Thursday, March 23, 2023
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As it draws closer to Israel, India shouldn’t ignore the plight of minority Arabs there

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The Palestinian cause is not just restricted to the occupied territories. It is also about the life of Arab minorities and their rapidly shrinking status in a Jewish majority state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has embarked on a historic visit to India this week to reshape a relationship that has long been held back because of New Delhi’s support to the Palestinian cause. But the Palestinian cause is not just restricted to the occupied territories. It is also about the life of Arab minorities and their rapidly shrinking status in a Jewish majority state.

At this time, it is important for Indians to once again remember and dwell on the pattern of discrimination that has come to define the life of Arabs in Israel, people who are the Palestinian and indigenous communities who stayed on their lands when Israel was established in 1948.

The Israeli Arabs hold Israeli citizenship but they differ from the Jewish majority in terms of language, religion, culture, nationality and ethnicity. The Arab/Palestinians of Israel constitute 20 per cent of the total population of seven million citizens. They suffer from a continuing institutional and governmental discrimination in education, work, economy, residency, and politics.

Two political science scholars Ilan Peleg and Dov Waxman summarise the status of Arab/Palestinian minority of Israel as “decidedly unequal” to the Jewish citizens.

“They suffer from numerous inequities, tacit discrimination, government neglect, and social prejudice. They are largely excluded from the country’s public life, they have not been integrated socially or economically, and they are generally treated with suspicion by the state and by Israeli Jewish society. As such, collectively, Arabs are very much second-class citizens in Israel.” (Israel’s Palestinians: The conflict within).

The definition of Israel as ‘the Jewish State’ or ‘the State of the Jewish People’ makes inequality a practical, political and ideological reality for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

The state of Israel, as an technocracy or ‘ethnic nation-state’, is systematically failing to adopt effective measures to redress the gaps that exist between the Palestinian minority and the Jewish majority. By privileging Jewish citizens in many fields, the state actively preserves and even widens these gaps.

The rise of the right-wing parties in Israel since 2009 and their control of the Israeli government and parliament has promoted the enactment of several laws against the Palestinian citizens of Israel. In recent years, more than 30 laws have come about that discriminate, directly or indirectly, against Palestinian citizens of Israel. The current government coalition headed by Bibi Netanyahu has also proposed a flood of new racist and discriminatory bills, which are in various stages of the legislative process.

For instance, the Palestinians of Israel are prevented from celebrating the Nakba which is the Palestinians’ national ceremony of remembering the loss of their land and the destruction of their culture in 1948. In addition, their Arabic language will no longer be an official language, according to a recent law of the Israeli parliament. The establishment of a new 2017 Nationality Law excludes the Palestinian citizens, their interests and needs, and it extends their marginalisation in the public sphere. Till date, the Palestinian citizens of Israel continue their social, political, and international efforts to establish themselves as national and indigenous minority who seek and deserve justice in terms of cultural/national recognition, fair representation, and just distribution of the Israeli economic and symbolic resources.

The prejudice covers other fields too: citizenship rights, income, employment, economic assets; land, education access, attainment, the Arabic language and health.

The most important immigration and nationality laws—including the Law of Return (1950) and the Citizenship Law (1952)—privilege Jews and Jewish immigration.

If the spouse of a Palestinian citizen of Israel is a Palestinian resident of the OPT (Occupied Palestinian Territories), it has become virtually impossible for him or her to gain residency or citizenship status in Israel since May 2002.

This ban on family unification is disproportionate with the alleged security reasons cited by Israel as justification; rather, it is motivated by the state’s desire to maintain a Jewish demographic majority.

In the same way, a new law makes it possible to strip Israeli citizenship for various reasons related to alleged ‘disloyalty’ to the state or ‘breach of trust’, indirectly targeting the citizenship rights of Palestinian citizens. Several attempts to pass additional laws that grant the authority to revoke citizenship and impose further loyalty oaths are currently pending in the Knesset.

The ‘Inequality Report’ for Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, mentions the following:

– Arab families are greatly over-represented among Israel’s poor Palestinian citizens of Israel, and often face discrimination in work opportunities, pay and conditions

– While Arabic was an official language in Israel earlier, there has been clear inequality in the opportunities granted to Arabic-speakers as compared to Hebrew-speakers. In practice, the status of Arabic is vastly inferior to that of Hebrew in terms of the resources dedicated to its use, despite Israel’s duty under international human rights law to protect the language rights of the Arab national minority in Israel.

Palestinian citizens have lower levels of participation in the judiciary, the legislature, the government and the civil service. As a result, they have limited access to decision-making processes and centers of power, and a diminished ability to redress inequality and discrimination.

Both the Arabs who feel this prejudice, and the sane Jewish people, need to combine efforts to achieve justice and respect for all. But is it possible under the fundamentalist Netanyahu government?

Mohammad Saied Ahmad is an Israeli Arab activist and PhD student based in Kfar Manda village.

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  1. I can see the pain the author has gone through to write the piece. I have a few questions, hope the author of “ThePrint” would come forward to answer.

    (1) How would they like India to not ignore the plight of Hindus in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Kashmir. How would they like India to step up to ensure that the “shrinking status of minorities” including that of Hindus are well cared of in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kashmir, Malaysia, Indonesia and so on?

    (2) Are they also concerned about the Kashmiris whose houses were burnt and who were forced to leave their everything behind and save their lives?

    (3) Why should India interfere in the domestic politics of a sovereign nation? Are there no international rules that India should stop up to protect Muslims?

    (4) Is there any Muslim country that has even condemned Exodus of Kashmiris, let alone keeping in mind their shrinking status in their own homeland for thousands of years?

  2. I don’t think the report is factually correct. Israeli-Arab population is growing at a faster pace than Israeli’s national population growth rate

  3. Arabs must try to find a solution for themselves ..why get India in vetween ? in any case what the arabs have done to make Pakistan give up enmiagainst India !

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