Israel’s Knesset (parliament) is set to discuss a number of bills in its winter session which Palestinians regard as racist, continuing a policy of “unprecedented racist legislation in 1948 Palestine” aimed at undermining the very existence of Palestinians in their own land.
As part of the “Judaisation” process, a proposed law calls for the end of Arabic as an official language of the state of Israel, a move which would marginalise ever further one-fifth of the population for whom Arabic is the mother-tongue. Indeed, Arabic was the official language of Palestine during the British Mandate period before the 1948 Nakba (Catastrophe). The former head of Israel’s internal security agency, Shin Bet, has drafted the proposed law. Avi Dichter, MK for the Kadima Party, has included the language stipulation in a bill headed “Israel as the national state of the Jewish people” in collaboration with the Strategic Institute for Zionism, and supported by one-third of the Jewish members of the Knesset.
Dichter’s law would force every citizen to pledge allegiance to “Israel as a Jewish and democratic state”; anyone refusing to do so would be “liable to punishment”. His vision of the democratic system in Israel is linked to the Jewish religion.
Massoud Ghanayem MK accused the main Israeli political parties of vying with each other to see which one can be the most “nationalist” to capture the Zionist vote. Speaking to Aljazeera, Ghanayem said, “The challenges facing Israel and the failure of the road map for peace are behind this racist legislation, especially since the Palestinians [in Israel] have exposed, through their struggle, the myth of Israeli democracy and the Jewish character of the state.”
According to Mr Ghanayem, Israel and its political parties have adopted policies for the marginalisation of the Palestinians, narrowing the scope of democracy to impose what he called “the new rules of the game” in which Israel’s Arab citizens are supposed to embrace the concept of Zionism and Jewish citizenship. Dichter’s law, Ghanyem explained, will also have an impact on the education system. “While the Education Ministry claims that it is teaching young people to respect pluralism, recognition and respect for others,” he said, “the message from the legislators tells them the opposite.”
If passed, Dichter’s law would follow a series of “racist laws”, including one which prohibits commemoration of the Nakba, pushing the Israeli narrative as the official version of what happened in 1948. Another law allows Jewish towns to vet those wishing to live there. This is to stop Palestinians from moving in, even if they have historical roots in the district. Any land which has been confiscated by the state for more than 25 years will not, according to yet another law deemed to be racist by the Palestinians, be returned to its original and lawful owners. This, of course, has a major impact on Palestinians trying to recover their family property and land.
Jamal Zahalka MK has accused Israeli politicians of inciting racism against the Palestinians in an effort to gain the trust of the wider public in Israel. He told Aljazeera that laws such as that proposed by Dichter are “like a declaration of war” on Palestinian civilians, “pouring oil on the fire of Israeli racism”. Zahalka pointed out that the parties may use different terminology to justify their case, but the all agree on the basic essence and principles behind such laws.
A Professor of Arabic who resigned his post believes that the new laws are intended to marginalise Arabic language and its speakers. Professor Ziad Shelyot said that the latest attack on Arabic is part of a strategy to deprive Israeli-Palestinians of their identity, heritage and, ultimately, citizenship.
Prof. Shelyot warned of the effect that this law will have emerging Palestinian generations and students, pointing out that if it makes it onto the statute books it will lead to the teaching of Arabic to be banned in Israel. “This,” he added, “will create a generation with no personal or national identity; one that is defeated and lives in internal conflict as a curious blend of races and cultures which have lost their uniqueness.”
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