Israeli policies and practices have for years been seen to be openly racist against non-Jews but that hasn’t stopped legislators trying to cover up this racism. A number of laws have been enacted which give the false impression that there is full equality in law between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of the state; these are rarely put into practice.
The current situation is that the overweening arrogance of the Israelis has given them the confidence to abandon this fig-leaf of respectability and implement by law what could be the most brutally racist practices in the modern era.
The most dangerous of the openly racist bills being discussed by the Knesset (Israeli parliament) is the draft “nation-state law” proposed by Yariv Levin, the head of the ruling coalition. It is supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give the existing apartheid system in Israel constitutional and legal cover. If passed into law, the provisions will torpedo any legal foundations for the 1-in-5 Israelis who are Palestinian Arabs to demand equality, which they should have by right as supposedly equal citizens of the state.
For example, the draft law provides the right to self-determination only for Jews. The legitimacy of Israeli-Arabs campaigning for and having a distinct national identity will be removed with, for example, Hebrew being the only official language of the state; Arabic will be dropped. This will reduce the margin for manoeuvrability by non-Jews in developing all aspects of their cultural identity. It also allows for any and all demographic and geographical space to serve the “Jewish character” of the Zionist state by requiring Israeli governments to build settlements for the Jews. At the same time, the governments will have the right to reject the construction of villages and towns for Palestinians.
Ironically, the bill mimics the infamous Nazi laws because it requires Israeli courts to respect Jewish identity over the values of democracy in their judgements. This article in particular gives legitimacy to discrimination on a racial and religious basis against non-Jews.
There is no doubt that the most dangerous articles of the draft law as far as Palestinians are concerned are those that adopt Jewish religious texts regarding the “Land of Israel” and restrict the right to the land to “the Jewish people”, without defining the borders of the land. This gives legitimacy to Zionism’s most extreme expansionist claims which will, no doubt, emerge during “final status talks” with the Palestinians.
It is clear that the bill proposes a barely tolerable status as a minority presence to the one-fifth of the population who are Palestinian Arabs, providing the government with all the tools it needs to transform or eradicate that minority to ensure the ethno-religious “purity” of Israel as a “Jewish state”. The adoption of this law will confirm that the Israeli government is moving to consolidate and legitimise racist practices against the Palestinians.
The bill has the support of all parties within the ruling coalition as well as the religious right-wing opposition and follows a number of other laws which are intended to reduce Palestinian equality. The Knesset passed a bill recently which criminalises the “defamation” of the Israeli army; any party or human rights organisation which is critical of the army’s criminal practices against Palestinians and Arabs can be held accountable on the grounds that such criticism violates the law. This, of course, not only seeks to provide legal cover for war crimes committed by Israeli soldiers and their political bosses but also undermines one of the most important bases of democracy, namely freedom of speech.
This tells us that the people behind this particular law are aware that there are problems with the behaviour of the Israel Defence Forces. It has been backed-up by a no less racist law which exempts the state of Israel from responding to any claims for compensation brought by Palestinians affected by the army during military campaigns. At a stroke, the Israel Defence Forces have been given the green light to commit any crime against Palestinians with impunity.
Israel’s citizenship law denies its Palestinian citizens the right to marry spouses from the West Bank or Gaza Strip on the grounds that it poses a demographic threat to the state by increasing the number of Palestinians within Israel. Indeed, it is a criminal offence for Israeli citizens to visit any country regarded as being “hostile” to Israel; this restricts Palestinian citizens’ rights to visit friends or relatives who happen to live in neighbouring states with which Israel has no peace treaty.
Furthermore, the Knesset passed a law exempting Israelis from any legal responsibility if they kill anyone breaking through the fences or walls of their farms and homes, legitimising the killing of Palestinians protesting against the theft and colonisation of their land.
Discrimination and racism occurs not only through the legal system but also in diktats from administrators and public services. Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz issued an order designed to keep Palestinians and Jews apart on buses in the occupied West Bank; just as in apartheid South Africa, there are separate transport systems for people of different ethnic backgrounds.
Clearing the land of its indigenous inhabitants has been central to Israel’s occupation and expansion. In this context, the government has approved what is known as the Prawer-Begin Plan to expel thousands of Bedouin citizens from their land in the Negev Desert so that it can be colonised by Jews. Their existing villages are not “recognised” by the state and so are not connected to mainstream public services in any case. The Jews who replace them will, of course, have full access to all utilities.
Attacks by such settlers against Palestinians and their property are frequent. Israel’s internal security agency, Shabak, admits that the legal structure does not allow its officers to investigate effectively the members of Jewish terrorist organisations responsible for these acts, even though most of them are known to the authorities. The settlers themselves have been known to claim that the legal and security systems in the country are designed expressly to facilitate attacks against Palestinians. One settler extremist in custody was asked by reporters what sort of pressure he was exposed to while being interrogated: “The cruellest practice I was exposed to was that they forced me to read the liberal Haaretz newspaper,” he said sarcastically. Palestinian prisoners are, of course, exposed to legally-sanctioned torture under interrogation.
Discrimination and racism have been built into the Israeli legal system, with the courts and public prosecutors dealing with those accused of criminal activity on the basis of their religion and ethnicity. Israeli courts do not hesitate to sentence Palestinians to the most severe punishments possible, but Jews, including settlers accused of very serious crimes, are tolerated even after being found guilty. Military courts do not hesitate to sentence Palestinians convicted of throwing stones to five years in prison, while the same court will set free settlers accused of shooting with the intent to kill Palestinians.
Former military prosecutor, Avichai Mandelblit, said publically that an investigation committee should not be formed when the Israeli army kills Palestinian children. Moreover, Mandelblit himself covered all the war crimes committed by Israel during its attack on the Gaza Strip in late 2008 and early 2009.
It is not surprising, therefore, that all public institutions and private facilities in Israel follow this lead. Even some Israeli banks refuse to open accounts for Israeli-Palestinians. And in no other country in the world do cities dare to specify which areas certain citizens are not allowed to stay, except Israel; Palestinians are not allowed to rent or buy in Eilat, Bnei Brak and Safed, to name but three places.
The international community overlooks Israel’s racist policies and practices, demonstrating the extent of hypocrisy and double standards that govern this world. The same governments do not hesitate to condemn the treatment of minorities in Arab and Muslim countries. A great effort is needed by Arabs and Muslims to expose this discrimination and work to isolate Israel in international forums, the silence of which encourages Israel to discriminate against non-Jews with impunity.
The author is a Palestinian writer. This article is a translation of the Arabic text published Al Jazeera Net on 20 July 2013
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.