of these are of low socio-economic status, and those who live in the old city suffer poor infrastructure in everything from sewage to telephone lines. The signs of discrimination are quite obvious.
Until a few years ago, there was no special tension between Arabs and Jews. But in 2005 settlers and fanatic Jews were purposefully brought to Acre in order to maintain the demographic majority and enhance efforts to Judaize the city, efforts supported by the Jewish Agency and the municipality of Acre.
The violent racial attacks on the Arabs in Acre and the religious coercion practiced on Yom Kippur night find their moral legitimacy in this plan to Judaize Acre, mainly the old city within the walls. This plan seeks to leave no sign of Palestinian, Arab, or Islamic historical heritage or physical presence. The economic aspect of this plan is to open up the old city to investment that is restricted to Jewish and/or foreign capital and turn the city into a soulless money-making tourist site.
Discrimination against Arab citizens in infrastructure, development, and budget allocations is not new, but the plan to Judaize Acre has included a consistent neglect of the Arab population’s needs and demands, causing more poverty, greater oppression, more rage and despair — all this to help convince the Arab population to leave the old city.
The responsibility to preserve Acre, its people and soul, falls upon all who respect and care for their heritage. The attempt to evacuate the old city of Arabs is nothing more than a blatant act of ethnic cleansing.
In order to speak of coexistence, we need to speak of existence first. There can be no “co” when one side oppresses the other by neglecting its rights and needs and attempts to distort its identity and roots.
Perceptions of coexistence need to be deconstructed. Coexistence and the creation of a mutual vision are a process for the citizens of Acre and Israel — not yet a reality. It is a process in which the rights and demands of the Arab citizens need to be answered and fulfilled so that mutual interests may build mutual understanding. The process of coexistence is a struggle that all sane people on both sides — that is, those who realize that, in order to reach this aspiration, Israel needs to recognize its historical misdeeds against the Palestinian people and the ongoing oppression of its Palestinian citizens — need to engage in.
The planting of fanatic elements in Acre over the last few years has raised many questions for Arabs and Jews. Existence side-by-side requires an immediate end to the plan to Judaize Acre and international intervention to preserve the old city. The way to rebuild a mutual existence in Acre and lay the cornerstone for the aspired coexistence is to thoroughly tackle issues like unemployment and poverty, education, and services and to commerce, at the same time, building a genuine dialogue between Arab and Jewish citizens based on historical and political reconciliation.
Since my communism is ever optimistic, I know oppression never lasts. Coexistence, I say as a Palestinian, is the simple human comprehension that we cannot control what history wrought, but we are able to change our present and future.
Reem Hazzan, a sociologist, is a member of the Communist Party of Israel, a member of the national leadership of The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash), and a candidate in the next Acre municipal elections.