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Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy

June 15, 2014 at 2:31 pm

  • Book Author(s): Ben White
  • Published Date: 2011-12-20 00:00:00
  • Publisher: Pluto Press
  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • ISBN-13: 978 - 0 - 7453 - 3228 - 1

Janan Abdu is a Palestinian social and feminist campaigner and researcher. Her husband Ameer Makhoul is also a human rights activist on behalf of Palestinians living in Israel; imprisoned, it is feared the motive for his detainment is that he challenges the marginalisation of Palestinian citizens of Israel. In an interview with Ben White in his latest book, ‘Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy’, Abdu recounts a story about her husband’s arrest:

“After the security forces took Ameer, for almost two weeks there was no meetings with a lawyer – we didn’t know anything about his circumstances. Since the arrest we meet once every two weeks from behind a glass screen and talk with him through the handset. Ameer cannot hug or kiss his children.”

Their plight is an example of “how efforts to peacefully contest the structure of Jewish privilege have been thwarted and criminalised.” Sadly, Janan and Abdu’s story is just one of the many case studies White puts forward in his book to illustrate how Palestinian citizens of Israel are discriminated against by the Israeli authorities. The profiles present a human element and complement the political analysis White gives, offering a tangible, real life story to which readers can connect to, or further understand the issues Palestinians face in Israel.

The book, which recently won special runner up award at Middle East Monitor’s book awards in November, argues that this systematic prejudice since 1948 is fundamental to the region, yet rarely discussed or understood. “White asks for a shift away from the paradigm of Occupation as the lens through which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is viewed,” says Member of Knesset Haneen Zoabi in her foreword. As a freelance journalist, writer and activist, White has been visiting the region since 2003, working in the West Bank, and with Palestinians in Israel.

Currently comprising about 20% of the population in Israel, the Palestinian minority – those who were not driven out and denationalised in 1948 when Israel was created – have increasingly been targeted by the Israeli authorities. In the last decade, as White notes, Israel has reached saturation point with their development in the Occupied Territories and sought to secure their hold in the Galilee and the Negev, at the expense of its Palestinian citizens. Yet though they may have turned their attention to this area, the tactics of Jewish housing and construction taking precedence over that of Palestinian, is reminiscent of policies undertaken in the West Bank.

To realise this they have implemented a series of nationalistic laws in areas such as housing, budgets, state policy, land ownership, citizenship, education and immigration, which have sought to and have succeeded in dividing society. According to White, “Israel’s regime structure makes equality between Arab and Jew impossible in practice and in theory.” As White analyses these laws, what unravels is a disturbing portrait of how the Israeli authorities have entrenched division and distinction between Israeli citizens and Palestinian Israeli citizens.

Take, for example, the issue of land expropriation that is covered comprehensively in this book. White’s research lays bare a system that is at best riddled with loopholes and clauses designed to undermine Palestinian’s right to their land, and at worst littered with blatant disregard for the property of others. As a result, Jewish communities have mushroomed in Israel, whereas Palestinian growth is stagnant. Since 1948, within the pre-1967 borders, over 700 Jewish communities have been formed. In the same period, only seven have been established for Palestinians, and these have ultimately been to displace the Bedouin population. (See Appendix on page 92 for ten facts about Palestinian citizens in Israel.)

The Emergency Land Requisition of 1949 stipulated that the government was allowed to seize (Palestinian) land in the event of an emergency. Four years later it had been utilised for over 1,000 orders. The Absentee Property Law in 1950 transferred the land and houses of Palestinian refugees to a ‘Custodian of Absentee Property’, much like a large scale Israeli landlord. Israelis were exempt from the law, though clauses within the statute meant that even Palestinians on a business or family trip from November 1947 to May 1948 could lose their property, for it later to be sold.

But how is Israel allowed to implement such biased measures? That is partly thanks to the illusion they have built around themselves, that they are the only democracy in the Middle East. By doing this, they can deflect criticism about laws which marginalize Israeli Arabs and further entrench prejudice and discrimination. Whilst Israeli leaders and lobbyists draw attention to ‘Arab Israeli’ Knesset members and pop stars, or boast of the mixed beaches Arabs and Jews share as proof of a non-racist society, they heavily marginalise Arab Israelis in terms of housing and citizenship. As White points out, the Zionist project in Israel has in fact been very anti-democratic. “Israel’s definition as ‘Jewish and democratic’ is the contradiction at the heart of the conflict.” Thankfully, this is an illusion that is being chipped away at by the rising tide of criticism of Israel in Europe.

‘Palestinians in Israel’ paints a grey picture of life in Israel for Palestinians, one in which they are far from equal citizens. “It is there in the unabashed belief of Israeli leaders that only Jews have rights to the ‘Land of Israel’, while ‘Arabs’ may enjoy (conditional) rights in the land.” As a research tool, it is thoroughly researched, informative, yet accessible book for those who would like to understand Israel’s prejudicial policies in more depth, and develop a new context through which to analyse the Israel – Palestine conflict. Further than the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza it argues we should consider all Palestinian’s rights: “It is time to reintegrate the different elements of the historic conflict, and see the ‘Question of Palestine’ holistically.”