By Joharah Baker
Yesterday, March 24, clashes broke out in the Palestinian-Arab town of Um Al Fahm inside Israel between the residents and Israeli police and right-wing demonstrators. The incident was an accident waiting to happen, so to say, given the players involved. Apparently, a group of right-wing Israelis had received approval from Israel’s High Court to march within the municipal borders of Um Al Fahm but not inside the city. While the actual intent of the march still remains unclear, it seems Israel’s right-wingers – many of them settlers living in Hebron – want to force Israel’s Arab-Palestinian residents to express their "loyalty to the state."
Just how a provocative march along the outskirts of an Arab city inside Israel would accomplish this feat is a mystery. The only possible outcome of such a march could be what actually happened – a clash between the residents of the city and the right-wing Israelis whose self-righteousness has clearly crossed over into outright racism. How else could the imposition of loyalty to the state, whether these residents acquiesce or not, be explained? There really is only one logical explanation, the overall negativity most Israeli Jews harbor towards their Palestinian neighbors within the borders of the Jewish state.
This is not a newborn animosity, nor is it one that is likely to be repaired any time soon as long as the state of Israel is structured in such a discriminatory and racist fashion. The 1.2 million Palestinians living inside Israel’s borders have been a thorn in Israel’s side every since its establishment over 60 years ago. While Israel successfully expelled the majority of Palestinians – 800,000 of them- from their original homes back in 1948, thus creating the most longstanding refugee problem in the world, it did not finish off the job completely. There were those Palestinians who remained, for whatever reason, in their villages, cities and homes, saved from the massacres, destruction and expulsion that befell their fellow Palestinians in other areas.
Since then, Israel’s Palestinian population has endured a silent struggle to be equal citizens in a state that only espouses equality for Jews. They have been delegated to second and sometimes third class citizens, their villages and towns often ignored and therefore much less developed than their Israeli counterparts. Most importantly, though, their national loyalties are always under the scrutiny of Israel, which insists that as long as they are citizens of the state that is where their allegiances much lie.
Hence the clashes. Palestinians inside Israel may carry Israeli passports, but in general cannot feel affiliation with a state that alienates them socially, religiously and nationally. This is a country whose primary goal in 1948 was to create a state on land without a people, which meant annihilating those already there along with their culture, history and heritage. Those who remained were both lucky and not. They remained on their land and in their homes, which is by all means a better plight than being exiled and forced into a life of refuge. However, their plight was not without hardship. For the past 60 years the Palestinians inside Israel have been made to endure constant discrimination in the education system, in services and in family reunification laws.
One example of this discrimination is the 2003 Citizenship Law, which bans family reunification between any Palestinian citizen of Israel and West Bank Palestinians, given that the Palestinian territories are considered an "enemy state". The same law applies to Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
Anyone who knows anything about Palestinian culture and the close knit ties between families will know that such a law could only have disastrous results. With extended families spread out throughout all of historical Palestine or in the refugee camps of Lebanon and Syria, such unions between members of the different geographical groups are inevitable. Refusal of family reunification means that, essentially, the couple cannot live together in Israel unless one spouse remains "illegal" and is therefore vulnerable to deportation or prosecution. Children produced by this union may not be recognized by the state and therefore are deprived of basic rights granted to any other child born in Israel.
In effect, Palestinian citizens of Israel must fight battles on two fronts. First, they must endure the daily sting of discrimination meted out to them by the state and constantly go against the hostile current of Israel’s exclusive Jewishness. Emotionally, they are forever pulled in the direction of their Palestinian brethren in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem not to mention those in the Diaspora, which is not a welcomed sentiment in Israel.
When the first Intifida broke out in September 2000, Palestinian communities inside Israel rose up in solidarity. In October of that same year, 13 Palestinian-Israelis were shot and killed in clashes with Israeli police and border guards. Palestinian-Israelis are rarely granted permits to hold demonstrations, unlike their Israeli counterparts.
Every Friday, Palestinian-Israelis come to Jerusalem to perform prayers at Al Aqsa Mosque, responding to a call from the Islamic movement to protect Islam’s holy sites. During the Gaza invasion, there were protests, sit-ins and donation drives inside Israel’s Arab community for the people of the Strip.
Yesterday in Um Al Fahm, one of the largest Palestinian cities inside Israel, the writing was already on the wall before the march took place. One of the march’s leaders was Baruch Marzel, former head of the terrorist Kach Party, banned in Israel in 1994. Another, right-winger, MK Michael Ben-Ari said the group was simply "demanding loyalty to the state."
"The State of Israel is the Jewish people’s state. We are here to voice our truth," he said.
The truth is, these citizens of Israel will never be equal to their Jewish counterparts for the very reason that they are not Jews. A number of Israeli officials have suggested that this 20 percent of Israel’s population be transferred out of Israel, where they clearly are not wanted. Last December, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said she believed the "national solution" for Israel’s Palestinians "lies elsewhere." That is, other than in their ancestral homes.
It is good that this group of Palestinians were able to endure the horrors of 1948 and remain in their rightful places. At least now, there will always be a reminder of what Palestine was before Israel came into being and the people who were there long before Zionism tried to eliminate them from existence. The fact that the residents of Um Al Fahm can still find energy to fight the more extremist elements of the Israeli establishment is commendable in the least. Our Palestinian brethren on the other side of the Green Line can never be forgotten.
– Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Published in MIFTAH – www.miftah.org)