Nazareth found itself transformed twice-over by the 1948 war. A town of 13,000 more than doubled in size over the course of a few months as 15,000 refugees from nearby villages poured in seeking sanctuary from the Israeli army. And, with other cities vanquished inside the new state of Israel, Nazareth unexpectedly found itself the only urban Palestinian space to have survived. Swollen with refugees and in a position to become the political and cultural capital of the Palestinians inside Israel, the city attracted the sustained attention of Israel’s military and political leadership.
Little more than a decade ago, in a brief interlude of heady optimism about the prospects of regional peace, the Israeli Supreme Court issued two landmark rulings that, it was widely assumed, heralded the advent of a new, post-Zionist era for Israel. But with two more watershed judgments handed down over the winter of 2011-2012 the same court has decisively reversed the tide.
A towering concrete wall looms over the main street of what was once a flourishing market in the northern Israeli town of Baqa al-Gharbiya, or Western Baqa. The 8-metre high barrier separates them from the West Bank and their former twin, Eastern Baqa. Western Baqa’s 22,000 Arab residents say they are opposed to living in the shadow of a wall that separates brothers from sisters and children from their parents. But they were equally unhappy to learn this week that, as part of peace negotiations with the Palestinians three years ago, Israel secretly proposed redrawing the borders to strip them and potentially tens of thousands of other Israeli Arabs of their citizenship.
Jews must not rent homes to “gentiles”. That was the religious decree issued this week by at least 50 of Israel’s leading rabbis, many of them employed by the state as municipal religious leaders. Jews should first warn, then “ostracise” fellow Jews who fail to heed the directive, the rabbis declared. The decree is the latest in a wave of racist pronouncements from some of Israel’s most influential rabbis.
A new opinion poll reveals not only a further shift rightwards in popular Israeli attitudes but also hints at the reasons for Benjamin Netanyahu’s continuing inflexibility in peace talks with the Palestinians. The latest survey, published last weekend, found that 37 per cent want to deny non-Jewish citizens voting rights, and 69 per cent support proposed legislation requiring a loyalty pledge from non-Jews to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state”.
In all likelihood, I will be one of the very first non-Jews expected to swear loyalty to Israel as an ideology rather than as a state. Until now, naturalising residents, like the country’s soldiers, pledged an oath to Israel and its laws. That is the situation in most countries. But soon, if the Israeli parliament passes a bill being advanced by the government, aspiring citizens will instead be required to uphold the Zionist majority’s presumption that Israel is a “Jewish and democratic state”.
Israel secretly staged a training exercise last week to test its ability to quell any civil unrest that might result from a peace deal that calls for the forcible transfer of many Arab citizens, the Israeli media has reported. The drill was intended to test the readiness of the security service to contain large-scale riots by Israel’s Arab minority in response to such a deal. The transfer scenario echoes a proposal by Avigdor Lieberman for what he has called a “population exchange”.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has insisted from the launch of the current peace talks that the Palestinians set no preconditions, while making his own precondition the centrepiece of negotiations. Mr Netanyahu has said talks are futile unless the Palestinians and their leader, Mahmoud Abbas, first recognise Israel as a Jewish state. “I recognised the Palestinians’ right to self-definition, so they must do the same for the Jewish people,” he told American Jewish leaders recently.
Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s far-right foreign minister, set out this week what he called a “blueprint for a resolution to the conflict” with the Palestinians that demands most of the country’s large Palestinian minority be stripped of citizenship and relocated outside Israel’s future borders. Warning that Israel faced growing diplomatic pressure for a full withdrawal to the Green Line, the pre-1967 border, Mr Lieberman said that, if such a partition were implemented, “the conflict will inevitably pass beyond those borders and into Israel”.
Israel’s apologists are very exercised about the idea that Israel has been singled out for special scrutiny and criticism. I wish to argue, however, that in most discussions of Israel it actually gets off extremely lightly: that many features of the Israeli polity would be considered exceptional or extraordinary in any other democratic state. That is not surprising because, as I will argue, Israel is neither a liberal democracy nor even a “Jewish and democratic state”, as its supporters claim. It is an apartheid state, not only in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, but also inside Israel proper.
A group of Jews and Arabs are fighting in the Israeli courts to be recognised as “Israelis”, a nationality currently denied them, in a case that officials fear may threaten the country’s self-declared status as a Jewish state. Israel refused to recognise an Israeli nationality at the country’s establishment in 1948, making an unusual distinction between “citizenship” and “nationality”. Although all Israelis qualify as “citizens of Israel”, the state is defined as belonging to the “Jewish nation”, meaning not only the 5.6 million Israeli Jews but also more than seven million Jews in the diaspora.
Demands from Israel’s chief commander this month that all Israeli citizens should be required to perform national service has turned the spotlight on a rarely discussed group of soldiers: members of Israel’s Palestinian minority. Though no official statistics are available, an estimated 3,000 of Israel’s 1.3 million Palestinian citizens have broken one of their society’s biggest taboos and are currently serving, often as combat troops on the front line of the conflict with their Palestinian kin, in the occupied territories.
The increasingly harsh political climate in Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government has prompted the leadership of the country’s 1.3 million Arab citizens to call the first general strike in several years. The one-day stoppage is due to take place on October 1, a date heavy with symbolism because it marks the anniversary of another general strike, in 2000 at the start of the second intifada when 13 Arab demonstrators were shot dead by Israeli police.
Palestinians across the Middle East were due to commemorate Land Day today, marking the anniversary of clashes in 1976 in which six unarmed Palestinians were shot dead by the Israeli army as it tried to break up a general strike. Although Land Day is one of the most important anniversaries in the Palestinian calendar, sometimes referred to as the Palestinians’ national day, the historical event it marks is little spoken of and rarely studied.
When Israel’s 18th parliament opens today, there will be only one Arab woman among its intake of legislators. Haneen Zoubi has made history: although she is not the first Arab woman to enter the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, she is the first to be elected for an Arab party. Sitting in her home in Nazareth, the effective capital of Israel’s 1.2 million Palestinian citizens, she is dismissive of her predecessors, two women elected on behalf of Zionist parties.
Elias Khoury, a 33-year-old architect from the village of Ibilin in Galilee, has been a lifelong supporter of the Communist Democratic Front, the only joint Arab-Jewish party represented in the Israeli parliament. No longer. Tomorrow, when Israelis head to the polls to elect their next government, Mr Khoury – one of the country’s 1.2 million Arab citizens – will be staying home rather than casting a vote. “After the attack on Gaza, I am sure there will never be two states here. It’s going to be either a Jewish state with no Arabs, or an Arab state with no Jews.”
Tzipi Livni, the woman leading the ruling Kadima party into Israel’s forthcoming elections, stoked anger in the region last week when she warned that a peace deal would put the future of the country’s 1.2 million Palestinian citizens inside Israel in doubt. Speaking to a group of Jewish schoolchildren in Tel Aviv, she said: “When the Palestinian state is created, I will be able to go to Palestinian citizens, who we call Israeli Arabs, and say to them – you are residents with equal rights, but your national solution is in another place.”
The Human Rights Association with its 20-year record of exposing Israeli policies that discriminate against the country’s 1.2 million Arab citizens is facing imminent closure as major funders withdraw money in what some observers believe may be a co-ordinated policy to silence Israel’s harshest “critics from within”. The association, one of the most prominent of several leading Arab rights organisations, is attracting the opposition of international charitable foundations concerned with promoting democracy in Israel, according to the HRA’s director.
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