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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Will the earth continue to shake?

Will the earth continue to shake?
By Avraham Tal
A few days after the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee and the Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Palestinian Citizens of Israel presented their "visions" of the future of Israel's Arab minority, Channel 1 screened Julie Gal's documentary "October's Cry" (in Hebrew, "In October the Earth Shook"), which presents the events of October 2000 from the point of view of the family of one of those killed, Asil Asala.
Many perceive the events of that October as a catalyst, if not a major factor, in the tendency of Arab organizations to formulate a new position for the Arab population as a unique national minority, with autonomy in various areas, in the context of a binational state. This tendency reverberates in the film as well, in the words of Hassan Asala, Asil's father, among others: "I come to transmit a message to the Jewish people, that on October 2, all the rules were broken, and they must begin to think how to accept us as a unique national minority."
The film, which brings home the tragedy of that October by means of pictures and sound describes the frustration of the Asala family, whose mourning was intensified because none of the policemen who helped put down the riots stood trial. As we know, the Or Commission recommended investigating the deaths of at least five of those killed in the riots, but the Justice Ministry's Police Investigations Department (PID) did not find sufficient evidence for bringing even a single policeman to trial.
It is hard to watch the film, and not only because it describes a genuine tragedy. It's also hard to watch because it provokes thoughts of other families who know similar suffering; it is hard to watch because it does not present the background of the riots, with the impression being created that Israeli Arabs were joining the Al-Aqsa intifada that had just begun; and it is particularly hard to hear Hassan Asala speak about his struggle to bring those responsible for the killing to judgment: "We will not give up and will continue until we can receive justice. If not the murderers, then their children will bear the responsibility. Those who claim that this is their country must understand that today there is a large opening for living together. In the future, I don't know what will happen. I don't want to think about it." On the one hand, an opening for living together; on the other hand, blaming the sons for the sins of the fathers, and, above all, frightening uncertainty regarding the future.
After prolonged efforts, the state reached a compromise agreement with 11 of the 13 families - not including the Asalas - regarding compensation, an agreement given the validity of a court decision. The state did not assume legal responsibility for the deaths, but agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of shekels to each family, beyond the letter of the law.
The agreement said: "All the parties regret the tragic events of October 2000, the loss of life and the injuries to civilians and to members of the security services that occurred during the course of the events." (The agreement did not prevent the families from continuing the struggle to bring those responsible for the killing to trial.) But this small step toward reconciliation was nipped in the bud: A few days later, under pressure from those around them, the families changed their minds about accepting compensation.
The State Prosecutor's Office is continuing to prepare an appeal against the PID decision to close the files on the policemen allegedly involved, and even added to the material in the decisive report by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. However, the organization refused to join in preparation of the appeal due to lack of confidence in the prosecutor's office. And what if the investigation, as fair as it may be, does not result, six years after the events, in sufficient evidence to bring any of the policemen to trial?
The zealousness with which those involved are conducting the struggle, like the desire to fulfill the "visions" presented by the Israeli Arab organizations, reinforce a fear the earth will continue to shake. We can only hold on to the hope that the mass of Arab citizens will understand the future does not lie in undermining the institutions and symbols of the state, but in realizing their right to civic equality without discrimination and without being shortchanged.

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