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Mr. Hague, this is what you should say to the Israelis next week

If Israel wants to be accepted as a normal state among the family of nations then it must abandon its dangerous flirtation with apartheid-like policies. This week's clashes in the northern Israeli town of Um El-Fahem were a disturbing development and a reminder of what it means to be a Palestinian citizen of Israel.


Although the world may be distracted by the controversy over the continued construction of illegal settlements in the occupied territories, the British government can ill-afford to ignore the racist provocations and discrimination practiced by Israel against its 1.5 million Palestinian citizens. One in five Israeli citizens is a Palestinian, the survivors or the descendants of survivors of the 1948 Nakba (Catastrophe).

Officially, the purpose of this week's march by Jewish extremist groups was to demand the banning of the Islamic movement led by the imprisoned Shaikh Raed Salah. Scratch beneath the surface of the rhetoric, though, and it is obvious that the Islamic movement excuse is being used to push an agenda of intimidation and harassment. The Haifa-based Al-Mossawa Centre noted in a report (April 2010) that Umm El-Fahem has been a target of Jewish extremist groups in Israel for the past 30 years.

And Umm El-Fahem is not unique. There was also similar provocation and confrontation this week in Safad, another northern city. It is not only the spread of racist aggression that has caught the eye, it is also the fact that the provocateurs are always escorted and protected by the Israeli police. No one can deny that the extremists work in tandem with the authorities. The latter have used the levers of state machinery to give a veneer of legitimacy to a series of laws which have entrenched discrimination against those called "Israeli Arabs".

Since taking office just over a year ago the Israeli government has tabled at least 21 bills which legitimise discrimination against the country's Arab citizens. Among proposed legislation is a bill to revoke their citizenship. If passed, the Interior Minister Eli Yishai has promised that he will revoke the citizenship of former MK Azmi Bishara, as well as that of 34 other Arab citizens. Of course, this call to revoke citizenship does not include Israeli Jews linked to terrorist activity, such as Yitzhak Rabin's killer, Yigal Amir. The "citizenship and entry into Israel law", denies citizenship and Israeli residence rights to Palestinians from the West Bank or the Gaza Strip who marry citizens of Israel.

The Netanyahu government has even gone so far as to table a bill outlawing any commemoration of the Nakba. Following several ministerial objections, the bill has since been amended so as not to criminalize the commemoration of the Nakba, but instead prohibit the allocation of money to any State-funded institute involved with Nakba commemorations.

Inevitably, the proposal of such legislation undermines the legitimacy of the Arab community as equal citizens in Israel and reinforces the Jewish majority's perception of Arab citizens as threats to the State.

As Foreign Secretary, William Hague will be hosted by his Israeli counterpart, the overtly racist and far-right extremist Avigdor Lieberman. Mr. Hague should raise concerns over statements made in February 2010 by Lieberman's deputy, Danny Ayalon, that a deal between Israel and the Palestinians could include a land and population swap between Arab towns and villages in northern Israel and Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank. Remarks such as these make one wonder whether we are speaking about pawns on a chess board or people with national, humanitarian and civil rights.

It was inevitable that clashes would erupt in Umm El-Fahem this week. The Israelis, who have yet to adopt the thought processes of 21st century civil conduct, still hope that the Palestinians will run away under pressure and threats. This will not happen; as Knesset Member Muhammad Barakat explained, the Palestinians inside Israel have an immutable relationship with the land – they will either live on it or be buried in it.

No doubt, Lieberman and his associates will raise the issue of universal jurisdiction with Mr. Hague. Her Majesty's Foreign Secretary must not allow his office to be used to validate that which is condemned universally as illegal. He should tell his hosts that there is no ethnic solution to the conflict in Palestine.

Finally, he should remind the Israeli Foreign Minister that apartheid, although associated with the specific circumstances of racism that prevailed in South Africa until 1994, remains by virtue of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, a crime against humanity. More specifically, he should read the text to Lieberman and his team; they will hear that the Convention criminalizes all "inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them".

If William Hague holds back from explaining to his Israeli hosts that the particular road map that they are following is not only illegal but also immoral, then the British government will be complicit in Israel's crimes against the Palestinians. Does the coalition government in Westminster really want to take that risk?

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