The Guardian erases Arab citizens of Israel

A Guardian article by photojournalist Manal Massalha (“Women behind the lens: ‘I find solace in the sea. I feel awash with relief’”, Aug. 2) suggests that the woman in the photo, seen swimming in the Mediterranean, is “Palestinian”.

She’s actually an Arab citizen of Israel, the significance of which we’ll soon explain.

But, first, here’s how the article begins:

This image is of a woman called Ifaf in the shallow waters of the Mediterranean. She can’t swim and fears deep water, but the sea is where she wants to be when feeling overwhelmed. It’s her refuge from life’s pressures.

“The second I see the sea I feel awash with a great sense of relief. Submerging myself washes away anything that bothers me. Almost instantly. The sea is where I find solace. I feel at one with it.

She drives there from her home town, about 14 miles away. I saw her submerging herself one hot August day last year and was intrigued. Was it an act of cleansing? Healing? Was she hot and bothered?

Now in her early 60s, the mother of five was always motivated and independent.  She had big career dreams. She wanted to join the medical profession.  As a Palestinian her opportunities were limited.

So, at this point in the article, readers are told that Ifaf’s dreams to join the medical profession were dashed because she’s a “Palestinian”.

Later, however, it becomes clear that she’s not a Palestinian.

At secondary school, the subject she wanted to specialise in wasn’t available so she decided to study in the neighbouring Jewish town where learning opportunities were wider. She was one of the first female Palestinian students to join the Hebrew school. On graduating at 18, she worked in a textile factory in Tel Aviv to support her family and fund further studies.

So, Ifaf appears to be an Arab Israeli, which matters because, as noted above, we were told that her “dreams to join the medical profession were dashed because she’s a ‘Palestinian’. 

The fact is that, as an Arab Israeli, there aren’t many impediments to her training and being employed in Israel’s healthcare industry.  As a religious Muslim woman, she likely faces obstacles due to the conservative culture she lives in, but not because she’s an Arab in the Jewish state.  In fact, quite the opposite is true. Arab citizens’ who work in that industry are over-represented based on their percentage of the population.

As reported in Haaretz and other Israeli news outlets, data in 2021 from Israel’s Health Ministry showed that Arabs and Druze in Israel, who make up about 20% of the country’s population, “constitute almost half (46 percent) of recipients of medical licenses; half of the new nurses, male and female (50 percent, as compared with just 9 percent in 2000); and more than half the dentists (53 percent) and pharmacists (57 percent).”

Tellingly, on the Guardian contributor’s Instagram page, she uses the term “Palestinian village” to refer to what is clearly an Arab city in Israel.

So, the article deceived readers in two ways: First, by eliding Ifaf’s Israeli citizenship in calling her a “Palestinian”.  (In fact, a small minority of Israel’s Arab population identifies as “Palestinian”.) Second, by falsely suggesting that she faced professional obstacles due to Israeli racism.

Once again, we see how, in the contest between the desired political narrative about Israel and the nuanced truth, the former wins nearly every time.

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