August 11, 2017

It’s not yet clear that the commotions surrounding the Temple Mount and the incident in Amman are behind us. An optimist’s view is that two weeks of demonstrations, nastiness from the pinnacle of the Jordanian government as well as the Palestine National Authority, a few deaths and perhaps a couple of hundred injuries were nothing more than blips on a troubled history, now seemingly back to what’s been the normal range of manageable tensions. Those few days also invite some comparisons with minorities elsewhere, and especially African Americans.

The histories of African Americans and Arabs living under the dominance of Israel differ in important details. Israeli Arabs and Palestinians have resisted comparison with African Americans, occasionally with comments that have a taste of racism. The comparison is also confused by the role of Islam in the Middle East. 

With all the reservations that are appropriate, it appears that Israeli relations with its minority and nearby Palestinians aren’t all that different from what prevails in the country that labels itself the leading example of a pluralistic democracy. Both clusters of minorities are diverse. 

The most recent 60 years of African American history have witnessed significant progress under the headings of integration and affirmative action. Not only has one African American family reached the White House, but there are numerous African Americans in the upper levels of the economy and society. Yet there remains a substantial black underclass, with hopeless lives in ghettos, violence, drugs, families without fathers, and incarceration. 

Thomas Hobbes’ comment about life being nasty, brutish, and short may have come from his knowledge about the lesser places in 17th century Britain, but it is also appropriate for inner city neighborhoods of the United States.

Israeli Arabs and Palestinians are divided by differences in support, tolerance, or fierce opposition to anything identified with Israel and Jews, as well as being divided ethnically/culturally/religiously into the clusters of Druze, Muslims, Christian, and Bedouin. Each of those groups are largely or almost completely separate in their choice of marriage partners, as well as tending to reside in their own villages or neighborhoods. There are further distinctions between Palestinians of the West Bank and those of Gaza, between those two and Israeli Arabs, with the Arabs of East Jerusalem having their own history and distinctive traits. 

Both African Americans and Israeli Arabs/Palestinians are significantly more violent than majority White or Jewish communities. Most, but not all of the violence is internal, i.e., black on Black or Arab on Arab. 

The threat of violence from minority to dominant populations is similar. The annual incidence of Blacks killing Whites in the US is about the same as the annual incidence of Israeli deaths attributed to Arab/Palestinian terror. Calculations come from FBI reports on murder in the US and Israeli statistics on deaths from terror, both calculated as percentages of total populations.

African Americans and Israeli Arabs claim to suffer from discrimination and relative deprivation.

Generalized measures of their social conditions are family incomes and longevity (life expectancy) relative to majority populations. While the statistics available differ from one country to another, they indicate that African American and Israeli Arab family incomes are about 60 percent of White and Jewish family incomes. On life expectancy, minorities do not live as long, and arguably are less healthy than majority populations. However, Israeli Arabs do relatively better than African Americans relative to majority populations, with Arab females living even longer than White American females.

Among the distinctive traits in Israeli Arab and Palestinian families are killings for the sake of honor. The victims include young girls caught looking at the wrong young man, as well as girls and women suspected of more overt sexual misdeeds. Along with being outside western norms, the practice frees Arabs from one of the problems of African American society, i.e., many children without fathers who begin life with dire chances. Israeli statistics show a number of never married Jewish women with children, but no such women in the Arab sector.

Both societies have been marked by occasional minority uprisings. Black destruction of property in their ghettos is not all that different from what the Israeli military has done in response to violence from West Bank or Gazan Palestinians.

One of the latest incidents of Arab violence resembles a chronic US problem. Arabs in normally peaceful Jaffa rioted for several hours this past weekend (after the problems with Jordan and the Temple Mount seemed to be resolved) in response to the police killing of an Arab fleeing arrest. 

Even if we recognize legitimate grievances of African Americans, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, at least some of their rioting seems to have been rioting for its own sake, with deaths, injuries, and property destruction fueled by enthusiasm.

An insightful comment came from one of the Arabs participating in a panel discussion on Israeli TV. He said that the vast majority of young people demonstrating, throwing stones, and chanting for the sake of Islam and in defense of al Aqsa were people who seldom if ever prayed, and may never had visited the mosque on the Temple Mount.

That recent demonstrations continued for a day after Palestinian and Muslim religious authorities urged a renewal of calm adds to the impression that much of the commotion was done for the sake of running wild and challenging authority.

Among the sharp differences between the two countries’ minority-majority relations has been the willingness of African American political leaders to play by the rules of the political game, and trade political support for personal and community benefits. African Americans have reached high office in federal and state governments, and city halls. One may argue as to whether Barack Obama qualifies as an “African American” or if he or other individuals did enough to advance the community. 

Palestinians and Israeli Arab politicians have in most cases clung to the status of angry outsiders. Individual Israeli Arabs (including Druze) have reached high positions in government, the military, police, and courts. However, Knesset Members affiliated with political parties that most Arabs support limit their role to chronic criticism of governments, and the Arab one-third of Jerusalem’s population has almost entirely refrained from voting in municipal elections.

In both countries the enmity between minority and majority populations runs deep, and is vulnerable to occasional crises provoked by incidents that begin as individual or local, but have the potential for igniting tensions.

Both countries’ majority-minority relations have also proven to be manageable, with routines for dealing with outbursts and getting back to acceptable, if tense, levels of accommodation.

Yet one only has to note what comes from Black Lives Matter or the chants of Muslim demonstrators claiming the injustice of “occupation” or alleged actions against al Aqsa, to realize that the potential for further crises and bloodshed are not far under the surface.

Comments welcome. Irashark@gmail.com


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