It is Land Day as I write this, the 39th in fact. This will mean little or nothing to the vast majority of western politicians, but marks a seminal event in the history of the Palestinian citizens of Israel when in 1976 six Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed in protests against land confiscations in the Galilee. It resonates today ever more as Palestinians are still losing their land, but increasingly fear for the loss of other rights too.
The last days of the Israeli election not only determined the outcome of the vote in favor of a Netanyahu-led far right coalition but could also affect the short to medium term journey of Israel as a state. Famously Netanyahu ruled out a two-state solution with him as Prime Minister, the only surprise being that he stated this so clearly in public. His every action for two decades had demonstrated a hardened dislike for any Palestinian state, his settlement bonanza a core component in the case for the prosecution.
Yet perhaps for the future of Israel it was his racist scaremongering that highlights a far more serious turn. There was huge attention given to Netanyahu’s Facebook post on the last day: “Hurry friends, the Arabs are going out in droves to vote, bussed in by the left.” He did apologize for any offence caused but never admitted his comments were wrong. It is clear is that whilst Arabs can vote, they must never do so in numbers that might threaten the interests of the first class citizens - the Jews.
Netanyahu has form
Does it matter? More than ever. This is an issue that is typically subsumed by the broader Arab-Israeli conflict and the fate of the Palestinians under occupation. It goes to the heart of why claims that Israel is a democracy are at best flawed. It shows that Israel has to go a long way before there is equality for all its citizens. It matters because Israeli officials have in the last few years added an additional demand that Palestinian politicians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Netanyahu has exposed exactly what sort of state that means for the non-Jewish population certainly not one of equality. These words from a serving Israeli Prime Minister risk changing that narrative.
It even earned a rebuke from the White House usually silent on such matters. The White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest reflected Obama’s concerns: “Rhetoric that seeks to marginalize one segment of their population is deeply concerning and it is divisive.” Israeli hasbaristas and apologists will have to spend far more time arguing against the charge of institutional racism than ever before.
Netanyahu has form. He has described the Palestinians in Israel as a demographic bomb and a threat to the Jewish state. In 2003, he told a major conference that "If there is a demographic problem, and there is, it is with the Israeli Arabs who will remain Israeli citizens."
Before, the racist slogans were not left to the Prime Minister’s lieutenants. Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli Foreign Minister, has majored in anti Arab comments. During this election campaign, he called for disloyal Arabs to have their heads chopped off, a comment that would not look out of place on an ISIS website. Another Israeli party leader, Naftali Bennett boasted: “I have killed lots of Arabs in my life - and there is no problem with that.” In November the mayor of Ashkelon banned Arab construction workers from working at kindergartens in the city. He was forced to roll back his plan a few days later but it demonstrates the hostile atmosphere not least during and after last summer’s war on Gaza.
This is going to be a growing issue not least because by 2025 the Palestinian population in Israel will reach a quarter of the population. Those droves may be getting larger.
To understand the bigger picture of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, one has to understand the crisis facing Palestinians inside Israel.
No magic carpet
Palestinian citizens of Israel have always felt third-class semi-citizens inside the self-styled Jewish state. The rump of the Palestinian population that did not flee or was not expelled live under military rule until 1966. Even during that period there were further expulsions not amongst the Bedouin communities of the Negev or Naqab. It took time to build the confidence to protest and push for their rights to be realized. The ability to unite under a single list at these elections has scared the majority of Israeli Jewish politicians and voters. It remains to be seen how this coalition holds out against all the strains and stresses that it will be put under.
Essentially Palestinians inside Israel face many of the same issues as those under occupation. Take housing and land. According to new research by the human rights group Adalah, the Israel Lands Authority in 2014 published tenders for 38,261 housing units. Of these, “only 1,844 housing units were published in Arab communities in Israel - meaning that 20 percent of Israel’s population was receiving only 4.6 percent of new housing units from the state.” The settlements got 3,163 housing units although they are less than half the population of Palestinians in Israel and of course, illegal under international law.
There are whole villages in Israel that do not appear on any map. They are not recognized. Many of these villages, some 46, are in the Negev, some right next to some of the richest most affluent Jewish communities in Israel such as at Omer near Beersheva. Pylons run through their lands but do not provide for these communities. They have no schools or primary health care. And like so many Palestinian communities in the West Bank, many of these structures have demolition orders on them.
There is no magic carpet under which Netanyahu can brush away his race baiting. The future of Palestinians as citizens inside Israel goes to the heart of what sort of state Israel will be and consequently, what sort of place it has in the world. It is for the international community to stand tall and lay out the proper formula - that Israel cannot deny people’s rights through endless occupation nor through a system that prioritizes the interests of one group over another.
Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
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