Israel is proving to the world that it is most certainly not a state of all its citizens.
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By Yair Svorai
Palestinians across Israel, the West Bank and Gaza are banding together in a general strike on October 1, in protest of Israel’s Jewish Nation-State Law and President Donald Trump’s ‘deal of the century.’
Israel’s Palestinian citizens recently committed a serious crime, a clear case of democracy-terrorism designed to damage the very foundations of the only Jewish state in the Middle East: Their elected representatives dared bring Israel’s new Nation-State Law to the attention of the United Nations.
The recently enacted law formalizes what has been the reality for Israel’s Palestinian citizens all along: a fundamental inequality – legal and institutional – that separates the Arab population, about a fifth of the citizenry, from the Jewish majority. Joint List Knesset member Aida Touma-Sliman summed up the situation:
“We went to the United Nations to protest the law that defines us, Palestinian citizens of Israel, as second-class citizens, legitimizes the occupation and perpetuates Israel’s place in the dubious company of ethnocentric, discriminatory and exclusionist countries.”
And the response in Israel? Predictably, the reactions ranged from demands for an investigation of the Arab representatives by the Knesset’s Ethics Committee – as if there is any measure of ethics left in a parliament that legislates race laws – to calls for their expulsion from the parliament, the outlawing of all Arab representation, and physical expulsion to Gaza.
Israeli Jews of a certain age may recall the popular “go to Gaza” curse, sometimes preceded by the observation that “the only good Arab is a dead Arab”. If the Arabs could not be killed, so the thinking went, at least there should be the consolation of sending them to Gaza, in a sort of a mini-transfer. Once there, Israelis reserved for themselves the right to teach the Palestinians a lesson should they get too uppity, as the people of Gaza have found in recent months. As they have protested Israel’s 11-year blockade on the tiny coastal enclave, the snipers of the most moral army have had their index fingers ready on the trigger.
Israeli government ministers understand that it is time to put the Arabs in their proper place. Transport minister Yisrael Katz suggested that the members of the Joint List move “to represent Gaza, or one of our other neighboring ‘democracies’.” Housing minister Yoav Galant argued:
“There is no room in the Knesset for those who act against Israel’s interests. The time has come for the judicial system to permit outlawing these dangerous extremists and removing them from the Knesset.”
Not to be outdone, tourism minister Yariv Levin proclaimed: “In any normal country there’s one definition for [their actions] – treason. I hope the judicial system tries them.” He must have known that calling someone a “traitor” in Israel is akin to declaring hunting season on them.
Separately or not, ongoing violent attacks on Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and inside Israel have been on the rise.
For over a decade, Israel’s repeated, devastating attacks on the Gaza Strip, coupled with a prolonged siege, have had profound consequences. Death and destruction are evident everywhere: key infrastructure – roads, electrical systems, water and sewer – has collapsed; housing stock is destroyed; essential public health facilities are failing; children are malnourished; the economy is in dire straits and employment opportunities non-existent for most.
Harvard researcher Sara Roy wrote last year: “Gaza is in a state of humanitarian shock, due primarily to Israel’s blockade, supported by the US, the EU and Egypt and now entering its 11th year.” As Roy reported, the question repeated again and again by Gazans was: “What do the Israelis want?” She wondered: “Why is Gaza being punished in so heartless a manner, and what does Israel truly hope to gain by it?”
With Israel’s noose set tightly around Gaza’s neck, and the prospects for an end to the 51-year-long occupation now gone, a popular uprising brought about large weekly demonstrations this past spring and summer along the fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel.
Over several months, Israeli military snipers have “picked off” unarmed demonstrators as targets. The result: over 160 lives terminated and thousands of others afflicted with life-long injuries, among them many children, now doomed to survive with missing limbs, paralysis and damaged organs.
These assaults reflected a purposeful Israeli policy: the selection of ammunition – “butterfly bullets” – designed to maximize bodily damage. Israel knows only too well that Gaza’s medical infrastructure is incapable of properly repairing such serious injuries – hence the large number of amputations.
The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has declared: “Israel is treating the protest in Gaza as it has handled similar events in the past: Broad, unlawful use of lethal force at a heavy price to lives, baseless legal interpretations issued to justify this policy, and whitewashing the crimes within days.”
After the recent massacres of unarmed civilians, Roy warned: “Gaza will not disappear. It will not ‘sink into the sea’, as the late Yitzhak Rabin once wished it would. Gaza is a human rights catastrophe and an ecologic disaster.”
On the frontiers of the Wild West Bank, meanwhile, it is business as usual: the occupation is thriving, and expanding, intently and methodically. Recent legal decisions have empowered the Israeli government to push the boundaries yet further.
The failure of the Khan al-Ahmar residents’ petition in Israel’s High Court of Justice against the demolition of their village is illustrative. According to Israel’s Haaretz editorial:
“The argument that the settlement enterprise is the act of individuals has been proven groundless. It is the act of a state that breaks international law, which prohibits an occupying state to settle its citizens in the occupied area.”
The editorial writers make the further point that Israel’s self-serving legal rationalizations are being exposed for what they are:
“The legal viewpoint, that the Jewish settlement on ‘state’s lands’ in the territories is temporary, and therefore legal as far as international law is concerned, has been smashed on the rock of reality and Israel’s policy. Nothing is more permanent than this false transience.”
In another case, the Jerusalem District Court recently ruled that an outpost settlement – these are viewed as illegal even according to Israeli law – could be “legalized” retroactively. Haaretz reported that the court accepted in “a precedent-setting ruling” the claim of the outpost’s residents that “transactions conducted in good faith under certain conditions are considered valid – even if they have certain legal faults”. The conspiracy to steal Palestinian land over many decades and in violation of international law was dismissed as similar to buying “stolen goods” in error.
In parallel, Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din reported on a “price tag” pre-Holiday Special: Ten attacks by settlers in ten days, in the first two weeks of Elul, the month of mercy that precedes the Jewish High Holidays. They includedthrowing rocks at Palestinian cars and homes, burning a tractor, uprooting more than 200 olive trees, destroying a water well, puncturing car tires, smashing windshields and scrawling hateful graffiti, as well as carrying out extremelyviolent attacks on individuals.
In addition, those perpetrating crimes against Palestinians have shown that they are equally capable of hurting Jews. They recently attacked Jewish activists, members of Ta’ayush, who were trying to protect the Palestinian population in the West Bank – in place of an occupation army that has forgotten that is one of its duties.
The true war criminals, however, those holding ultimate responsibility for such actions, are the members of all Israel’s governments and all its military commanders. According to international law, they are required to protect the occupied population, but instead they have done the exact opposite: They have overseen a process of ethnic cleansing whose purpose is to minimize Palestinian presence in the West Bank, the small territory remaining of the Palestinians’ original homeland.
Violence against Israel’s Palestinian citizens has escalated too. A Haaretz editorial from last spring noted:
“Over the weekend there was a demonstration in Haifa protesting the killings along the Gaza border fence. The violent suppression of this protest and the detention of 21 demonstrators, including Jafar Farah, the director of the Mossawa Center that advocates for Israeli Arabs’ rights, are a further sign of the growing restrictions on the democratic space available to this community.”
While in police custody, Farah’s knee was broken.
More recently, three Palestinian citizens of Israel were attacked by eight Israeli Jews armed with knives and chains on Haifa’s Kiryat Haim neighborhood beach. The gang was reportedly heard saying, “Arabs should not be at the beach” and “They should go to their ‘own places.’”
Indeed, it is in the interests of the Jewish State to further minimize Palestinian presence in the public space. Because it has been impossible until now to expel Palestinian citizens from universities, hospitals and pharmacies, some restless Israelis have in the meantime set about the preliminary task of cleansing the beaches and the Knesset of Arabs.
For those who care to examine the past, the patterns are unmistakable. Since 1948, a process of people replacement has been underway (I covered it in greater detail here): ethnic cleansing, now taking place daily, mainly in the West Bank, using a variety of methods and at different locales. The separation and isolation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank, the siege and the attacks are part of that same process.
Attacks against Palestinians, whether in the West Bank or within Israel proper, constitute pieces of mosaic in those patterns. The goal – in 1948, in 1967, and since then – has been as much territory as possible and as little “foreign” population: the natives that have lived in the country for, at the very least, manyhundreds of years. This holds as true in Area “C” in the West Bank as it does on the Kiryat Haim beach in Israel.
The Nation-State Law, the object of protest by Palestinian citizens of Israel and more than a few Jewish Israelis, is enmeshed in the same “cleansing” procedure. A strong people minimizes the presence – whether physically, visually or representationally – of a weak people: a process that is fundamentally illegal according to international law and profoundly obscene according to all ethical codes.
Israel is proving to the world that it is most certainly not a state of all its citizens. Those who are not Jewish, the Palestinians whose families survived the Nakba, may have some rights – more than can be said for Palestinians in the occupied territories – but they are lesser citizens, citizens on constant probation. And just as their knees are much more vulnerable to police violence, they are entirely exposed to the Jewish pogromists, whether on the beach or in the Knesset.
The members of the Joint List are right to reach out to the UN and the international community. In front of our eyes, the State of Israel is turning into a democracy for Jews only. And even some of those Jews are being put on notice.
Yair Svorai, a city and regional planner by training, has studied the Israeli occupation for many years. He is also the creator of the Israeli Occupation Archive (IOA) and a former Israeli.
This article was originally published by OpenDemocracy and is available by clicking here. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.