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Bombed Arab Israelis face conflict of identity

[Israel] An Arab Israeli suffers from shrapnel wounds following Hezbollah attacks in Haifa. [Date picture taken: 08/10/2006]
An Arab-Israeli suffers from shrapnel wounds following Hezbollah attacks in Haifa (Tom Spender/IRIN)

Gabi, an Arab Israeli, has shrapnel from a Hezbollah rocket lodged in his back. “I can feel the metal inside,” said the 50-year-old, displaying wounds down the right side of his body as he lay in a hospital bed.

On 6 August, he was walking to his friend’s flat in Wadi Nisnas, an Arabic area of Haifa, when a Hezbollah rocket reduced the building to rubble.

“I heard a massive boom and I didn’t have enough time to get into the house, so I fell to the ground next to a car,” Gabi said. “There was smoke and the car I was next to was on fire. I wanted to run but I couldn’t see anything.”

The current conflict began after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers on 12 July. In response, Israel launched a military offensive that has focused largely on the south of Lebanon, from where Hezbollah has been firing rockets into northern Israel.

Haifa, 30km south of Israel’s border with Lebanon, is Israel’s third-biggest city with 268,000 inhabitants, and one of the targets of Hezbollah’s rockets.

Gabi and his friend survived the rocket attack, but two Arab Israelis sitting in the garden of the house next door were killed. Their deaths took the number of Arab Israeli dead to 15 out of a total of 39 Israeli civilians killed in Hezbollah rocket attacks, according the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Hasan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, expressed concern over these figures in a televised speech on 9 August, and urged Arab Israelis to leave Haifa.

"I have a special message to the Arabs of Haifa in particular,” Nasrallah said. “I would like to say that we feel sad and will continue to feel sad for your martyrs and your wounded. I call on you to leave this city.

"Your presence there and what you have experienced in the past phase [of the conflict] have made us hesitate to attack this city at a time when the southern suburb [of Beirut] is being bombed regardless of whether Haifa is [bombed] or not," he said.

Haifa has a reputation within Israel for being a peaceful city where Arabs and Jews live happily side by side, according to Dr Moti Peri, director of the Beit Hagefen Arab Jewish Centre, situated just yards from where the rocket exploded.

Gabi agreed. “In Haifa we all mix together, and the rocket will not change that. There will always be extremists on both sides, but here we have friendship.”

Yet the conflict has again made some Jewish Israelis wonder whether the loyalties of Arab citizens lie with Israel or with its enemies. About 15 percent of Israel’s citizens are Arab.

“I hope Arab-Israelis will see that we are all in the same situation and be more pro-Israeli,” said Esther, a social worker at Gabi’s bedside in Rambam Hospital. She was at the hospital offering counselling to victims of the attacks.

Wadi Nisnas is a densely populated part of Haifa. Its jumble of old stone houses contrasts with the newer concrete buildings in the rest of Haifa. The narrow streets are home to bustling vegetable and fish stalls, while Arab and Jewish artists have been commissioned to paint murals on the walls.

The Hezbollah rocket could not have fallen in a more symbolic place, 32-year-old Christian Arab engineer Milad Kanoura said. “We hold coexistence walks here – Muslims, Arabs and Jews together,” he told IRIN.

The walks wind through Wadi Nisnas, showing tourists the city’s mixed heritage. On religious festivals, Jewish and Arab residents also walk and celebrate together, he said.

And now the rockets are hurting both Jews and Arabs, Kanoura said. “The bombs are not smart. They do not automatically seek out Jewish people.” Jewish Israelis do not understand that Arab Israelis have feelings for the victims on both sides of the conflict, he said.

“We see both sides are getting hurt, not just one side,” Kanoura said. “We also feel the pain of the Lebanese – that’s the difference between us [and Jewish Israelis]. I don’t support Hezbollah but I have relatives in Lebanon and I care about them. They are in trouble too. So we feel a conflict inside.”

Painter and decorator Samara Elie, 35, thinks Israel is making a mistake with this war. “It will just create new Hezbollah supporters. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t like Hezbollah and I think it is a terrorist organisation. But the way to deal with them is to sit down and talk.”

But Elie also said neighbouring Arab countries needed to wake up to the reality of Israel’s existence.

“Israel is here whether we want it or not,” he said. “Arab Israelis can see this - we were born here - but some Arab countries can’t accept it. They should accept reality and start to make something good. In this war no one wins, only the people who sell the bombs.”

TS/LS/ED/MW


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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