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Palestinians in Israel face social challenges to preserve their identity 

July 29, 2020 at 3:06 pm

A Palestinian holds a Palestinian flag during a protest within the Great March of Return in Gaza on 21 December 2018 [Ramez habboub/Anadolu Agency]

Palestinians in Israel face a number of social challenges to preserve their identity. The first of these is probably the fact that they have Israeli citizenship. Ordinary people and activists alike are torn between the national and religious aspects of their multiple Palestinian-Arab-Muslim-Christian identities and the political reality and citizenship that has been imposed on them.

This uncertain relationship is not new, but over the past five years we have been heading towards a new crossroads. In my opinion, the politicians on the Arab Joint List bear the responsibility for pushing Palestinians in Israel towards this.

Post-Nakba, and during the fifties and the sixties, Palestinians in Israel lived in fear but managed to preserve their Arab identity, albeit without any open, public declaration of it. During the seventies, they began to emphasise their Palestinian identity in public; that is the period when the commemoration of Land Day began. From the mid-eighties to the late nineties, including the Oslo and post-Oslo periods, Palestinians viewed Israeli citizenship as the main component of their identity through which they engaged in the struggle for their rights and demands for better public services. The Second Intifada was probably an indication that this did not work, and that most Israelis still regarded them as Palestinians and treated them as such.

During the past five years, a new shift has been seen with the rise of the Arab Joint List, the outlawing of the Northern Islamic Movement, and the decline of Palestinian resistance, as well as the stability (if not the dramatic improvement) in relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours. For all of these reasons and more, Palestinians in Israel began to focus on improving their daily lives and their economy while their identity and struggle as part of the whole Palestinian nation has become less important. The Joint List, as a parliamentary coalition that seeks to get as many votes as possible, adopts this rhetoric that centres on the demands of daily life and improving the economy along with the overall well-being of Palestinian citizens of the Israeli state; political and ideological issues related to the conflict are neglected.

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The increase in the crime rate is one of the most pressing challenges faced by Palestinians in Israel; for them, social problems are part of the battle for survival. Since the beginning of this year, 47 Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel have been killed in violent crimes. The number of crime-related deaths was 72, 76 and 93 during 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively.

In the first ten months of 2019, the number of crime-related deaths among Arab Israelis was double the number among their Jewish fellow citizens, although Palestinian Arabs constitute around 20 per cent of the population. A central factor in this crisis is the state’s lack of any serious response to the increasing violence. An investigation by Haaretz published on 10 October last year found that there were indictments in only 30 per cent of murder cases in Arab society since the beginning of the year — 22 out of 72 — compared with 58 per cent in Jewish society, with 21 out of 36 cases.

Other social issues including increasing divorce rates, poverty and social divisions are, for Palestinians in Israel, not just the result of some universal changes that affect other nations, but also have more to do with the Israeli state’s neglect of the needs and concerns of the Arab community.

Palestinian children play outside their home in the poverty-stricken quarter of Al-Zaytoon in Gaza City [Ezz Zanoun/Apaimages]

Palestinian children play outside their home in the poverty-stricken quarter of Al-Zaytoon in Gaza City [Ezz Zanoun/Apaimages]

In this regard, I think that the Palestinians — leaders and lay people alike — should think outside the box and develop their own solutions through independent associations and raising awareness among the people. This would allow them to be heedful of the issues related to the occupation and their political standing.

Like Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the diaspora, those who are citizens of Israel focus on domestic issues; they do not consider the Palestinian “problem” to be the main priority and don’t cooperate with each other on that level. While I can understand the hard reality that each Palestinian community faces and is forced to cope with on a daily basis, I believe that all Palestinians, including those in Israel, must work together in order to determine aspirations and achieve Palestinian demands.

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The Palestinian Authority’s attitude has resulted in it shirking the people’s demands, and the definition of who is Palestinian and who has the right to decide what’s best for the Palestinian people. Palestinian citizens of Israel should regain their influence as a core part of the Palestinian nation and work together with the other Palestinians in this context, taking into consideration their legal status and their political reality.

Given the discriminatory treatment of Israel towards its Palestinian citizens that is based on the perception of them as a threat, the latter need to learn to address their issues and cater for their own needs. To this end, they should first build their own independent institutions using democratic processes, including the High Follow Up Committee and other civil society organisations, and develop plans for improving their economy by developing their own companies and financial institutions.

This kind of self-reliance can help the Palestinians become a strong community that can handle its own problems towards which the state is apathetic. It will also help to keep the decision-making process as independent as possible.

By building democratic institutions they can also open up a discourse about their aspirations and, once unified, they can be a stronger entity when dealing with the Israeli government and society; not as subjects, but as a distinct community with its own needs and aspirations.

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Last but not least, it is important to mention the challenge of saving and maintaining their land, presence and history in Jaffa, Nazareth, the Naqab and other places across the country. In this I would include the preservation of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the ruins and remnants of the villages destroyed by the state of Israel since the 1948 Nakba. This is a very important challenge, especially in light of the plans to have a land swap and consequent transfer of a portion of the Palestinians in Israel in exchange for Jewish settlers and their colonies in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinians in Israel should not stop their struggle for equal rights, freedoms and the ability to live in dignity. They have to challenge their unbelievable reality both in Israel and across the region.

The exclusionary rhetoric is dominant, and the rhetoric of power and injustice predominates. As such, the Palestinians, including those in Israel, must develop a comprehensive transnational discourse in their endeavours to achieve their goals; their own rhetoric must seek to achieve justice and freedom.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.