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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Israel’s Black Panthers Remembered

Shortly after Israel’s victory in the War of Independence, the Jewish state took in a mass exodus of Jews from Arab lands, first in 1949, and then again in 1956.
Jews from Arab lands, called Mizrahim, came to Israel not because they were ardent Zionists, but because their host Arab countries, angered by the establishment of the State of Israel, had turned against them.
When the Mizrahim arrived in Israel, they harbored a deep sense of grievance towards European Zionists, which was compounded by their settlement in Israel’s least developed neighborhoods — mostly the ones vacated by Arabs after the war — and their paltry job options. Mizrahi children were put in trade schools rather than on a college degree track, which meant they ended up becoming mechanics, plumbers, hairdressers and the like, prolonging their stay in poverty. Something, they felt, had to change.

By the 1970s, Mizrahim made up more than half of Israel’s population, but lacking the ability to change things from within its institutions, then as now dominated by Ashkenazi Jews, thousands took to the streets.
1971, a Mizrahi group called the Black Panthers, modeled on the black movement in American, began what many today regard as the beginning of Mizrahi civil rights.
“They decided not to play by the rules anymore,” said Sami Shalom Chetrit, a professor at Queens College and co-director of film about the Israeli Black Panthers,
Chetrit’s film, titled “The Black Panthers (in Israel) Speak,” co-directed with Eli Hamo, first aired in Israel in 2002 and shed light on a brief chapter in the country’s history that many feel has been deliberately ignored.more

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