Palestinian-American comedian Aron Kader and Jewish-Israeli actress/philanthropist Naomi Ackerman shed some light on what you may have missed in the latest episode of "Arab Labor."
In this episode, Amjad joins the civil guard in order to protect the neighborhood from a series of break-ins.
The Civil Guard was established in Israel on July 10, 1974 when a group of civilians volunteered to do night patrols in neighborhoods near the border that were exposed to terror attacks. This came right after the Ma'alot massacre of May 15, 1974 that involved a two-day hostage situation that ended in the deaths of more than 25 of the 115 hostages.
Later, the guard's focus shifted from counter-terror patrols to daily police work, such as fighting crime and neighborhood violence. As of today, the Civil Guard is a division in the police and community branch of the Israel Police.
The police department provides weapons, equipment, training, and officers who command local Civil Guard bases (each community has one or more bases). Although the Civil Guard is operated by the police, its manpower consists mainly of civilian volunteers. Members are trained to provide the initial response to a security situation until the police arrive.
It's turned into a local volunteer patrol in the last decade. There is something very comforting about knowing that a person from your neighborhood is watching out for you when you're out of town or coming home late. Being s good neighbors is an important Jewish value and one of the beauties of Israeli life. Israelis place great focus on peoplehood and community. This manifests itself in open houses, neighbors feeding each other an abundance of food, and an unwritten law of taking care of one another.
You serve in the civil guard (usually when you have a family) -- in addition and with no connection to military reserve -- not because it's mandatory, but because it's the right thing to do.
Most Civil Guard volunteers are armed with M1 carbines and personal handguns (if the member has a civilian gun license). The carbine guns are old and frankly would cause more damage if used to hit someone on the head than if fired. It's ironic that in a country where everyone has served in the army and knows how to use an Uzi, M16, or other more modern weapon, you need to undergo training to use this gun. You must sign in to take it and sign it in to return it.
The fact that this inferior gun makes Amjad trigger-happy makes this episode even funnier. When given the weapon, Amjad gets drunk with power and acts like the sheriff in the Wild West. Or in this case, like the Israeli soldiers at checkpoints. Because Amjad is an Arab, him having a gun, albeit a useless one, frightens everyone.
Naomi Ackerman is a Jewish-Israeli American. She is the founder and executive director of The Advot Project -- a non-profit organization that uses theater for transformation with incarcerated youth. Naomi draws upon her vast experience as an actress in theater, musicals, films, and television to develop programs that promote peace, change, and encourage self-empowerment.
Amjad joins the civil guard (or neighborhood watch) against his and the tenants' better judgment. Yoske, the old leader of the group, is especially hesitant as his wife's biggest fear seems to be an Arab with a gun.
Israel mandates military service so almost every Israeli citizen is trained to use a weapon while Arabs, including Amjad, are not. Amjad is timid in the beginning, but soon becomes drunk with the authority of having a gun and becomes addicted to his Tuesday night patrol. He slowly starts to abuse his power and begins to imagine threats everywhere.
This is apparent in one scene when a girl in the community approaches Amjad to get rid of "Arab thugs" that are lurking around the area. The threat is more perceived than real and the hooligans are just Arab teenagers hanging around some nearby steps.
Yoske's wife, and her fear of Arabs with guns, is funny to me because of the history of Palestinian resistance being carried out with rocks and slingshots. Part of the Oslo Accords in 1993 allowed Palestinians to have armed security forces for the first time. They were given the responsibility to police their own areas, which was a big step for Palestinians.
For years Israeli forces were the only police and were subject to resistance, fights, and clashes that arose as a result of them being seen as occupiers. Israel thought if Palestinians could police themselves, it would keep the peace and eventually build trust through mutual security interest.
One of Israelis' biggest fears concerning the Oslo agreements was that allowing Arabs to carry guns would create more problems; they feared that Arabs would turn the guns on Israelis. Of course, this is not a totally unfounded fear and many would be cautious of giving firearms to those that have lived their entire lives under oppression and occupation. The very sad irony of the Oslo Peace Plans was that after an agreement was made, a Jewish extremist assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, eventually putting an end to the peace plans.
In the end, Amjad becomes a threat and turns out to be a menace to the neighborhood by being aggressive with his newfound authority. He illustrates that power can corrupt and when your job is to look for threats, you can usually find one, unless you're the threat.
Aron Kader is a Palestinian-American comedian and founding member of The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour that debuted on Comedy Central in 2007. He performs regularly in Hollywood at his home club, The World Famous Comedy Store.
Click here to watch the full episode, and Kader and Ackerman recapping the ep.