WHITE: Not enough is being said about the inequality for Palestinians in Israel 14Oct11 October 13, 2011

by Ben White  -  The Huffington Post (UK)  -  13 October 2011

In a Middle East country, a minority is threatened. Around 30,000 face forcible relocation by the government, while elected officials talk of the need to change ‘demographics’. Public racism is routine, and the nation’s security services are clear that they will subvert even nonviolent dissent.

This is Israel, although you wouldn’t know it from reading the article published this week by BICOM’s Alan Johnson. In order to argue that a recent attack on a mosque in northern Israel “says nothing” about “deeper trends in Jewish-Arab relations in Israel”, Johnson omits and distorts in a way that is unhelpful for understanding the reality of the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Systematic policies adopted by Israeli governments for over 60 years have been shaped by the priorities of colonialism and ethno-religious exclusivity. Compare condemnation of the mosque attack with the fact that, of the 160 mosques in Palestinian villages incorporated into Israel in 1948, fewer than 40 are still standing.

That destruction is part of a bigger picture of land expropriation, exclusion, and discrimination.
Since 1948, more than 700 Jewish communities have been established in Israel’s pre-1967 borders, and just seven for Palestinian citizens.

By the mid-1970s, the average Arab community inside Israel had lost 65-75% of its land. Around 1 in 4 Palestinian citizens are ‘present absentees’ (i.e. internally displaced), their lands and property confiscated by the state.

Residency in 70% of Israeli towns is controlled by ‘admissions committees’ that filter out those ‘unsuitable’ for the ‘social fabric’ of the community.

Shin Bet, the domestic intelligence agency, works to “thwart” efforts to challenge the Jewish character of the state, “even if such activity is sanctioned by the law”.

It is routine for public figures to talk of the Palestinian minority with a discourse associated in the UK with the far-right. PM Netanyahu, as finance minister in 2003, described Palestinian citizens as a “demographic problem”. In 2009, the current Housing Minister declared it a “national duty” to “prevent the spread” of Palestinian citizens, since in the Galilee “populations that should not mix are spreading there”.

Incredibly, for a piece pertaining to analyse the current ‘trends’ for the situation of Palestinians in Israel, Johnson says nothing about the plan approved just last month by the Israeli government to forcibly relocate around 30,000 Bedouin Palestinian citizens from their homes in the Negev.

Tens of thousands of Palestinian citizens live in so-called ‘unrecognised villages’ in Israel (and not just in the Negev), whose residents suffer while Jewish communities of a similar size or smaller thrive with state approval. Now Netanyahu’s cabinet seeks to move many of unrecognised villages’ residents to authorised townships, to free up land for Jewish settlement.
While the government uses the language of ‘development’ to describe this mass transfer plan, the reality is far more unpalatable. Just listen to Avishai Braverman – note the previous Minister for Minority Affairs – who said: “if Zionism is a motivating force, then it needs to travel south to the Negev, so that Israel does not turn into a Palestinian State”.

We know from Wikileaks that President Shimon Peres told US officials in 2005 that action was needed to “relieve” what he “termed a demographic threat” in the Negev, referring of course, to Bedouin citizens. This is the language of the EDL, but in Israel, it represents official policy that has been going on for decades.

Netanyahu’s main coalition partner is Yisrael Beiteinu, headed by Avigdor Lieberman who campaigned on the basis that he ‘understands’ Arabs. A flurry of nationalistic and discriminatory laws has been passed by the Knesset in recent years, making, according to Israeli professor Zeev Sternhell, “ethnic inequality a legal norm” without “parallel in democratic countries”.

Palestinians, whether in the West Bank and Gaza or as Israeli citizens, face similar struggles for equality and justice from within a system that privileges one group over another. It is impossible in this short piece to comprehensively summarise how Palestinians in Israel are second-class citizens. The crucial point is that the inequality is about much more than poverty or budgetary discrimination – and so are the solutions.

Ben White is a freelance journalist, writer and activist. His next book, ‘Palestinians in Israel’, with a foreword by MK Haneen Zoabi, is published in December. His articles have appeared in The Guardian’s Comment is free, Al Jazeera, the New Statesman, Electronic Intifada, and others. Follow him on Twitter or visit his website.

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