November 28, 2011 Edition 34 Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire
Israel's Jewish nationalist legislation and its Palestinian citizens
Both sides are to blame  - Yossi Alpher
One key factor in moving Israeli politics to the right is the peace process--both its successes and its failures.

A symptom of the occupation  - Ghassan Khatib
The occupation has become chronic, with symptoms inside Israel.

Anti-Arab laws and the appearance of democracy in Israel  - Nadim N. Rouhana
Some Arab elites are having second thoughts about the value of parliamentary participation altogether.

The rules of the game are being changed  - an interview with Haneen Zoubi
These kinds of laws are not only a reflection of the racism of the state.

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Both sides are to blame
 Yossi Alpher
Israeli politics are becoming increasingly right-wing and nationalist. Israel's Arab citizens, along with its human rights community and democratic society in general, are the victims of the resultant legislation.

A significant portion of the reactionary right's legislative initiatives is directed squarely against Arabs: penalties for using state funds to commemorate the Nekba of 1948, empowerment of small Jewish communities to prevent Arabs from moving in, and loyalty oaths, for starters. Then there are laws that are designed to restrict and constrain the activities of civil rights organizations that at times represent and advance the socio-economic agenda of Palestinian citizens of Israel and defend their rights before the High Court of Justice.

The list is long, and to be fair it includes objectionable laws that have been rejected by a Knesset majority or shelved by an embarrassed Netanyahu government. On the other hand, so powerful is the electoral pull of Israel's reactionary nationalist camp that Defense Minister Ehud Barak's "Atzmaut" faction votes for some of its initiatives and a few "moderate" legislators from the centrist Kadima party pander to it. For example, Avi Dichter of Kadima, a former head of the General Security Service and minister of internal security, has proposed legislation giving primacy to Israel's Jewish nature over its democratic nature and cancelling the status of Arabic as a national language equal in status to Hebrew.

Where are these racist and anti-democratic laws coming from? Perhaps surprisingly, one key factor in moving Israeli politics to the right is the peace process--both its successes and its failures--and its effect on Jews and Arabs in Israel.

Obviously, acts that have helped thwart the process like suicide bombings and settlement spread have alienated Jews and Arabs, including Palestinian citizens of Israel. Israel's unilateral withdrawals from southern Lebanon in 2000 and from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and the Arab response of unprovoked rocket attacks on Israeli civilians contributed as well to the enmity--particularly in the 2006 Second Lebanon War when Jews observed that many Israeli Arabs cheered Hizballah's rocket attacks.

Some 20 percent of the Israeli public, whose origins trace to the former Soviet Union and whose ideological roots lead them to believe that Israel is in any case too small and contains too many Arabs, have increasingly supported a political party, Yisrael Beitenu, that embraces a quasi-racist platform toward Israeli Arabs and is a key member of the current governing coalition. Israel's Arab political parties, for their part, have steadily supported the Palestinian position and at least one Israeli Arab politician has regularly advised the Palestine Liberation Organization in its negotiations with Israel. Israeli Arab Islamists who have "adopted" the mosques on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif regularly accuse Israel of seeking to take over the Mount and obliterate the mosques.

One consequence of all this is that many Israeli Jews no longer distinguish between Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and Palestinian citizens of Israel in terms of their attitude toward Israel.

Then there is the issue of a specific Israeli Arab complaint about the peace process itself. Initially, when the Oslo process began nearly 20 years ago, the Israeli Arab leadership offered itself as a "bridge" to peace between Israel and the PLO. But as it became increasingly clear that the PLO accepts Israel's demand that it represent only Palestinians outside of Israel and that Israel's vision of a two-state solution means that Israel will remain a Jewish state as constituted by the United Nations in 1947, the Palestinian leadership in Israel reacted.

It began to insist that Israel's Arabs also enjoy the right to self-determination, at least to the extent that Israel must grant them national rights. It advocated that Israel become, in effect, a bi-national state rather than a Zionist Jewish state with an enfranchised Arab minority. In this regard it seems not to matter whether a two-state solution is achieved or not: the very notion of Palestinian national independence or even autonomy next door in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has kindled an Israeli Arab demand that the Israeli Jewish majority cannot accept.

It is this perception of the Israeli Arab vision--that a two-state solution should mean a Palestinian state alongside a bi-national Jewish-Arab state--that, more than any other factor, has caused the Israeli Jewish majority to initiate reactionary legislation. That reaction is not justified; there are plenty of avenues of dialogue and interaction, not to mention greater socio-economic integration, that are more suitable for countering this Palestinian nationalist trend among the Arabs of Israel. This is particularly so in light of consistent polling results that demonstrate year after year that the Israeli Arab rank-and-file is not nearly as extreme as its intellectual and political leadership: that it seeks primarily to share in Israeli prosperity and to integrate into Israeli society.

Sadly, without more enlightened leadership on both sides of the internal Israeli Jewish-Arab divide, the current spiral of reaction seems destined to continue. It will only alienate the two communities yet further, render a two-state solution even more difficult to achieve, and isolate Israel from the region and the international community.-Published 28/11/2011

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

A symptom of the occupation
 Ghassan Khatib
Israel's Knesset has recently intensified its consideration and approval of numerous laws that appear to compromise the democratic nature of Israel, while strengthening the right wing's control over various aspects of Israeli life. In light of this, Israel's media is full of analysis and opinion pieces written by those worried by this trend. They say it will both increase discrimination against Israel's Palestinian minority and narrow the space for freedom of expression and secular elements in Israel.

One article argued that, instead of fulfilling his promise to create two states, Israel and Palestine, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is pushing for two states in Israel--one secular and based in Tel Aviv and the other fundamentalist and based in Jerusalem. In another example, Haaretz co-owner and publisher Amos Schocken argued that one can easily see many similarities between Israel today and apartheid South Africa.

The main questions are, why is this happening now, and what can the outside world do about it? It is difficult to separate between Israel's internal state of democracy, freedom of expression and human rights, on one hand, and the Israeli government and the way Israel is behaving towards Palestinians, on the other. Thus, it is easy to argue that four decades of occupation are an important factor in these internal negative developments.

One way of illustrating this linkage is to note that, for Israel to delegitimize and suppress attempts to reject and resist its occupation by the enemies of that occupation--who are not all Palestinians, but also include Israelis--means the use of repression inside Israel. Another connection is that Israel's main tool in maintaining and consolidating its occupation, i.e., the settlements and settlers, functions politically in both Israel and the occupied territories. In fact, in recent months, "price tag" attacks have been carried out not only by settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, but also against Palestinians and Israelis in Israel. The third link is Israel's ongoing strategy of downplaying the significance of the green line that divides Israel from occupied Palestinian land. This is actualized through Israel's settlements and the walls and fences Israel has built inside the occupied territories, instead of in Israel.

In other words, the reality of occupation and the need to maintain it and stop resistance to it are polarizing Israel, threatening democracy and increasing racism and discrimination.

For all these reasons, and because these negative developments in Israel are part of the dynamics of occupation, friends of Israel (especially those nations, governments and organizations that have leverage over it) must try to help rescue Israeli society and democracy from the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people. That occupation has become chronic, and consequently is creating symptoms inside Israel.-Published 28/11/2011 ©

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.

Anti-Arab laws and the appearance of democracy in Israel
 Nadim N. Rouhana
The spate of anti-democratic bills recently introduced by the Israeli government has forced the issue onto the public agenda in Israel. This is so not because anti-democratic bills are new, but mainly because for the first time some of the proposed bills threaten democracy for Jewish citizens themselves. For example, proposals to limit foreign funding to local non-governmental organizations, changes in nomination procedures for Supreme Court justices, and the recent proposed amendment to the libel law (which the left views as anti-free speech legislation) have placed the anti-democratic trends at the forefront of the public's consciousness.

It is vital that these current anti-democratic bills enter the public discourse. But if, even after the resistance we are witnessing from the diminished Israeli left, these bills are passed, an anti-democratic threshold will be publicly and undeniably crossed in Israel.

It is also important to place these bills in the context of anti-Arab laws that have been introduced all along, but explicitly and extensively since the 2000 "October events" (when Palestinian citizens staged mass demonstrations against the killing of Palestinians in the occupied territories at the start of the second intifada). These new laws will reduce already-limited avenues for Arab political participation within the Israeli system: parliamentary elections, NGOs' active participation in political life, and resorting to Israel's legal system, particularly the High Court of Justice.

As to parliamentary participation, some Arab elites are having second thoughts about the value of such participation altogether, because Arab members of Knesset have very little to show their constituencies in a system in which the tyranny of the ethnic majority limits the scope and potential of political achievements. In the last elections, Arab voting decreased to a historic low of just above 50 percent. The steady decline is expected to continue and the voices that call for election boycott will gather force. Whether the government succeeds in disqualifying some Arab parties (because their platforms call for Israel to be "a state of all its citizens", not a Jewish state), or a majority of Arab citizens actively boycott the elections, the effect is similar: Israel's claim to be a democracy will be seriously damaged.

As to NGO activity, it is true that some civil society organizations are funded by European and American foundations. These organizations, all working under the watchful eyes of the Israel Ministry of the Interior, compensate somewhat for the imposed ineffectiveness of the Arab political parties. But the foreign sources of funding raise many eyebrows within the Arab community itself as to the strings that come with funding, the representativeness of such organizations, and the mandate of their activities in the name of the community. Hitting these organizations will further shrink the space allowed for political activity within the Israeli system.

As for the third area of political participation, the resort to the legal system, it is clear that some of the leading organizations working in this area are doing outstanding work. But the value of their work is also being questioned by the community, as many of their legal achievements are of limited actual value because the overall political system makes sure to neuter them either by blocking the implementation of High Court rulings or by introducing new legislation that renders the rulings irrelevant. Some are worried that the resort to the legal system is only helping Israel's claim to democracy in return for effectively very limited results.

It is imprudent to expect that Palestinian citizens--a highly politicized indigenous national group of about one million and a half citizens and about 20 percent of the population of Israel--will just cease to seek equality and dignity because Israel sets limits on their diverse forms of political participation or keeps legislating that it is not their state but rather the state of the Jewish people. By doing so, Israel perhaps hopes to get an acquiescent group that will accept collective inferiority in its own homeland. Why Israel believes this is possible merits further study. For now, it is important to see the options that will remain open to Arab citizens once these new laws pass, and the consequent implications for Israel.

The deadlocked struggle for equal citizenship will become inextricably connected with the other deadlocked causes of the Palestinians: ending Israel's colonial rule, statehood, and achieving the return of the Palestinian refugees. There is an increasing awareness among all Palestinian groups that the major obstacle to peaceful and equal relations between Israeli Jews and Palestinians is the very project of an exclusive Jewish state that Israel is seeking to legislate and obtain Palestinian recognition of.

Historically, Arab citizens' acceptance of parliamentary participation immediately after Israel was established helped legitimize Israel on the world stage as an apparently democratic state. The historical circumstances of this implicit deal in which Arab citizens participate in elections in return for being able to escape the fate of other Palestinians--ethnic cleansing--are still silently in force. If the possibilities of even shallow and questionable forms of political participation are now diminished, the foundations of this implicit deal will change and both sides will be seeking new terms.

The implications for the appearance of democracy in Israel are far-reaching, and the doors of other forms of political participation for Palestinian citizens, such as civil disobedience, will start to be opened. Furthermore, those groups that seek to redefine the conflict as no longer being one for two nation states but rather a struggle for human rights, equality, and dignity for all in a single democratic state will be strengthened.-Published 28/11/2011

Nadim N. Rouhana is founding director of Mada al-Carmel - The Arab Center for Applied Social Research in Haifa. He is also professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

The rules of the game are being changed
an interview with  Haneen Zoubi
bitterlemons: What is driving the push for right-wing legislation in Israel?

Zoubi: Israel is engaging in a struggle between the Jewishness of the state and democracy. She perceives that she is in a position to choose between "Jewish values" and "democratic values". She is making a very clear statement that she intends to defend the Jewishness of this country and to place obstacles in the path of the true struggle for democracy.

These kinds of laws are not only a reflection of the racism of the state, but they are also seeking to change the rules of the game. What was once a legal struggle will be from now on an illegal struggle. These laws are more dangerous than just being a reflection of racism; they are actually changing the borders of political legitimacy. Every definition of democracy, liberalism and legitimacy is now to be conditioned on Jewishness and the Jewish state.

bitterlemons: Which of the laws passed or proposed do you think are the most dangerous to your constituents?

Zoubi: I think there is a difference in function; there are laws that delegitimize identity and there are laws that delegitimize political movements that challenge the Jewishness of the state. I cannot tell which law is the most dangerous. There are laws that continue the functions of the old laws that confiscated land. They are passing laws against [Palestinian] prisoners. They are passing laws against the entrance of Palestinians to the state. They are passing laws for loyalty.

This [law requiring an] expression of loyalty for Zionism is really new because up until now, the state was dependent on policies of loyalty. It sought to formulate a new Palestinian personality, one that expressed loyalty, but it was always on the level of policy. Now they have moved to making laws of loyalty. This is very dangerous.

Why are they moving from "policies of loyalty" to "laws of loyalty"? Because the policies didn't succeed. Part of the Palestinian struggle was really to preserve the Palestinian identity, to preserve the Palestinian personality, to express that "we are part of the Palestinian people" and that the struggle of the Palestinian people is in part our struggle.

Israel thinks that it can succeed by shifting these policies to laws, making them more damaging for citizens to violate.

bitterlemons: I wanted to ask you about the plan to relocate 30,000 Bedouin in the Negev. How is it that the government can simply move, against their will, so many voting citizens of the state?

Zoubi: Yes, all of them are citizens, and the strategy is simply to control their land. We are talking about the last three percent of the land that they own. Thirty-six percent of the population of the Negev is Palestinian, living on three percent of their [original] land. We are talking about a half a million dunams of the Negev's 12 million dunams, which constitutes half of historic Palestine. At the same time, the Knesset passed just days ago a law establishing individual farms for Jewish residents of the Negev. So, on the one hand, you have a law to legalize thousands of dunams of individual properties for Jews, and on the other hand, laws that confiscate one-half billion dunams from Palestinians in the Negev.

The struggle, you see, is not only over one aspect. It is over land, over identity, regarding Judaizing the public sphere, privileges to those who serve in the army--every single aspect is being legislated.

bitterlemons: What do you see as your role?

Zoubi: Actually, as Knesset members, our influence over laws and policy is zero.

But this is not how I measure our role. Our role is really to make our policy loud, to make a statement, to raise public awareness and to give a model to our society on how to challenge this--a model that "these are our rights", that we must not give up, that it is not enough to speak up about individual rights and social and economic rights, but that we must link these rights with our collective and political rights as Palestinians and as indigenous people.-Published 28/11/2011

Haneen Zoubi is a member of Knesset representing the Balad party.