A torched bicycle shop, an arrested singer: Arab-Israelis face precarious landscape during Gaza war


TAYIBE, Israel (JTA) – In the days following Hamas’ bloody invasion of Israel, singer and influencer Dalal Abu Amneh posted a Palestinian flag to social media along with the words “There is no victor but God.”

By Tuesday, the post was gone, and Abu Amneh, who is also a brain researcher, was in Israeli prison — arrested for voicing support for Hamas. The musical artist and influencer, who lives in the Arab-Israeli city of Nazareth, is one of a growing number of Arab-Israelis, also known as Palestinian-Israelis, to be arrested in recent days for appearing to support the massacre. 

“They tried to strip me of my humanity, silence my voice, and humiliate me in every way,” Abu Amneh posted on Instagram on Wednesday, writing that she was placed in solitary confinement and went on a hunger strike. “They insulted me and handcuffed my hands and feet, but they made me more proud and dignified. My voice will remain a messenger of love, defending the truth in this world.”

Meanwhile, stories have also emerged of Arab-Israelis rushing to save Jewish victims and volunteering to help the stricken communities of southern Israel in the wake of the attacks. A bicycle-shop owner in this central Arab-Israeli city of Tayibe donated 50 children’s bicycles to evacuees from the south and, days later, his shop was burned down. A crowdfunding campaign on his behalf, conducted in Hebrew and English, has since raised more than $150,000.

Indeed, the vast majority of Israel’s approximately 2 million Arab citizens don’t support the attacks. A poll conducted by the Agam Institute in Israel found that 80% of Arab-Israelis opposed Hamas’ attack, which killed more than 1,400 Israelis, while just 5% supported it, reported the publication Ynet.

Arab-Israelis say the attack, and Israel’s ongoing war with Hamas in Gaza, has placed their community in a precarious position. Many are mourning Hamas’ attack — which killed at least 15 Arab-Israelis, according to the Arab-Israeli nonprofit Mossawa — while also opposing Israel’s airstrikes on Gaza, where many have family and friends. Those strikes have killed more than 3,200 people, per the Hamas-run Health Ministry. 

“The majority are against all the casualties, it doesn’t matter which side, because we are all against the killing of innocent women, children and elderly,” said Murad, an engineer from Tayibe. “If someone says something pro-Hamas all of the Arabs are attacked as ‘They are against us!’ But if 100 or even 1,000 people are against Hamas, nobody notices.”

Murad was sitting with friends on Tuesday in the city’s Two Brothers Cafe, discussing the ongoing war over coffee. Like his friends, Murad declined to give his last name, fearful of repercussions for openly sharing his opinion. Israeli-Arab politicians have also denounced the Hamas massacre, along with the killing of civilians in Gaza. 

“We should say here and now that the murder of women and children and the elderly, and atrocities against civilians in the south, are worthy of unstinting denunciation,” Arab-Israeli lawmaker Ahmad Tibi said in a speech last week in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. “Human morality is not selective. There is no half-morality. Murder of children is murder of children.”

Previous Israeli wars in Gaza have seen friction, conflict and arrests in Arab-Israeli communities and so-called “mixed cities.” In 2021, Arab-Jewish cities in Israel saw fierce interethnic clashes before and during Israel’s conflict that year with Hamas. In 2014, the last time Israeli ground forces invaded Gaza, 1,500 Israeli-Arabs were arrested for protesting the military operation. 

Figures provided by the Israel Police say 63 people have been arrested for supporting Hamas or the massacre, and 40 Arab-Israeli students have been suspended or expelled from universities, according to the Arab-Israeli legal nonprofit Adalah

Shlomo Karhi, the Communication Minister, recently pushed for emergency legislation that would grant the police power to shut off the broadcasts and close the offices of media outlets that “significantly harm national security.” Karhi has taken aim specifically at the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network, which has a bureau in Israel and which he called a “terror-supporting station.”

“We are at war!” Karhi posted to social media on Monday along with a copy of the draft regulations. “Whoever wants can petition the Supreme Court afterward, but this station must close now!”

In light of that atmosphere, Murad said he had advised his adult son not to post anything about the conflict to social media. 

“There is no space to protest,” he said. “I told my son, who is 27 and an engineer, ‘do not say anything, not even a humanitarian message.’”

Harel Chorev-Halewa, a historian of the Middle East at Tel Aviv University, said that protests have not broken out in Arab-Israeli or mixed cities during the current conflict due to a mix of fear from what will ensue and shock from Hamas’ massacre. 

Groups that would foment unrest, Chorev-Halewa said, “know that nobody, including the security forces and the civilians, will wait around for any manifestation of force or things that we saw in May, 2021. People are openly saying, ‘If you will come to my house, if you will come to my street, I will shoot you.’”

Chorev-Halewa said Arab-Israeli repudiation of Hamas’ attack is also “a failure of Hamas’ strategy” to incite Arab-Israelis to rebel. 

That calm atmosphere is present in Tayibe, said Abed, the barista at Two Brothers. He said locals are less personally affected by the war because “more than half of Gazans are from the coastal region of Jaffa, Ashkelon, Ramle and Lod,” rather than the center of Israel. Accordingly, life is unfolding relatively normally in the city, save for nationwide school closures, which have kept Tayibe’s children at home as well. 

Arab-Israeli grievance toward the government is far from limited to the military operation in Gaza. This year, Arab-Israelis have protested a spike in murders in their communities, with more than 180 Arab citizens killed in violent incidents this year. Arab leaders and activists have long castigated the state for discriminating against Arab-Israelis in a variety of ways — from disparities in funding to policing. 

“The Israeli press always asks the Israeli-Arab, ‘What side are you on?’” Murad said. “I ask, what side are you on when they kill 200 of our sons here and no criminal is arrested?” He added that he is also worried about an eruption of violence in the West Bank, where clashes have been escalating this year and where more than 50 Palestinians have been killed since the Oct. 7 invasion.

“It cannot work like that, when you see 700 to 800 babies killed in Gaza,” Murad said. “There are children on both the Israeli and Palestinian side that are both victims.”

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