Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Stirring up trouble

The Jewish National Front is trying to hold a provocative march in a peaceful Arab town

Seth Freedman
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 23 December 2008

"......At the same time, the fact that the town exists within Israel's borders at all is a bone of contention for those who assert "There is no such thing as an Arab village; only a Jewish village that is temporarily inhabited by Arabs". Baruch Marzel, a Kahane acolyte and one of the Jewish National Front's leaders, has for several months been embroiled in a protracted legal battle, desperately trying to get permission to lead a "Jewish Pride" march through Umm al-Fahm's narrow streets. Despite the High Court ruling in Marzel's favour, the police last week sensibly postponed the rally, citing security concerns – a decision praised by many of the locals with whom we spoke this weekend.

"Jews are welcome to visit our town whenever they want", said a man we encountered on our trek up the steep roads. "But not to come and cause trouble, like Marzel intends to do." He proudly boasted of Umm al-Fahm's track record in tolerance: "No Jew has ever been killed here" – a statistic both reassuring and regrettable that it needed to be mentioned in the first place. The figures for Arab casualties are not so impressive; the town still bears the scars of the October 2000 riots, in which 13 protesters were shot dead by Israeli forces during the outbreak of the second intifada......

Similarly, the lack of amenities and resources available to Umm al-Fahm's residents rubs salt into their collective wound, especially since they are free to travel into Israel's more salubrious cities and see how the other half live. As in Silwan and other Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem, Umm al-Fahm's streets are barely drivable, their cracked tarmac testament to the disregard with which the authorities treat their town. Industrial refuse and household waste lies uncollected by the side of the roads, covering the grass and fields alongside, and many of the communal buildings are in a sorry state of decrepitude.

The lack of planning permits handed out to the residents – a complaint common to Arab communities the length and breadth of the country – means that the town is densely packed with ramshackle structures built to accommodate the burgeoning population. The effect on Umm al-Fahm is the same as that on the bound feet of Chinese women; with no space in which to naturally expand, the neighbourhood has to distort and grow as best it can in the cramped conditions.

It wasn't always this way, as attested to by the photographic exhibition in the local art gallery-cum-history museum. Umm al-Fahm once flourished when left to its own devices, but – as various colonial rulers imposed their will on the region – the townsfolk were quickly brought to heel and shown that they were no longer the masters of their own destinies. That state of affairs has continued to the present day, with the residents well aware who really calls the shots in the wider scheme of things....."

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