Several weeks ago, a "vision" document regarding the future status of Palestinian citizens of Israel was published by the National Committee of the Heads of Arab Local Councils and endorsed by the Supreme Follow-up Committee of the Arabs in Israel--two very broad bodies that represent most political streams of Arab society. It was written by some 40 Israeli Arab academics. Due to the broad spectrum of Israeli Arab opinion it represents, it must be understood as an extremely representative and influential document.
For nearly all Israeli Jews it is also a profoundly disturbing document. Yet this should not come as a surprise. After nearly 60 years of neglect, prejudice and poor treatment on the part of the Israeli establishment, and despite repeated violent incidents and policy-oriented research efforts that sounded a sharp warning, the Arabs of Israel are declaring their demand for a full-fledged bi-national state ("consociational democracy") that would give Arabs a veto over Israel's Jewish content and symbols.
That Israel's Arabs demand equal land and education rights is of course fully justified. But this document goes much further. Most disturbing of all--and here the years of neglect cannot be blamed--the document can be understood to bring its authors into line with those in the Arab and Islamic world who refuse to accept the existence of a Jewish people at all, much less one with legitimate roots in the Middle East.
The future vision document rejects the principle of a democratic Jewish state that lies at the heart of the Oslo solution of two states for two peoples. It positions the Israeli Arab community as very much a part of the broader Palestinian problem. Indeed, it is clear that the Oslo process of discussing Palestinian political independence in the West Bank and Gaza has radicalized the views of the Israeli Arabs. Those views are now liable not only to strengthen right wing Israelis like Minister of Strategic Issues Avigdor Lieberman who argue that Israeli Arabs can never be loyal Israeli citizens. By belittling the possibility of Jewish-Arab coexistence in a Zionist state, they also discourage or discredit the many Israeli Jews who struggle against discrimination and in favor of greater Arab integration into Israeli civil society.
The Arab vision document makes three kinds of demands. First are those that are completely logical and worthy of broad support: equality of budgets in government offices, improvement of Arab women's status, etc. Second are demands, such as an Arab university, that would seem logical and reasonable if only, in light of the third category of demands, they did not engender fears lest they be abused to incite against the Israeli state.
That third category comprises demands and assertions that contradict the essence of the Israeli state:
Nowhere is the existence of the Jewish people mentioned or acknowledged; Jews are deemed a mere religious majority with colonialist roots that is generously granted the right of national self-determination by the Arabs but must now share the country at the symbolic level (definition of the state, flag, anthem, etc.) on a 50-50 basis, Belgian-style. In the aftermath of publication of this report the Israeli mainstream can legitimately fear that granting collective autonomy to Israeli Arabs on some very legitimate issues, like education, might lead to ever more sweeping demands that eventually strip the state of its Zionist, Jewish nature. Even an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty based on a two-state solution can no longer be expected to alleviate Arab-Jewish tensions in Israel.
To sum up, "The future vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel" is a negative watershed in Jewish-Arab relations inside Israel. This can only work to the detriment of Israel-Arab relations at the broader regional level. The government of Israel should act immediately to engage the authors and sponsors of the document in a sweeping national dialogue. But in parallel the Israeli Jewish mainstream, and particularly those who have worked hard to lobby for better treatment of Israel's Arab minority, must now send a clear signal to the authors of this document that it rejects their extreme demands.- Published 29/1/2007 © bitterlemons.org
The recent publication of the "Future vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel" by leaders of the Palestinian community in Israel is not a unique incident in the history of the relations between that community and the state of Israel.
Since the creation of Israel, there has been serious tension between successive Israeli government and Zionist political parties on the one hand and the leading personalities and political parties that represent the Palestinian citizens of Israel on the other. This tension arises from the unresolved status of the Palestinian community.
The Jewish inhabitants of Palestine were for a long time a growing minority in this land. It had been growing for a mixture of political and ideological reasons, with the Zionist movement encouraging Jews to come to Palestine to create a homeland here. Two things radically changed that demographic reality in the middle of the last century.
First, there was the massive Jewish immigration from Europe as a result of the tragedy that faced Jews there. That was aided by the subsequent readiness of European governments to compensate Jews for the Nazi crimes against them by encouraging the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.
Second, there was the forced expulsion of 800,000 Palestinians to neighboring Arab countries by Zionist organizations.
Combined, these two factors created on the one hand the main underlying problem of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Palestinian refugee issue, and on the other, a Jewish majority in the part of historical Palestine where Israel declared its independent state.
Since then, and especially during the 1950s and 1960s, discriminatory state policies have been applied against those Palestinians who managed to stay in their homes. In addition to attempts to erase their national identity and strip them of their political rights, in those early decades the Palestinians of Israel were also subject to restrictions on movement and were contained in isolated population pockets, not that different from the restrictions on movement and the isolation of populated Palestinian areas in the West Bank today.
Equally important, official Israeli policies disadvantaged that minority socially and economically, rendering it the poorest and least educated segment of society.
Most obviously discriminatory are Israeli land laws, specifically the expropriations of land that either belonged to Palestinian citizens of Israel or should have been used for their urban or rural development.
It was this Israeli policy of land expropriations that led to the demonstrations on March 30, 1976, where six peaceful protestors were killed in the first real confrontation between the state and its Palestinian citizens.
In spite of all that, the Palestinians of Israel have maintained their Palestinian and Arab identity, developed their cultural and political identity and articulated their demands for equality in several significant ways, whether in "Land Day" demonstrations that started with the above or this latest document.
This document is inspired not only by the inequality Palestinian citizens of Israel face, but also by the Israeli Jewish insistence--an insistence that came to the surface most clearly during the years of the peace process--that Israel should be recognized as a Jewish state.
How can this be, leaders of the Palestinian community in Israel asked, when one-fifth of the population is non-Jewish? Would it not be more democratic and civilized if Israel considered itself a state of all its citizens?
But the document, which has created a lot of controversy in Israel with often shrill reactions, is significant for more than one reason. First, it presents a civilized and intellectual argument that should instigate a measured dialogue within Israel in order to further mutual understanding.
Second, it reflects a maturity on the part of the Palestinians of Israel, who are no longer talking only about their basic social and economic rights but are dealing with the much deeper roots of their problems as citizens of the state of Israel, a state that needs to redefine itself through a civilized and responsible dialogue that takes into consideration the views, rights and interests of its Palestinian minority.
It would be a healthy debate. Indeed, it has to be acknowledged that a debate is taking place not only between Israeli Jews and Palestinians, but also within the respective communities. The reason many in Israel are alarmed is that the Palestinian citizens of Israel are presenting their case in a sophisticated and respectful way that cannot be dismissed out of hand and is already raising eyebrows and sparking debate outside the borders of Israel.
Israel has always leaned heavily on its image abroad as a democracy. This document is a blow to that image.- Published 29/1/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the former Palestinian Authority minister of planning, and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.
VIEW OF A PALESTINIAN CITIZEN OF ISRAEL
Dismantling the tyranny of the majority
by As'ad Ghanem
Shawki Khatib is head of the Supreme Follow-up Committee of the Arabs in Israel, their highest and most authoritative representative body, and of the National Committee of the Heads of Arab Local Councils. Recently, he published the "Future vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel", a document that attracted national and international interest and elicited a wide variety of responses across the political spectrum of Jews, Arabs and others.
I believe this document can be defined as an historic event in the annals of the Palestinians in Israel and of their relationship with the Jewish majority and establishment. This is the first time a representative national body of Palestinians in Israel has prepared and published a basic paper that describes both the existing situation and the changes that are needed across a broad spectrum of Arab life: relations with the Jewish majority, the legal situation, land, social and economic issues, the status of civil and political institutions, etc. The document was written by activists from all political tendencies among the Palestinians in Israel (including some who later opposed the positions adopted), and delineates the achievements necessary for defining the future relationship between the majority and the minority in the state of Israel.
In my view, the document is based on three theoretical principles that constitute the foundations of human social, political and cultural development for at least the past two centuries. First is the principle of human rights: the document addresses the fundamental rights of the Palestinians in Israel as human beings--to economic and social development, women's and children's rights, to live without violence, etc.--and demands their realization.
The second principle invokes civil equality: the basic democratic right to equality before the law and the demand to annul laws, structures and symbols that alienate the Palestinian citizens of Israel and ensure Jewish superiority. And the third principle is that of the right of communities to self-determination, including the autonomous right to manage specific areas of life such as their own education and cultural and religious affairs.
In order to realize these foundations, the document's writers demand the implementation in Israel of a consociational system. This would replace the existing liberal system that is exploited automatically by the Jewish majority and that, indeed, constitutes a "tyranny of the majority" in which, in the name of liberal democracy, that majority takes draconian steps against the Palestinian minority and its fundamental rights.
Thus far, reactions to the document have not included a reasonable alternative proposal for involving the Palestinians in Israel as equals within the state. Most of the responses from the Jewish majority have accused the Palestinians in Israel of undermining Israel's foundations as a "Jewish and democratic" state. In fact, they completely ignore the present system's rampant abuse of the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Jewish reaction representing the Zionist consensus was expressed to a significant extent by journalist Tommy Lapid, Professor of Law Amnon Rubinstein and historian Professor Alex Jacobson. They display a well-known nationalist readiness to recognize the right to self-determination of a single group in a pluralist reality, a demand anchored in the extreme nationalism that in the twentieth century was represented by Franco in Spain, Mussolini in Italy, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and many additional countries and that ultimately led to disasters of historic dimensions. This model ignores the compromises reached in Spain after Franco, in Belgium, in Canada since the Quiet Revolution and in several other instances in which a pluralist reality facilitated solutions based on mutual recognition and the right of self-determination and self-rule for more than one national or ethnic group within a single political framework.
At the other end of the spectrum, among the Palestinians of Israel themselves, there is a group that proposes a different platform for agreement among the Arabs without accepting the need for a compromise that can be accepted by a majority of Palestinian citizens, as the vision document does. The Islamic movement led by Sheikh Raad Salah, part of the Sons of the Village movement and some intellectuals who were not involved in preparing the document are now demanding its cancellation or insisting it be deemed "unrepresentative"--as if "representative" means that every single party must accept it rather than, as actually happened, the document being signed and supported by a leadership body while protecting the right of those who disagree with aspects of it to express their criticism.
The vision document responds to both of these extremes with a centrist platform. It offers an alternative to the Israeli right, most prominently represented today by Minister of Strategic Issues Avigdor Lieberman, and to the nationalism that he represents. I believe that, in making possible an egalitarian existence within a democratic state, this is the only alternative to the extreme right. Only movement in this direction on the part of Israeli Jewish circles can save us all from the fate of those countries that were determined to employ every means at their disposal in order to establish the ethnic superiority of one community over others.- Published 29/1/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Dr. As'ad Ghanem heads the Government & Political Philosophy Department at the School of Political Sciences, University of Haifa and is chair of the executive committee of the Ibn-Khaldun Association. He was an active participant in the preparation of the document described here.
VIEW OF A PALESTINIAN CITIZEN OF ISRAEL
Challenging Israel to become democratic
by Amal Helow
With the release of a highly anticipated document, the "Future vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel", the Palestinian community within Israel has taken its first steps toward full empowerment. The document, which lays out a broad, if not comprehensive, map of relations between the state of Israel and its Palestinian Arab citizens is unique in that it has broad backing within the population and is meant to provide an urgently needed impulse in the discourse currently taking place in this country. Almost 60 years after the state of Israel was created on the ruins of Palestine and its people, the descendents of those who somehow remained on their land have moved toward actively changing their status from "tolerated" and overlooked outsiders to becoming an integral part of Israeli society on equal terms.
In order to understand the yearnings articulated in the document, it is important to recognize the mostly silent suffering that Israel's Palestinians have endured since 1948. Upon the creation of the state, the indigenous population found itself stripped of its rights and land, even the right to protest what was being done to it. Subject to military rule from 1948 until 1966, Palestinians within Israel were forced to sit by helplessly as every aspect of their lives changed. They had become an enemy in their own land.
This oppression took a heavy toll on those who witnessed the expulsions from and destruction of over 500 Palestinian villages between 1948 and 1950. As the Israeli state was being built, Jewish immigrants were absorbed on the same land, and sometimes in the very same houses, where neighbors and friends had once lived. And, as any minority in the world, Palestinians learned to keep their heads down and hold on to some semblance of dignity in the face of their tormentors.
But this mentality of "not rocking the boat" seeped into every action and behavior and the instinct for survival pushed aside the need for dignity and feelings of humiliation. As a child, I witnessed this servile behavior even in my father whenever we traveled though Ben Gurion Airport. I, like the majority of Palestinians in Israel, inherited the humiliation from the elder generation and learned to be apologetic toward Israeli Jews and to keep quiet when confronted with racist or biased officials of the state.
Slowly, and in fits and starts, this attitude has changed over the last 20 years. Palestinians have begun taking their rightful place within Israeli society: in universities, as professors or students; in political parties; in the media; in the cultural arena. By interacting with our Palestinian brethren in the occupied Palestinian territories and by feeling proud of their struggle for freedom from Israeli occupation, we also became reacquainted with ourselves. This in turn helped give us the confidence to assert our national identity.
The "Future vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel" is a direct result of that growing confidence. It highlights the maturity of the Palestinian community, which is taking a serious initiative to wrestle control over its future back into its own hands. Palestinian citizens of Israel are an integral part of the state and are not about to go anywhere. The document seeks to create debate and discussion and to put the institutions of state on notice that Palestinians are no longer going to accept being second-class citizens in their own country. It expresses the aspirations of a people vis-a-vis a state that gave them citizenship but did not give them equality.
There is a long way to go. The Zionist narrative of Israel as the national homeland for the Jewish people in and of itself negates the narrative of the Palestinian people. The state of Israel, as the product of Zionism, not only ignores the plight of non-Jewish inhabitants, but staunchly refuses to even recognize that a grave injustice was committed against the Palestinians in Israel, the Jewish community's fellow citizens. This document is an opportunity to open doors that have been sealed shut until now.
The initial reaction from the Israeli Jewish establishment has been less than heartening. Soon after the document's release, a chorus of voices rose to defend the status quo. The influential Council for Peace and Security chairman, Maj. Gen. Dani Rothschild said that, "It is inconceivable to subvert the right of the state to define itself as Jewish and democratic, of our connection to Jews of the world, of demographic hegemony, of territoriality and national symbols. These are the basic elements of the Jewish nature of the state."
Haaretz columnist Zeev Schiff went even further, invoking the Holocaust when he claimed Palestinians in the occupied territories want their future state to be "Judenrein" and that the Supreme Follow-up Committee of the Arabs in Israel, which authored the document, chose its timing deliberately because Israel was "weak and being attacked".
Missing in this fear mongering is any recognition of the Palestinian story. The Jewish establishment had better get used to the fact that the Palestinian citizens of Israel, who constitute around 20 percent of the population, are no longer going to accept being shunted aside. Israeli Jews need to recognize that only when our narrative is taught to Jewish children just as the Jewish narrative is taught in Arab schools, will Israel be on its way to becoming a true democracy. Displaying Palestinian symbols does not negate Jewish symbols; quite the opposite: it sends a strong and true message of mutual respect.
A state based on religious affiliation is archaic in today's world. When a state affords democratic rights to only some of its citizens it is not democratic. It is my hope that Jewish Israel will see this document not as a threat, but as an opportunity to rectify the wrongs of the past in order to move toward the future. "The only democracy in the Middle East" sounds much better than "the only democracy for Jews in the Middle East". The ball is now in their court.- Published 29/1/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Amal Helow is from the village of Rama near Acre.
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