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‘The Nation-State Law puts in black and white Israel’s version of apartheid’

British journalist Jonathan Cook lives in Nazareth, here he tells MEMO how Israel’s latest legislation leaves it bare and unable to hide behind the guise that it is an inclusive state

May 7, 2019 at 12:34 pm

Almost a year has passed since the Israeli Knesset voted to invoke the Nation-State Law. This simple constitutional amendment declares the Jewish people as the only national group with the right to self-determination in the state of Israel.

For those Palestinians who remained in the newly created state of Israel after the Nakba – their right to self-determination has been stripped from them.

Roughly 20 per cent of Israel’s population are now officially second class citizens to the Israeli-Jewish majority.

Jonathan Cook is a Nazareth-based journalist who has written extensively on the Palestinian citizens both inside and outside of Israel. His career spans 20 years and has seen him publish books on the Palestinian issue, including “Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State”, dissecting Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian citizens during the Second Intifada.

Since the passing of the Nation-State Law, however, Cook believes nothing has really changed at all. Apart, of course, from how obviously Israel is now flaunting its apartheid-like structures.

Interview: ‘Israel’s system is galloping apartheid,’ says Israel professor

“Not much has changed. Not formally, at least,” Cook tells MEMO from his father’s home in Devon.

“It has made explicit, certain things that were veiled, and that Israel was embarrassed about – the founding generation at least.”

He explains that Israel’s recent nationalist laws highlight its glaring abuses, something he has been accusing them of all of his career.

“It’s quite difficult to find an overview of what’s going on and how the Israeli version of apartheid works. Out of the blue, this basic law just sets it out for you and there it is in black and white,” he says.


The divisive lines between Arabs and Jews in Israel are entrenched through its institutions. The Nation-State Law is a final signifier that this is the way it will remain.

According to Cook, the segregated education system makes it near impossible for Jewish children and their Palestinian counterparts to have any contact.

READ: Arab League warns of erasure of Palestinian history in school curriculum

On top of this, the environment in both communities is one that promotes fear and suspicion.

“The school system, the parents, the politicians, the media, all exaggerate their fears,” Cook says. “As they’re segregated there’s no way to measure the other person. If you could, you could objectively say, ‘I know Muhammad and he’s great, and he wouldn’t want to hurt me.’”

“They’re just filling up the hollow shell of a child’s mind with prejudice and bigotry,” he adds.

Higher education is integrated in Israel but taught in Israeli-Jewish areas, in Hebrew, creating additional barriers for Palestinian teens who may be looking to continue their studies.

“The parents aren’t usually happy for them, especially the girls, to leave the home until they’re married and especially not to go live in a Jewish community,” Cook explains.

READ: Plan advances for Jewish religious school in Sheikh Jarrah

“That sounds very difficult and dangerous, for a daughter, even for a son.”

The number of Palestinian citizens of Israel attending university has doubled in the last ten years and they now make up 16 per cent of students enrolled in undergraduate degree programmes.

Though promising, the percentage is still significantly lower than their representation in the general population – 26 per cent – at that age.

Students prepare to attend their graduation ceremony after achieving high results known as "Tawjihi"in Gaza

Palestinian students prepare to attend their graduation ceremony [Apaimages]

For those who don’t get the opportunity to attend university, the chances of integration are far less promising.

“If you’re an Arab taxi driver, the first Jews you will meet will be the Jews in your taxi; having spent your entire childhood in segregated towns and education systems,” Cook explains.

Israel segregates them to cultivate fear, to justify to Israeli Jews that they are embattled. To make them think that if they let their guard down, they’ll be killed by a Palestinian.

Among the adult population, Cook believes there is a concerted effort to weaken Palestinian unity by prying religious groups from each other. According to the Israeli Bureau of Statistics, nine per cent of Israeli-Arabs are Druze and a further nine per cent Christian.

“If you want to weaken the Palestinian minority, the best way is by separating off the Christians and Druze,” Cook says.

He adds that the Israeli government has constructed a series of nationalities to categorise its citizens.

READ: Israel forces attack, injure school children in Hebron

He explains that authorities have tried to promote an “Aramaic” nationality to pry Christian Palestinian citizens from their Muslim counterparts.

“It [Aramaic] relates to a very small community of Christian Palestinians who see their identity as having been corrupted by the Arab invasions. It’s not just a Christian nationality, it’s a Christian, anti-Muslim nationality,” he says.

However, Cook believes this has been “very unsuccessful”.

Emotional cost

“There is certainly an emotional cost, I think,” Cook says.

“It has forced Palestinian citizens to reassess their relationship with the state.”

The Druze serve in the army and were given their own education system, separate from other Arab citizens.

“A concept that is taught in the Druze education system is this idea of a ‘blood covenant’.”

Thousands of demonstrators from the Druze community stage a protest against the “Jewish Nation-State” law that was approved last month by the Israel’s parliament, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, Israel on August 04, 2018 [Daniel Bar On / Anadolu Agency]

Thousands of demonstrators from the Druze community stage a protest against the “Jewish Nation-State” law that was approved last month by the Israel’s parliament, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, Israel on August 04, 2018 [Daniel Bar On / Anadolu Agency]

According to Cook, Israel has constructed an artificial cultural history to make Druze children grow up feeling closer to Israel than other Palestinians. This is so they will fight against them in the army.

Israelis see them as trustworthy and loyal, giving them access to low-level security jobs like those of prison wardens, he adds.

Benny Gantz, who recently conceded the Israeli premiership to Benjamin Netanyahu, said that if he were elected he would modify the Nation-State Law, presumably to ensure the Druze had their place within Israeli society.

READ: Netanyahu, Druze leaders spar over ‘apartheid’ criticism

“For them [Benny Gantz and his alliance], it feels dangerous to alienate these Druze who are serving in the army, they have weapons, they’re trained. They say it’s not a wise idea to make them feel they don’t belong,” Cook explains.


Cook believes that the Nation-State Law is just one aspect of a compounding dissatisfaction with the “democratic” process in Israel.

Only 50 per cent of all Palestinian citizens of Israel who are eligible to vote took part in this year’s general election. This is down 16 per cent from just four years ago.

The reason it went up on the last election [2015] is because of the Joint List. There was a sense of hope that the Arab parties coming together, co-operating, finding a common voice, would give them more weight and perhaps more power to be a part of the political system

Cook says.

The Joint List was an alliance of the mainly Arab political parties in the country; Balad, Hadash and Ta’al and the United Arab List (Ra’am).

READ: Arab-Israel MKs walk out of Knesset ceremony during national anthem

The Joint List “for Palestinians inside Israel, was a moment of ‘wow, maybe we’re going to become a player in the national political arena’,” Cook continues.

The alliance became the third-largest faction in the Knesset after the elections, which Cook believes led to a backlash from the Israeli Jewish parties.

Fear that the Palestinian citizens of Israel were becoming more visible and more consolidated led to harsher treatment.

“Now you’ve got the expulsion law which means, basically, that Jewish members of the Knesset can now vote out any Arab member that they don’t like,” he says.

Swayed to the right

Netanyahu has cosied up to US President Donald Trump, a move that Cook believes has bolstered the prime minister’s brazenness to institute laws he would never have got away with previously.

Last year Trump moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem, an unprecedented move, avoided by previous leaders due to both Israeli and Palestinian claims to the city.

To add more salt to the wound, in March, Trump declared recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The area was annexed by Israel from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War and remains occupied according to international law.

READ: Challenges faced by Palestinian citizens of Israel after the Knesset Elections

“Things changing in a way that benefit Israel make Israel very arrogant,” Cook says.

Yet, this arrogance is not without protestation in Israel itself.

“The main conflict within Israel is between those saying, ‘here’s our chance, let’s seize it while we can.’ The ‘slash and burn’ policy. And those that say ‘hang on a minute, history goes in cycles and if we’ve lost the moral leadership we once had, we stand naked before the world and that’s dangerous for us’,” Cook explains.

He believes there is a way to combat the rising right-wing Israeli politics.

“If there’s going to be a change, I don’t think it’s going to come from inside. I can see it coming from outside from us, with our pressure in the West,” Cook says.

“If pressure is put on, the cost-benefit calculus going on in Israeli society will make them realise that it’s not worth it for them to carry on this way.”