Dizengoff racism campaign – September 2009

Dizengoff racism campaign – September 2009
December 3, 2009 sadaka reut

Dizengoff racism campaign 2An incident occurred on August 3rd at the Lev Cinema in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center; four young Palestinian Muslim women (15-year old Maram, 16-year old Safa, 19-year old Lina, and 21-year old Islam) from the Palestinian village Jat were visiting their aunt in Tel Aviv. Along with their two younger cousins, Mai and Adam, they set out to see the new Harry Potter film which was showing in the center. As they approached the security check, the guards asked them to show ID. Without hesitation, and a bit confused, the girls complied, but they were then denied entrance into the mall. The girls returned to their aunt’s, and together with her they came back to the center asking why the guards would not let them in. The security guard explained that it was because the girls were wearing warm clothes in summer (the traditional hijab), making them suspicious. The guards ensured that their efforts were for the safety of all. By this time, a crowd had gathered at the entrance and people got involved: “What’s the problem, they’re only girls?” one by passer claimed, and was answered: “Girls? Our ‘cousins’ aren’t as innocent as you think. Don’t you realize it’s for our own good? Our security… The Center has seen suicide attacks before.”

Overwhelmed and completely surprised by the incident, especially since they have frequented the Dizengoff Center many times before, the girls and their aunt were approached by Channel 2 to recount their story. The next day, they returned with the camera crew in order to relive the incident; this caused the center’s general manager to appear. When challenged by the aunt about whether Orthodox Jews who wear a lot of clothing in summer are suspected, the manager felt pressured and defensive – he invited the girls inside to talk. Inside, the girls could feel the manager’s blatant prejudices as he bragged about having an Arab friend from Jat, and what’s her name?…trying to remember the Arab woman who cleans at the center and also wears traditional clothing.

The conversation ended with the manager stating: “Dizengoff Center is the only mall in Tel Aviv that lets in dogs, cats, freaks… Besides, the center lets in gays and lesbians, and minorities, and yes, yes, you’ll be surprised – even Arabs.” To see the full article written by the aunt herself, click here.

This extremely offensive comment sparked a campaign headed by Sadaka’s group of young adults in the “Community in Action” project and became their central slogan. By the end of the same week, they created pamphlets with pictures of a freak, gay, dog, and Muslim all crossed out with thick black lines, which on the other side had information describing the incident. The pamphlet also urged people to boycott the Dizengoff Center for blatantly discriminating against Arab customers.Dizengoff - September 2009

Once the pamphlets were cut and ready, we set out on a mission to distribute them around Dizengoff Center’s various entrances. We split into groups of two and passed out hundreds of pamphlets. Most people took our fliers and read them, then either tossed them aside or began to discuss the incident with friends. There were some harsh reactions, for example with a soldier who pestered me and several of the others; he said he had a problem with our pamphlet and that the girls could just have been scheming to blow up the center.

I understood the soldier’s concern but tried to explain to him that most likely than not; these young teens, like any others, just wanted to see a movie. It is attitudes such as the soldier’s cynicism and disrespect that continues to disturb efforts for real social change. Thus, it is important that people become more aware and exposed to these realities of discrimination and racism that occur on a daily basis.

In the end, we received some more negative responses as well as some positive ones of people in support of our efforts.

After a tiring two and a half hours of standing and talking with people, we finished passing out all the fliers. Sure, many people will read those fliers and think; I still want to shop at the Dizengoff Center. However, what is most important is not whether people continue to shop there or not, but rather exposing this incident of discrimination against Arabs, in a city like Tel Aviv which is primarily Jewish. We live in a segregated society, where such incidents are shielded from the general public eye. Thus, this action was informative and crucial in today’s political and social climate.

Dizengoff racism campaign 1Orna Akad, the girls’ aunt, poignantly described the incident’s implications as ‘little things’ – there is no such thing. These little things lead to questionable administrative detentions, they are the things that eventually bring about trigger-happy armed personnel and the murder of innocent people, and all in the name of ‘state security’. In her opinion, there is no such thing as a ‘present-absentee/absent-present’: “We are all of us present. We all have faces and we do not want to remember, nor do we want to be constantly reminded that we do not really belong. Not really.”

These girls are the faces of the 20% Palestinian minority who are constantly being reminded they don’t belong, who are unrepresented and discriminated against in Israeli society, making the action to expose this ‘little’ racist incident even more imperative. As Orna so perfectly explained, these ‘little things’, acts of daily discrimination, are just small microcosms of the larger social and political issues of militarization and discriminatory security efforts carried out by Israeli institutions and individuals.