Recent protests by Palestinians in Israel highlight an ongoing reality of dispossession and discrimination for the country’s Arab citizens
May’s brutal attacks on Palestinian citizens of Israel, by civilian mobs backed by the Israeli police, were unprecedented but not surprising. They reveal Israel’s double standards towards citizenship in the country.
Israel has never perceived the ‘48 Palestinians’, the name used colloquially for Palestinian citizens of Israel, as being fully equal to its Jewish citizens. In fact, the 48 Palestinians do not even have the same rights as those guaranteed by Israel to Jewish people who are not citizens.
Between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, Israel is the de facto governing power. Laws, policies and practices to maintain Jewish-Israeli control over demography, land and political power, have long guided governments.
The legislation known as the ‘Basic Law: Israel the Nation State of the Jewish People’, passed by the Knesset in 2018, declares that the right to self-determination in Israel “is unique to the Jewish people” and states that establishing a “Jewish settlement” is a national value. This law, also known as the Nation State bill, exemplifies the Zionist ideology that gives supremacy to the ‘Jewish’ over the ‘democratic’ character of Israel.
For all but six months of its 73-year history (from December 1966 to June 1967), Israel has maintained military rule over some portion of the Palestinian population. For nearly two decades, between 1948 and 1966, a military government was imposed on the 48 Palestinians, which was instrumental in stripping them of their physical assets, as well as depriving them of independent political representation and basic rights.
Since its creation, Israel has sought to exert control by a process of Judaisation of areas with significant Palestinian populations on both sides of the Green Line, which constitutes the de facto border between Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. This meant the concentration of most Palestinians, including 48 Palestinians, into densely populated, under-developed areas, restricting their access to land and housing and confiscating both, while guaranteeing the growth of Jewish-Israeli communities.
Dispossession, discrimination and demographics
On both national and district levels, planning has always been driven by the Zionist goal of the Judaisation of Jerusalem, the Galilee and the Negev regions, which account for nearly two-thirds of the land in Israel, and are home to much of the Palestinian population.
For the Palestinians in Israel, the persistent efforts to expel Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods in Jerusalem were a recent reminder of an ongoing history of dispossession.
They are very aware of the discriminatory nature of the legal system, which has different laws for Jews and Palestinians. Take the Legal and Administrative Matter Law, enacted in 1970. According to the Peace Now organisation, the law stipulates, among other things, that Jews who lost their property in East Jerusalem in 1948 could reclaim it. Meanwhile, the Absentee Property Law of 1950 does not allow Palestinians who lost their assets in 1948 –as in the case of the Sheikh Jarrah residents and of more than 70% of the land owned by Palestinians in Israel – to reclaim their property.
Palestinians also know that when it comes to land, demographics and Jewish settlements, even an Israeli Supreme Court decision is not respected. This was confirmed in the famous case of two Christian villages on the northern borders with Lebanon, Iqrit and Kafr Bir’im.
On 31 July 1951, the Supreme Court recognised that there was no justification for the prolonged delay in the return of the villagers, who had complied with the authorities’ request to move out for a short time. Nevertheless, the army systematically blew up every building in the two villages, except the churches, a portion of the land was given to Israeli towns, and no Palestinians were allowed to return.
Therefore, there is nothing exceptional about the targeting of Palestinians in Jerusalem and the ongoing effort to uproot them from Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, with the support of the right-wing government. Palestinians in the so-called ‘mixed cities’ in Israel, where the exception proves the rule of separation, have for years struggled against de-Arabising efforts in their cities, which occur either through gentrification or by the Torah Nucleus, an association of right-wing religious Zionist settlers who set up home with the explicit goal of establishing a Jewish majority.
The peaceful protests of 48 Palestinians against the repression and persecution of Palestinians in Jerusalem, and later the war on Gaza in May, were brutally suppressed by the Israeli police. Things escalated after an armed Jewish-Israeli resident in the city of Lod shot and killed 32-year-old Palestinian Mousa Hassouna in early May. A state of emergency was announced in the city, and yet hundreds of armed Jewish settlers came into Lod, backed by Israeli police and supported by the mayor and other city officials. The attacks quickly spread to Haifa, Acre and other Palestinian localities.
Groups of young Israelis organised themselves on Telegram and marched on Palestinian neighbourhoods, carrying Israeli flags, unleashing violence, smashing Palestinian cars, marking Palestinian houses and shouting, “The people of Israel live” and “Death to Arabs”. What followed was a massive wave of arrests in Palestinian localities in Israel, targeting Palestinians.
Palestinian localities are usually under-policed when it comes to Arab organised crime, which last year alone caused more than 120 murders, but the moment people rose up for political rights, this was replaced by over-policing. The heavily armed police forces and the violent arrests reveal the clear intention of silencing Palestinians who dare to speak up against injustice and discrimination.
Holding Israel accountable
International public opinion has been a major concern of the Zionist movement in Palestine since its beginning. It has determined Israel’s double standard regarding the 48 Palestinians, and shaped its public discourse concerning the Occupied Territories since 1967, with all its talk of a ‘peace process’ and ‘two-state solution’.
To force Israel to meet its commitment to the Palestinians’ social, political and cultural rights, Palestinians have intensified their international advocacy and have been reporting extensively to UN treaty-based bodies, as well as to the European Union, to no avail.
Failure to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing discriminatory colonial policies against Palestinians has allowed it to maintain a public image of ‘equal’ citizenship amid an actual colonial reality of discrimination.
Sadly, the insistence of the international community on what The New York Times has termed the “two-state illusion”, guaranteeing the permanence of the ‘Jewish state’ and keeping the Palestinian Authority in power, despite its corruption, enables it to consolidate its authoritarianism.
Reports by B'Tselem and Human Rights Watch and the recent decision of the Human Rights Council to investigate human rights violations against Palestinians are unprecedented and significant. But it was decades of peaceful struggle that motivated them, and decades of international support for Israel that delayed them. This international support is what has allowed Israel to maintain and strengthen Jewish dominance and supremacy, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, while imposing a colonial reality on Palestinians.