ABBAS: A pledge to submit, not belong November 5, 2010

by Amin Abbas  -  The Age National Times -  5 November 2010

“This country shall remain forever the home of the descendants of those people who came here in peace . . .”

“There is a deep-set difference, and we see no prospect of it ever being effaced. Nothing in the world can put these two races upon an equality. Nothing we can do by cultivation, by refinement, or by anything else will make some races equal to others . . .”

Whose words? The first statement is by Australia’s wartime prime minister, John Curtin, and the second by its first prime minister, Edmund Barton, both reaffirming the White Australia Policy. 

Fortunately for this country, the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 made the use of racial criteria for any official purpose illegal. In today’s Israel, however, the prospect of the Knesset approving the controversial loyalty pledge promises to deliver two inseparable outcomes, one desired and one denied: first, the formal recognition of Israel as a Jewish state by its non-Jewish new citizens, and second, confirmation of Israel as an ethnocracy.

Israel calls itself a democracy while insisting that the rights of people of the faith supersede the rights of people of the land. Palestinians who have had to endure 60 years of being occupied, displaced or discriminated against, are now coerced – either through Israeli legislation or Israeli demands at the negotiating table – to formally recognise the cause of it all. The crux of the demand is for Palestinians to surrender the historic right to their homeland to any Jewish outsider wishing to call it his or her own.

Strangers taking over my house by force is catastrophic, me responding by handing them the deed is insane. Undoubtedly for Palestinians, recognising Israel as a Jewish state surpasses any other obstacle to peace. It is a preposterous proposition to abandon one’s legitimate rights once and for all.

In fact, it is the 3 million voiceless Palestinian refugees in the neighbouring countries with everything to lose from this pledge. Many have held on to the keys of their homes since 1948 — keys unlocking bitter memories of displacement and hardships lived ever since, but still representing the longing and right to return. These keys will never unlock doors in the cities and villages of today’s Israel, but clinging on to them and saying “no” to such proposals as the pledge are the only means left to preserve awareness of their plight.

As for ethnocracy, it is defined in the Webster’s dictionary as a political regime instituted on the basis of qualified rights to citizenship, with ethnic affiliation, defined in terms of race, descent, religion, or language, as the distinguishing principle. In Israel’s case, being Jewish is what grants one the privilege.

Israel, like other ethnocracies, is characterised by uncompromising control – the legal, institutional, and physical instruments of power deemed necessary to secure dominance of one ethnic group over all others.

Wars continue to shape and reshape the country’s frontier. Land taken by force soon becomes buffer zones against new enemy lines, without the slightest consideration of the hardships inflicted on native populations. The state’s actions are always to serve exclusively those it aims to protect — the Jewish people.

Israel’s much-trumpeted quest for “peace” can also be understood as an instrument of protection and control, rather than a strategic choice to end the conflict. It is a tactic used to weaken the other side, delay outcomes and pre-empt any serious resolution of political and territorial questions. Sadly, the recent push to continue with the peace charade is mainly to appease the Obama administration.

This Clayton’s peace has served Israel well in the past few years, alongside the more conventional act of building walls to restrain the 2.5 million Palestinians of the West Bank, despite some easing of restrictions.

The West Bank has become a bizarre Monopoly board; higher scores can only be achieved if the politics of the day are favourable. At best, however, you’ll have a set route, a maximum travel distance and Jerusalem has been declared off limits. If you’re in Gaza, the rules change a bit: the dice are confiscated and you can only stare at the board.

The pledge of loyalty to the Jewish state, another act of control, simply cements the ethnocracy’s rules. Prime Minister Netanyahu told us few days ago that “The state of Israel is the national state of the Jewish people”, ignoring — as he always does — the 1 million (or 20 per cent) of his own citizens who are not Jewish, not to mention the other 4 million Palestinians whose lives he ultimately controls.

More than a century ago, Edmund Barton was also very specific about which race he was partial to, saying: “The doctrine of the equality of man was never intended to apply to the equality of the Englishman and the Chinaman.”

Whether the people we refer to are labelled “Jewish” or “English” or “White”, what we are left with – then as now – is the unmistakable opposite of equality.

Amin Abbas is a diaspora Palestinian and former chairman of the Palestinian Community Association of Victoria.

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