Israel’s Palestinian Citizens

An Israeli government plan to build hundreds of homes for the country’s Druze population faces stiff opposition after it was revealed that the new community would be located on the lands of Palestinian refugees. The town, due to be built west of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, would be the first new community for members of Israel’s Palestinian minority since the state’s founding 68 years ago.

A rarely told story of the 1948 war that founded Israel concerns Nazareth’s survival. It is the only Palestinian city in what is today Israel that was not ethnically cleansed during the year-long fighting. Nazareth was not only an anomaly; it was a mistake. The reason Nazareth survived is because of the actions of one individual: Ben Dunkelman, a Canadian Jew.

Moments before an Aegean Airlines flight was due to take off, three Israeli passengers took security into their own hands and demanded that two fellow passengers, from Israel’s Palestinian minority, be removed from the plane. Dozens more Israeli Jews joined the protest, refusing to take their seats. Like a parable illustrating Europe’s bottomless indulgence of Israel, Aegean staff caved in to the pressure.

Last November, just days after lethal attacks in Paris by ISIS, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu outlawed the northern wing of the Islamic Movement in Israel. He compared the group, which is tied to the Muslim Brothers, to ISIS in an attempt to frame the ban as part of the global war on terror. But in reality, the Israeli government’s action was long in the making and driven by considerations of local power politics.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been accused of exploiting a shooting attack in Tel Aviv on New Year’s Day to intensify a campaign of incitement against the country’s large minority of Palestinian citizens. Palestinian leaders in Israel have also harshly criticised the police for making sweeping arrests of Nashat Melhem’s relatives in what they believe is an attempt to pressure him into turning himself in.

Nazareth has the largest concentration of Christians in the Holy Land but also a two-thirds Muslim majority after the city became a place of sanctuary for many refugees in 1948. That has made it especially vulnerable to Israel’s divide-and-rule strategies. Benjamin Netanyahu sought to foment discord here in the late 1990s, during his first term as prime minister, by backing a plan to build a huge mosque overshadowing the city’s main holy site. Now back in power, he is up to the same kind of mischief.

Tens of thousands of visitors have come to Sheikh Raed Salah’s protest tent in the past three weeks, since Netanyahu declared his Islamic Movement an “illegal organisation”. In an interview, Salah calls the move “a declaration of war not just against our movement but against Islam and against the whole Palestinian community [in Israel]. Everyone feels targeted.”

With dismaying predictability, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu lost no time in exploiting the massacre in Paris by outlawing the Islamic Movement, a popular party among Israel’s Palestinian citizens. Netanyahu justified the decision by conflating the movement with Hamas and ISIL, even though the Islamic Movement rejects violence and operates entirely within Israeli law.

The decision by the Israeli government to outlaw the country’s main Islamic Movement marks a dangerous turning point in Israel’s relations with its large Palestinian minority. The move effectively drives underground a religious, political and social movement representing the views of a sizeable portion of Israel’s 1.6 million Palestinian citizens.

Israeli human rights groups say videos taken on phones challenge the accuracy of official Israeli accounts of the circumstances in which police have killed or injured Palestinians. The footage provides concrete evidence that police have been “quick to shoot to kill” rather than arrest Palestinians in Jerusalem and Israel who were suspected of involvement in attacks on Israeli Jews.

Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a crackdown on Palestinian political leaders in Israel, blaming them for the current unrest, in what appeared to be an attempt to bolster his severely dented image as ‘Mr Security’. After a security cabinet meeting, Netanyahu directed officials to assemble the evidence to make possible the outlawing of the northern wing of the Islamic movement.

The violence rocking the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and now Gaza is on the verge of spilling into Israel, Palestinian leaders in Israel warned. A wave of unrest has swept Palestinian towns in Israel over recent days. Aggressive policing, vigilante-style attacks by Israeli Jews and a crackdown on the Palestinian leadership in Israel have quickly heightened tensions.

Roni Alsheikh, Israel’s new police chief, has spent decades living in two shadowy worlds: as a senior officer in Israel’s secret police, known as the Shin Bet; and as an religious settler who has lived in some of the West Bank’s most extreme and violent communities. Indicating the Shin Bet’s lack of transparency and accountability, the Israeli media had to refer to the new police chief by the initial “R” until a gag order was lifted on Wednesday.

With 47 independent church schools in Israel facing closure as they are starved of funding, many Christians are starting to suspect their government is waging a low-level war against them. Christians in neighbouring states are fleeing the Middle East as they face civil wars and threats of persecution. In Israel the mistreatment of Christians may be more bureaucratic than physical, but its effects are likely in the long run to prove just as tangible.

Fifteen years after Israeli police shot her 19-year-old son Ahmed in the eye, killing him instantly, Hadiya Jabareen has yet to lay his ghost to rest. Instead, she has watched Bentzi Sau, the commander who oversaw the police operation in which Ahmed and 12 other demonstrators died, rise rapidly through the ranks. This month she suffered a further indignity when the government made Sau the highest-ranking police officer in the country.

Israel is seeking to bring dozens of church-run schools under government control, a move that community leaders warn will curb the last vestiges of educational freedom for the country’s large Palestinian minority. The schools, which educate Christians and Muslims and are among the highest-achieving in Israel, are the only hope for most families trying to escape dire conditions in the government-run Arab education system.

The Israeli authorities razed Tareq Khatib’s home for the second time in two months last week. Now under house arrest at a friend’s home, he expects to be billed hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover the costs of the demolitions and security operations. Fingering prayer beads, the 48-year-old father of five asked: “Where are my family and I supposed to live? It seems the government thinks the only place for us is out on the street, without a roof over our heads. It’s like they are waging a war against their own citizens.”

There are few clues today at the site of the single worst massacre committed by the Israeli army during the 1948 war that established a Jewish state on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland. For Israelis, the area is known as Dor, a popular beach resort south of Haifa. But in May, some 300 activists met in the resort’s car park in an attempt to end the long-enforced silence about Tantura in Israelis’ collective memory.

Israel’s Palestinian minority is preparing to hold a ‘day of rage’ to protest against a supreme court ruling last week that cleared the way to destroy an entire Bedouin village so that it can be replaced with a Jewish town. The decision marks the end of a 13-year legal battle by the 800 villagers of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev. There are widespread fears the ruling will reopen the door to controversial legislation requiring the destruction of dozens more Bedouin villages.

Upper Nazareth was built on Nazareth’s lands to “Judaise” the only Palestinian city to survive relatively unscathed from the 1948 war. But in recent years the proportion of Palestinian citizens living in Upper Nazareth has grown – and now stands at 20%. Fears of an Arab takeover stand behind a raft of controversial municipal measures, from banning Christmas trees and blocking the building of a school teaching in Arabic to the latest: refusing to stock books in Arabic at local public libraries.