Middle East Monitor (MEMO) today hosted a conference discussing Palestinian citizens of Israel and the Nation-State Law, which last year declared Israel the “historical home of the Jewish people” and effectively rendered Israel’s some 1.8 million Palestinians second-class citizens.
Bringing together influential speakers from academic, political and activist circles, today’s conference proved to be a lively discussion of the challenges facing the Arab-Israeli community and what practical steps need to be taken in the future to change the status quo.
One of the themes running through the conference was the way in which the Nation-State Law has only further entrenched Israel’s already-existing racism and discrimination against its Palestinian citizens.
Suhad Bishara, a senior lawyer with the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights – better known as Adalah – explained in today’s first panel that, for decades, the Supreme Court in Israel has been complicit in enacting the Knesset’s discriminatory laws and has been “consistent in allowing anti-Arab and anti-democratic laws to fester”. This, she explained, is vital context for understanding the Nation-State Law, which she says has “shrunk the already limited space for human rights lawyers to do their job” since it was passed in July.
There is no shortage of ideas when it comes to how to dismantle this system. Perhaps the most vibrant panel of the day featured Knesset Member Dr Yousef Jabareen of the Hadash-Ta’al alliance, Professor As’ad Ghanem from Haifa University and Sami Abu Shehadeh of the Yaffa Youth Movement.
All Palestinian citizens of Israel, the trio discussed ideas such as the one-state solution, “a state of all its citizens” and a binational model, all of which provide alternatives to the status quo. For Jabareen, participating in the Knesset is a vital tool for affecting change, and the veteran MK stressed that though voter turnout among Palestinian citizens of Israel hit a new low in the recent election, this does not mean the community should turn away from politics.
Yet, as he explained, his decision to participate in Israeli politics has not been without its struggles:
For me the Knesset cannot be my home, please don’t make the mistake of thinking that it is a joyous occasion for me to be there. It is difficult to sit in a Zionist institution with its symbols, but I do this because I believe it is important to represent my community, act on our sumud [steadfastness] and stay in our land.
Professor Ghanem, for his part, laid the blame for the Palestinians’ struggle to affect change squarely with the Palestinian leadership, both in Israel and the occupied territories. Ghanem said: “We [Palestinians] are weak because Israel succeeded in fragmenting us, we behave as if we are different national groups, and if we believe that we are one national group we should make this concept central to our struggle.”
“The core of any future struggle against the Jewish characteristics of Israel starts with us,” he added.
Rounding up the day, our final panel discussed the ways in which the international community could assist Palestinian citizens of Israel, and indeed Palestinians more generally.
In this, panellists Karl Sabbagh, Salma Karmi-Ayyoub and David Cronin discussed the continued support of Western states for Israel, irrespective of its violations of international humanitarian law and norms. Until this is challenged effectively and Israel is held to account, they explained, anti-Palestinian and anti-democratic initiatives like the Nation-State Law will continue to be enacted by Israel with impunity. They therefore called on people to call out their leaders’ complicity and act themselves, through grassroots initiatives, so that Palestinian citizens of Israel can continue their struggle.