Opinion |

Want Israeli Arabs to Vote? Connect Them to the Internet – and Real Life

חנין מג׳אדלי - צרובה
Hanin Majadli
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An Arab-Israeli woman casts her ballot at a polling station in the northern Arab-Israeli town of Sakhnin on January 22, 2013.
An Arab-Israeli woman casts her ballot at a polling station in the northern Arab-Israeli town of Sakhnin on January 22, 2013.Credit: AFP
חנין מג׳אדלי - צרובה
Hanin Majadli

Last Monday, a friend called me and said: “I need you to write about our plight, and I’m sure that if you check, you’ll find that it is common to all of Arab society, and maybe this is what will bring salvation. In the entire eastern side of Majd al-Krum, there is no Bezeq infrastructure. This is not something new, this is the reality, don’t be surprised.” She went on to tell me that she is in the process of opening a new coffee shop in the neighborhood, “and for two weeks I’ve been waiting for Bezeq to come hook the coffee shop up to the internet so customers will be able to come and sit and work. But what does [Bezeq] tell me now? After checking into it, we cannot come connect the coffee shop to the internet, because there is no approval for infrastructure connection in Majd al-Krum.”

Why is there no approval? “Because there are pirate connections in the city, so Bezeq decided it is not supplying infrastructure connections in the city,” she was told. My friend replied: “That’s called collective punishment. As a citizen and customer who lives in the area I can’t obtain service because of other people’s pirate connections?” The Bezeq representative blamed the local municipality, “which doesn’t want to deal with the matter of the pirate connections.”

So, why don’t Arabs vote in national elections? Because a major communications company does not supply services to a city of 20,000 people because some of them have pirate connections. And why are there pirate connections to begin with? Because there was no normal infrastructure. A vicious circle. In my family’s home in Baka al-Gharbiya the internet infrastructure is very feeble too, and fiber optic connections are just a distant dream.

A Meretz campaign poster aimed at Arab voters, earlier this year.Credit: Amir Cohen / Reuters

Last week I wrote that in order for Arab citizens to go out and vote, they need to feel that they belong – not in the Knesset, or on television, or in the newspaper, but in real life. That if they’re drowning, someone will try to save them. That they will have normal infrastructure, building permits, the ability to obtain a mortgage – all the things that Jews in this country receive by virtue of being citizens here; Jewish citizens, that is.

I was astounded by the patronizing response to my piece from many Jews who sought to convince me that there was no reason to feel a lack of belonging. They were asserting that the collective feeling of two million people is disappointing at best and “playing the victim card” at worst. Some were quick to “exploit” the moment when navy personnel located the body of drowned Umm al-Fahm resident Raid Mahamid, touting it as proof that the state fulfilled its obligation, and therefore, Arabs have a reason to vote.

It’s hard to describe the depth of the blindness and obliviousness of those who purport to “care” about Arab Israelis. They, for whom the state was founded and for whom it exists to serve, deny our feeling of not belonging. Rather than try to understand why we feel this way, rather than try to put themselves in our place – they convince themselves that the feeling is not right, that it is not justified. Like lawyers trying to prove a point, regardless of the reality.

In order to win in their imaginary courtroom, they never fail to cite “Israeli democracy,” which we all know is in danger because of the likes of Itamar Ben-Gvir, Bezalel Smotrich and Benjamin Netanyahu. They don’t understand that Ben-Gvir, Smotrich and Netanyahu – with all their bells and whistles – don’t bother us the way that they bother them. Get this into your heads: Our real nightmares have nothing to do with “the state’s character”; our nightmares are much more mundane – like internet, like infrastructure, like a major corporation that deliberately ignores us.

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