Similar incidents occurred last May when thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel, often referred to as “Arab Israelis,” took to the streets to express support for their fellow Palestinians in Gaza and Jerusalem following Israel’s bloodiest 10-day war with Hamas. COURTESY
The unemployment rate for Arab Israeli men is twice that of Jewish men, while the rate for Arab Israeli women is three times higher than for Jewish women
As the Israeli violence in the occupied East Jerusalem’s neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah escalated dramatically last month, Palestinian citizens of Israel took to the streets for large mass protests while others demonstrated outside the Palestinian homes ordered for eviction.
Similar incidents occurred last May when thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel, often referred to as “Arab Israelis,” took to the streets to express support for their fellow Palestinians in Gaza and Jerusalem following Israel’s bloodiest 10-day war with Hamas, which began after the Israeli Supreme Court suspended its anticipated ruling on the eviction of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah and clashes flared at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Protests took place in the mixed Arab-Jewish cities of Haifa, Jaffa and Lod, as well as in predominantly Palestinian cities and towns like Nazareth and Umm al-Fahm.
Arab Israelis also held a general strike across Israel involving hundreds of thousands of Arab workers to protest Israel’s latest irresponsible and very dangerous policies against Palestinians. The size and scope of the recent demonstrations surprised many analysts who usually consider these Palestinians to be part of the Israeli social and political fabric, separate from Palestinians elsewhere. This suggests that the Israeli government’s attempts to isolate these people from their fellow Palestinians in the occupied territories and blend them into the Israeli state have failed and that their own frustration as second-class citizens in Israel has resurfaced.
After the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that led to Israel’s creation, over 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled then-Mandatory Palestine due to the “nakba,” or catastrophe, while around 160,000 remained in their homeland within the borders of the Jewish state. This reality has isolated them from the rest of the Palestinian people. They automatically became citizens of Israel, which transformed them into a minority in their own historical homeland.
Today they make up approximately 20% of Israel’s population, equating to around 2 million people in total, most of whom live in three areas: the Galilee in the north, the so-called “Little Triangle” in the center of the country and the Negev desert (Naqab to Palestinians) in the south.
Between 1949 and 1966, Palestinian citizens of Israel were governed by repressive military rule, forced into segregated “ghettos,” stripped of their land, which was to be used by Jewish Israelis, and severe restrictions were imposed on their freedom of movement, speech and ability to earn a living.
Military rule was lifted in 1966; however, today Palestinian citizens of Israel continue to have their land taken from them and their homes destroyed as they suffer from national oppression, land confiscation, unfair budgeting and resources allocation, with systematic discrimination affecting almost every aspect of their lives amid threats of transfer.
On the other hand, the unemployment rate for Arab Israeli men is twice that of Jewish men, while the rate for Arab Israeli women is three times higher than for Jewish women.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) documented entrenched discrimination and socioeconomic differences in “land, urban planning, housing, infrastructure, economic development and education.” More than half of the poor families in Israel are Arabs, and Arab municipalities are the poorest in the country, it said. Arab Israelis are treated with “hostility and mistrust” and “large sections of the Israeli public (view) the Arab minority as both a fifth column and a demographic threat.”
The discrimination of Arab Israelis has been institutionalized through more than 60 Israeli laws that give “unique” rights to only its Jewish citizens. The nation-state law, which former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drafted and was passed in the Knesset in 2018, became the 14th constitutional law of the state of Israel and defined the country as the national homeland of the Jewish people, stating that: “The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”
This declaration doesn’t just say that Israel is the historic Jewish homeland, which is a core part of the Zionist ideology and the argument for the Jewish state’s existence in what’s now Israel, this goes further to unequivocally state that Jews – and only Jews – have the exclusive right to “self-determination” within Israel.
In other words, only Jews have the right to determine what kind of state and society they live in, which means that by default, non-Jews – such as Arab citizens of Israel, some of whom are Muslim and Christian – do not have that same right.
As the law was passed, Arab-Israeli lawmakers tore their copies of the legislation in protest and the leader of a coalition of Arab parties, lawmaker Ayman Odeh, released a statement saying that Israel had “passed a law of Jewish supremacy and told us we will always be second class citizens.”
For Arab Israelis then, the nation-state law was merely the culmination of years of institutional discrimination. However, by issuing it, this discrimination became officially enshrined in Israel’s basic law – the country’s constitutional equivalent.
Arab Israelis are targeted by other laws, too, such as the citizenship and entry law that bars the unification of Arab citizens of Israel with their non-Israeli spouses; while the expulsion law allows for Arab Israeli Knesset members to be expelled based on their views.
Palestinian citizens of Israel have a long history of expressing their Palestinian national identity and identifying with their fellow Palestinians, though rarely on this scale.
The latest upsurge in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has grown louder, spilling over into Israel itself, playing out largely in its mixed Arab-Jewish cities. It is putting the spotlight back on the descendants of Palestinians who stayed put after the Jewish state was established and who, despite everything, maintained their identity, culture and national affiliation. They struggled and are still struggling to obtain just, comprehensive and permanent peace through the declaration of an independent Palestinian state.
* The article was first appeared on Daily Sabah