Court okays Citizenship Law, legalizing discrimination of Arabs

Posted: January 12th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

According to the 2003 law, Arab citizens of Israel who marry Palestinians will have to emigrate in order to live with their spouses.

Israeli Arab MK Ahmed Tibi famously said that “Israel is indeed a Jewish-democratic state: it is democratic for Jews and Jewish for all the rest.”

This rings truer than ever after Israel’s High Court of Justice rejected yesterday (again) the petitions against the Citizenship Law, one of the first measures to make racial discrimination against the Arab minority not just common practice, but part of Israel’s legal codex.

The High Court rejected the petitions against the Citizenship Law in a split, 6-5 decision. The incoming head of the High Court, Justice Asher Grunis, wrote in the decision that “human rights shouldn’t be a recipe for national suicide.” You can read the full verdict here [Hebrew, PDF]. Justice Edmond Levy, a religious and somewhat conservative judge, harshly criticized Grunis for his language, claiming he misled the public as to the nature of the citizenship law.

The Citizenship Law, which technically is a temporary order, came into effect in 2003. It determines that Palestinian non-citizens who marry Israeli citizens will not be eligible for Israeli residency or citizenship. The couple will only be able to unite outside the borders of Israel.

The practical meaning of the law is that Arab citizens of Israel who marry Palestinian non-citizens – something that happens quite often, since these are members of the same nation, and sometimes of the same communities – won’t be able to live with their wives or husbands. If they want to unite, they will have to leave the country. By doing so, the law achieves two (racist) objectives against members of the Arab minority: (a) it prevents non-Jews from entering the country and applying for permanent residency or citizenship and (b) it makes it harder for Israeli Arab citizens to build families in their own community or in their own country, thus encouraging them to leave Israel. Arab Palestinians comprise roughly 20 percent of Israel’s population.

It is important to note that it is not the right of the non-citizen wife or husband that is being violated (since the state has no legal obligation towards them), but that of the citizen, who should enjoy the possibility to form a family and live with his loved one in his own community.

When the citizenship law came into effect, during the second Intifada, a security pretext was used to justify it, claiming that Palestinian terrorists could use marriage to become Israeli citizens. Yet this argument doesn’t hold: even without the law, the security establishment can veto any demand for citizenship or residency. It’s clear – and the public debate around the law doesn’t even try to conceal this fact – that “demographic” issues were the real motive for the legislation, and more specifically, the desire to limit, and ultimately even reduce, the number of non-Jewish citizens in the state.

Until the citizenship order, the only major piece of Israeli legislation that made a clear distinction between Arabs and Jews was the Law of Return, which makes it possible for Jews to immigrate to Israel and become citizens instantly, while non-Jews aren’t allowed to do so, even if their families originally hailed from this land. The 2003 law marks perhaps a new era, in which discrimination against the Arab minority is not only a common practice – for example, in the prevention of Palestinians from buying or building on state land, through the use of state agencies such as the JNF – but an explicit part of the body of laws that apply to the citizens of the state.

The new Nakba Law, which allows the state to penalize institutions that commemorate the Palestinian national disaster of 1948, is further evidence of this fact. The High Court also rejected petitions against the Nakab bill, just last week.

Read also:
High Court ruling on ‘Nakba Law’ reveals its waning power
2012: The year democracy ends

 


Last-ditch effort to save a unique Palestinian village

Posted: October 9th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , | Comments Off

Lifta, the best-kept out of handful of remaining Nakba villages, will be demolished to make way for a housing project for affluent Jews

The Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites is joining the campaign to save the remaining houses of the Palestinian village Lifta, at the western entrance of modern Jerusalem. Lifta, the best-kept of hundreds of abandoned Palestinian villages, is about to be demolished in order to make way for a new Jewish neighborhood.

According to a report by the daily paper Maariv, Itzik Shviki, manager of Jerusalem district in the Society, has filed a motion to the Jerusalem municipality. “The Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites is demanding from the municipality of Jerusalem and from the Interior Ministry to create a [preservation] plan for upper Lifta,” Shviki told Maariv. “Most of the historical homes that are under the threat of demolition should be included in a comprehensive plan for preservation and development. And all current zoning plans should be stopped.”

Lifta is one of the few remaining Nakba villages, whose residents were deported or fled during the war of 1948. Israel has prevented the Palestinians who left their homes from returning to them, and when the war ended, it confiscated their lands and property.

Almost all of the hundreds of empty Palestinian villages were destroyed after the war and in subsequent decades. In Lifta, 55 of more than 400 hundred homes survived, together with the original cemetery, vineyards and a pool that collects rainwater. Because nobody lived in Lifta, it was left undeveloped. Except for the damage caused by time, tourists and homeless people who occupied some of the empty homes, parts of the village remain as they were left by the Palestinians who lived there more than 60 years ago, making it a unique historical site.

Recognizing the special value of Lifta led Israel to declare the village and its surroundings a natural reserve.

In 2004, a new zoning plan removed the special protection from Lifta. Plan No. 6036, approved in August 2006, designates the land for the construction of 268 housing units (an extremely small number, suggesting they are intended for a more affluent population), a hotel and commercial areas.

The new Lifta plan was approved by all the necessary planning authorities, but the sale of lots on the site was stopped after a court petition was filed by various organizations, including representatives of refugees from Lifta, Israeli-Palestinian civil society organizations and Rabbis for Human Rights. The motion is still being heard by the Jerusalem District Court.

Further reading:

Lifta Society: Articles, photos and updates on the campaign to save Lifta.

Why do Jews need to talk abour the Nakba
(my article from last Nakba Day).


Defying new law, Tel Aviv University to host Nakba commemoration event

Posted: May 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Tel Aviv University will host a Nakba commemoration event next week that might be seen as a violation of the new Nakba Bill. The new law forbids public events “that mark the birth of Israel as a day of mourning;” its violation could lead to a withdrawal of funds from a state supported institution or organization.

All universities in Israel, including TAU, are supported by the state.

According to the event’s Facebook page, the keynote speaker will be Palestinian MK from Hadash party, Mohammad Barakeh. He will be followed by Emil Habibi’s play “The Opsimist“, performed by Israeli-Palestinian actor Mohamad Bachri.

The Nakba event will take place on May 23. It is organized by Hadash students at TAU.

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Read more commentary, News, Images and videos on the Nakba Day’s events from +972 here.


Why Jews need to talk about the Nakba

Posted: May 16th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right, this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

A personal journey

The ruins of Lifta, a Palestinian village near Jerusalem (photo: Ester Inbar)

The ruins of Lifta, a Palestinian village near Jerusalem (photo: Ester Inbar)

A childhood memory: A group of kids and their teacher on a school trip. They are walking through excavations, listening to explanations from a tour guide about their ancestors who lived there two thousand years ago. After a while, one of the kids points to some ruins between the trees. “Are these ancient homes as well?” he asks.

“These are not important,” comes the answer.

Growing up in the seventies and the eighties you couldn’t miss those small houses scattered near fields, between towns and Kibbuzim and in national parks. Most of them were made of stone, with arches and long, tall windows. In other places they had cement walls. Sometimes all you could see was part of a stone fence, a couple of walls with no roof, or the rows of Indian fig that Palestinians used to mark the border of an agricultural field (it is one of history’s ironies that the Hebrew name of their fruit – the Sabra – became the nickname for an Israeli-born Jew).

Those pieces of the local landscape are gradually disappearing – partly due to the “development” trends which have left very few corners of this country untouched, but also due to a policy that is meant to erase any memory of the people who used to live in this land. But one can still find them sometimes, and in the most unexpected of places –the mosque, which stands between the hotels and expensive apartment towers on Tel Aviv’s beach, or a few homes behind Herzlia’s monstrous Cinema City complex.

As a kid, I never gave those ruins much thought. I loved history – but the history they taught us at school. I could probably have lead a tour of Massada at the age of 12, and one of my favorite books told the tragic story of the last convoy to Gush Ezion in ‘48, before it fell into Jordanian hands.

Once, also during elementary school, our class was supposed to go on a tour of Canada Park, halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. We had been there before – they told us of the crusaders who passed through the area and the caves and homes Jews lived in, and I still remember the explanation on the ways they used to make wine—but this time my mother didn’t want me to go. The park, she told me, stood on the site of the last two Palestinian villages that were destroyed by Israel. Not many remember this story – it happened right after the war in 1967. Imwas and Yallu were demolished under a direct order by Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin. The Hebrew Wikipedia entry states that unlike in ’48, the Palestinian residents were later compensated, but they weren’t allowed to return to their village.

I don’t remember if I ended up going on this trip or not.

Palestinian Nakba village Dana (Baysan), 2010 (photo: Noga Kadman / Zochrot.org)

Palestinian Nakba village Dana (Baysan), 2010 (photo: Noga Kadman / Zochrot.org)

I never heard the word Nakba before the nineties. It was simply not present in the Israeli language, or in the popular culture. Naturally, we knew that some Arabs left Israel in 1948, but it was all very vague. While we were asked to cite numbers and dates of the Jewish waves of immigration to Israel, details on the Palestinian parts of the story were sketchy: How many Palestinians left Israel? What were the circumstances under which they left? Why didn’t they return after the war? All these questions were irrelevant, having almost nothing to do with our history—that’s what we were made to think.

Occasionally, we were told that the Arabs had left under their own will, and it seemed that they chose not to come back, at least in the beginning. Years later, I was shocked to read that most of the notorious “infiltrates” from the early fifties were actually people trying to come back to their homes, even crossing the border to collect the crops from their fields at tremendous risk to their life – as IDF units didn’t hesitate to open fire.

We were made to think they were terrorists…

It’s hard to explain the mechanism which makes some parts of history “important” or some elements of the landscape “interesting.” I can only say that looking back, I understand how selective the knowledge we received was. But there is more to this. I think we all chose not to think about those issues. Even after the New Historians of the nineties made the term Nakba a part of modern Hebrew and proved that in many cases, Israel expelled Palestinians from territories it conquered in ’48, we were engaged in the wrong kind of questions, such as the debate on whether more Palestinian were expelled or fled. The important thing is that they weren’t allowed to come back, and that they had their property and land seized by Israel immediately after the war (as some Jews had by Jordan and Syria, but not in substantial numbers). Leaving a place doesn’t make someone a refugee. It’s forbidding him or her from coming back that does it.

A Palestinian man and a girl in a refugee camp, 1948 (photo via Wikimedia, license CC)

A Palestinian man and a girl in a refugee camp, 1948 (photo via Wikimedia, license CC)

For a short while in 2004-2005 I was writing book reviews for Maariv’s internet site, and for several other magazines. I don’t think that I was very good at that, and I still regret a couple of very critical reviews I wrote (I’ve since decided not to review fiction anymore). But I got to read some interesting books I wouldn’t have picked up otherwise.

One of these books was “Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine” by Raja Shehadeh, which was translated to Hebrew by the big publishing house Yedioth Sfarim (despite the best efforts by both sides, the hatred and the war, ‏Israeli and Palestinian cultures are still linked to each other in so many ways). Shehadeh was born in Ramallah, the son of an affluent family from Jaffa who left town “for a couple of weeks” during the war and could never come back.

For years, his father would stand in the evenings on the hills of Ramallah and look west, at the aura of his beloved Jaffa.

In 1967, right after the war, an Israeli friend came to visit the Shehadeh family, and the father immediately asked him to visit Jaffa (Palestinians were allowed to travel freely in Israel until 1993). Only when they got there, did Raja’s father understand that his Jaffa was dead. All those years, he was looking at the lights coming out of Tel Aviv.

Maybe it’s because I live in Tel Aviv that this story had such an effect on me. I couldn’t get the picture of the family standing on Ramallah’s hills, looking into the darkness, out of my mind. I thought on the book’s title: who are the “strangers” mentioned there? Is it us, who, in our despair, invaded the Palestinian home, or is it the Palestinians, who found themselves displaced and lost, refugees in their own land?

(The false claim that Palestinians are strangers to this land and only got here because of the Jewish immigration is still pretty common with Israelis. Shehadeh meant it in an entirely different way).

Another Palestinian book I was asked to review was Muhammad al-As’ad’s “Children of Dew” (to the best of my knowledge, this one was never translated to English). The book is not really a memoir, but more of an attempt to reconstruct a picture of the author’s childhood in the village near Haifa out of his fragmented recollections, the stories of his mother and the legends of the village’s people. At the heart of the story is a long convoy of refugees, walking at night east, away from the advancing Jewish army – one of the most poetic and saddest description I’ve read, not because of the horror, but for the desperate attempt to understand what happened, how, and why.

Palestinian refugees in 1948 (photo: wikimedia, Israeli copyrights expired)

Palestinian refugees in 1948 (photo: wikimedia, Israeli copyrights expired)

I remembered Muhammad al-As’ad and Raja Shehadeh when last year I interviewed the Speaker of the Knesset Reuven Rivlin, for a piece I did on prominent right-wing figures that were toying with the idea of a one state solution to the conflict. Rivlin, a Likud hawk, grew up in Jerusalem, which was a fairly mixed town before 1948, and certainly more than today. He understood Arabic and had Palestinian acquaintances.

At one point, the conversation reached the idea—popular with mainstream Israeli pundits—that it will be impossible to reach an agreement with the current Arab leadership, which still had many refugees (including Mahmoud Abbas, who was born in Safed). According to this line of thinking, we should look for interim agreements because the next generation, who weren’t displaced themselves, might be more pragmatic.

“Nonsense!” Speaker Rivlin said. “Typical lefty patronizing… the left has always looked down on the Palestinians… [the Jews] remembered our land for 2,000 years, and now you want to tell me that the Palestinians will forget it in ten, twenty years?

“Believe me, they will remember.”

Rivlin does not advocate the right of return for Palestinians and one could also have doubts on the particular joint state he envisions for Jews and Arabs, but at the bottom of his thinking there is a very deep truth: The Jewish people are a living proof that a “refugee problem” won’t disappear for generations, even hundreds and thousands of years, and therefore can’t be ignored.

A Palestinian man watches a school in a refugee camp, 1948 (photo via wikimedia. license CC)

A Palestinian man watches a school in a refugee camp, 1948 (photo via wikimedia. license CC)

The Israeli reaction to the mentioning of the Nakba is composed of several elements, each one of them contradicting the other. Some say that there was no Nakba. Then there is the line that suggests that people left on their own will. And if they didn’t – they deserve it, because the Arabs opposed the 1947 partition plan and declared war on the Jews. Finally, there are those who admit that Israel initiated mass deportation and prevented the refugees from coming back—they are even ready to recognize their tragedy, but they simply say that ethnic cleansings are part of the birth of almost every nation. That this is the way of the world – and the Palestinians should simply accept it. Ironically, the latter is the position of Benny Morris, the most well- known of the Israeli New Historian and the person who almost single-handedly proved the claims of forced deportations by the IDF in 1948.

This kind of political argument has recently started to lead to policy decisions, the most prominent of them being the Nakba Law. The original intention of the bill was to completely criminalize any mentioning of the Nakba (with a punishment of up to three years in prison for mentioning it), but this was too anti-democratic even for the current Knesset. The law that did pass forbids government-supported institutions from publicly commemorating the Nakba. The bill is very vague, and theoretically, it could be used to withdraw funds from a university who plans a debate on the Palestinian disaster. More likely though is that it will be implemented against Arab municipalities and institutions who attempt to hold memorial days or ceremonies for the Nakba. It is important to remember not only that some 20 percent of Israelis are Palestinians, but that many of them are refugees – the often-forgotten “internal refugees” who lost their homes and property but found themselves inside Israel at the end of the war.

Speakers for Israel abroad also take part in the Nakba-denial campaign, the latest example being the attempt by trustees of New York City University to refuse an honorary degree from playwright Tony Kushner because he associated the term ethnic cleansing with the birth of Israel. And a few months ago, the Palestine Papers revealed that the US State Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice asked the Palestinian delegation to the peace negotiations to forgo some of their claims regarding the refugees because “bad things happen to people all the time.”

Apart from being so insensitive on a basic human level, such actions—from the Knesset’s Nakba Law to the decision by CUNY’s trustees—ignore one important thing: that the Nakba is part of Israeli and Jewish history.

We have declared a war on our own past.

Memorial sign at the site of Wounded Knee Massacre, South Dakota (photo: Noam Sheizaf)

Memorial sign at the site of Wounded Knee Massacre, South Dakota (photo: Noam Sheizaf)

In 2008 I traveled to the US to cover the Democratic and Republican national conventions ahead of the American presidential elections. I love driving, so I decided not to fly from St. Paul to Denver but to rent a car instead. I decided to pass through every national site I could find on the way, from Mt. Rushmore to Clear Lake, Iowa, the place where the music died.

Among the places I planned on seeing was Wounded Knee, in the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The Wounded Knee Massacre marked the end of the Native American resistance to the colonization of their land. I remembered reading about it somewhere, and when I saw on the map that the site has been designated a National Historic Landmark, I figured it must be worth a visit.

The problem was that I couldn’t find the place. I passed through the same spot a couple of times, but saw none of the things you would normally see in a national historical site in America. No flags, no museum, no book shop—not even a restaurant. Yet I was positive that I was in the right spot.

On my third attempt I spotted an old metal sign at the side of the road, and on a nearby hill, a tiny graveyard. A sign pointed to the sweet corn stand nearby, but there was nobody there and the window was closed. It was high tourist season.

The entire site was so deserted and sad you could almost feel the ghosts of the dead Lakota people there. Again, it was impossible not to think of the deserted ruins of the Palestinian villages scattered around my country. The American history is probably bloodier than the Israeli, and yes, bad things happen to people everywhere – but is this a reason to forget them? Doesn’t the Palestinian village of Sumail, less than a mile from Rabin square, right at the heart of Tel Aviv, deserve even a memorial site? The last few homes of Sumail are still there, right on one of the busiest junctions of Tel Aviv, but they are about to be destroyed soon, making way for new towers, and a new generation of Israeli kids will be taught in school that the Hebrew city of Tel Aviv was built on empty sand dunes.

The old cemetary at Wounded Knee, South Dakota (photo: Noam Sheizaf)

The old cemetary at Wounded Knee, South Dakota (photo: Noam Sheizaf)

Speaker Rivlin is right: The Palestinians won’t forget the Nakba. In many ways, it seems that with each year, the memory is just getting stronger. Meanwhile, all the attempts to forbid any mentioning of the Nakba are hurting Israel’s ability to understand our own history, and not just the parts of it that have to do with the Palestinians.

I was discussing these issues recently with a friend who has a passion for military history. Whenever he can, this friend goes to visit old battle sites looking for old bullets, coins and other modern relics. As part of his hobby, he’s gained a very thorough knowledge of the Nakba, and with time it has beome an obsession on its own for him. Still, he is what Israelis would call a moderate on the political spectrum. The only reason he is looking for these ruins, he tells me, is in order to know our own past. Naturally, he is furious with the Nakba Bill or the recent Anti-Nakba booklet a rightwing Israeli NGO has published.

Yesterday, I got an excited e-mail from this friend. This week he watched Charlie and Half, the Israeli cult comedy from the seventies which is always aired by one of the TV channels on Independence Day.

“It’s actually one of the best documentations of the Palestinians village Sheikh Munis,” he tells me. Charlie and Half, which tells the story of a Sephardic “wise guy,” was shot in Sheikh Munis, which became after 48′ one of Tel Aviv’s poorest neighborhoods, populated with Jews from Arab countries. Most of it is gone by now, destroyed to make way for luxury apartments and the new buildings of Tel Aviv University, but back in 1973, the year the film was produced, the original Palestinian houses and streets were very much present.

Watch, for example, the third minute of the film:

The way in which Jews from Arab countries were sent to live in Palestinian homes, only to be evacuated and literally thrown to the streets decades later as the value of the lands soared, is one of the Nakba’s interesting side stories. It’s also further evidence to the fact that forgetting the Nakba actually means not understanding our own history, not understanding ourselves.

Palestinian Nakba village Sumail, at the heart of Tel Aviv (photo: Deborah Bright / Zochrot.org)

Palestinian Nakba village Sumail, at the heart of Tel Aviv (photo: Deborah Bright / Zochrot.org)

It’s not just our sense of guilt for the Nakba that keeps haunting Israelis. In his introduction to Muhammad al-As’ad’s “Children of Dew”, the Israeli editor of the book, Yossef Algazi, who came to know al-As’ad in person, calls the author “A Wandering Jew of our time.” Meeting descendants of Palestinian refugees in the last few years, I couldn’t help thinking about the similarities between Jewish and Palestinian fates, and the sense of displacement the two people share. I think that our real problem with the Palestinians has to do with the feeling that we need to ignore their story in order to hold on to our identity as Israelis – when in fact, we would never feel “at home” without facing the wounds of the past.

“At the end of every sentence you say in Hebrew sits an Arab with a Nargilah (hookah) / even if it starts in Siberia or in Hollywood with Hava Nagila,” wrote the Israeli poet Meir Ariel in his song “Shir Keev” (“Song of Pain”). I think it’s the best political line written in Hebrew. It tells us that whatever we do, regardless of the political solution we chose to advocate or how powerful we might feel, our fate here will always be linked to the Palestinians’.

Denying the Nakba—forgetting our role in it and ignoring its political implications—is denying our own identity.


Arrested for Post Zionism (II)

Posted: April 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Eamonn McDonagh wrote a response on Z-Word’s blog to my post regarding the arrest of two ISM activists a couple of weeks ago. Ariadna Jove Marti and Bridgette Chappell were arrested by the army in area A, which is supposed to be under Palestinian control, and charged in Israeli court with being part of the International Solidarity Movement, “an organization that supports an ideology that is anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian and universally revolutionary.”

McDonagh writes:

“…the arrest of the two conflict tourists… does seem to have been ill advised. They were inside Area A when they were nabbed and Israel really shouldn’t be sticking its nose in there without a powerfully good reason.

However, I have a couple of points to make about what Noam Sheizaf, the blog’s author, has to say about the matter. He’s very upset that they are being accused of being critical of Zionism and supporting the Palestinians and concludes that there can be no justification for expelling them on the basis of their political views. And just what are those critical views? Well you can read those of Ariadna Jove Martí, one of the two arrested, here [in Spanish]. It’s all you might imagine; Israel is an apartheid state, it is founded on a systematic plan of ethnic cleansing, the IDF was founded on the base of the Haganah, a terrorist organization and plenty more besides. Oh, and she refuses to use Hebrew place names.

Has she the right to hold such views and express them. Absolutely. The crunch question is this, does Israel have an obligation to let her enter its territory (I’m presuming she came to the West Bank through it) with the purpose of propounding those views either in Israel or the Palestinian territories? I would say that it is under no such obligation.  I would go further and say that it be would extremely foolish to continue to allow foreigners to abuse tourist visas to carry out activities other than tourism.”

I think Eamonn McDonagh is missing the point here. Israel has the right to refuse visa to anyone, and it does so in the case of pro-Palestinian activists on a regular basis. The question here is what makes a cause for an arrest once you are in Israel (remember – an army unit was sent to pick them up!). I don’t think that speaking against the IDF or against the government should serve as such a cause. We should be very careful before we turn words into criminal offenses. Read the rest of this entry »


So much for freedom of speech: Nakba Law passes first Knesset vote

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

(Back to Israel, and to blogging as usual)

The Knesset voted yesterday in favor of Israel Beitenu’s “Nakba Bill”, which authorizes the finance minister to hold funds from institutions or groups who question the nature of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, or who mark the Palestinian Nakba on Israel’s Independence Day.

The goal of this bill – as stated by MK Alex Miller, who initiated it – is to prevent Palestinians from commemorating the national disaster they suffered in 1948, when most of the Arabs in (then) Palestine were expelled or fled from their homes. The original version of MK Miller’s bill made marking the Nakba a criminal offense, liable to up to three years in prison. Political pressure from Labor forced him to introduce the” softer” version, which was approved yesterday.

The bill still needs to pass two votes in the parliament for it to become a state law.

I hope all those praising “The only democracy in the middle East” pay close attention to what’s going on in Israel right now, and most notably to this law. This is no less than an organized attack – and a very successful one – on freedom of speech in this country, just like the effort to ban movies and books which are considered unpatriotic. The new bill’s mandate is so broad, that it actually gives the government authority to withdrawal funds and ultimately close universities and colleges who would teach what might be viewed as “anti-Zionist” classes.

From a morale point of view, this law is even more despicable: not only that Israel refuses to recognize its part in the national catastrophe that the Palestinian people suffered – this is not new – now it doesn’t even allow them to mention it. If an Arab school teaches Palestinian history to its kids, it risks being closed. In the tradition of totalitarian regimes across the globe, instead of making minorities part of our broad national narrative, we try to erase their history and than demand they celebrate on our Independence Day.

I wonder what Allan Dershowitz, who still views himself as a liberal and a defender of freedom of speech, would have to say about this law.

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And this also happened this week: the office of the minister of education forbade distributing a booklet for kids about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, because it didn’t like two articles in the declaration, as well as some of the illustration in the booklet.


Minarets in Switzerland, Burqas in France: Israeli Right finds allies in Europe

Posted: November 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: racism, The Right, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

mineratsSome Israelis got exited today by the referendum in Switzerland, in which Swiss voters have approved a right-wing-backed proposal to ban construction of new minarets. There are many people here that view the Palestinian problem (and even more, the relations between the Arab citizens of Israel and the Jewish majority) as a part of a “Clash of Civilizations” between the West and the Muslim world. For them, today wasn’t only a victory in one of this war’s major battles, but more importantly, further proof that “we are not alone” in the fight.

The historical irony, of course, is that our allies in this cultural war are the same political forces – if not the same people – that used to persecute our grandparents just a few decades ago. Since there aren’t that many Jews today in Europe, the xenophobes of the Old World decided to pick the Blacks and the Muslims as their current enemies, much to the joy of the Israeli Right.

The referendum in Switzerland – much like the debate over the burqas in France – is used by neo-Zionists and Israeli conservatives as proof that it is possible to limit the rights of ethnic minorities and still remain a democracy. Much in the same way, they propose limitations on the Arab citizens of Israel in order to protect the “cultural identity” of the state. I’m pretty sure that in the next few days we will have some articles in the Israeli papers drawing a line between the European cases and the Israeli one.

It is, however, important to understand the major differences between the legislation regarding minorities’ rights in Europe and the Israeli case.

First, the Palestinians in Israel – both the states’ citizens and the Palestinians in the West Bank – are a native minority (oppose to minorities created by recent immigration wave, like in Europe). As even a Zionist legal scholar such as Amnon Rubinstein notes, Modern human rights concepts promise such minority the right not to assimilate into the dominant culture, to keep its religious traditions and to educate its children and speak in its own language.

But the real difference is that unlike in France or Switzerland, Israel doesn’t ask nor wants its Arab Citizens to assimilate. In other words, France is demanding the Muslims to accept the dominant secular culture, as a precondition to handing them full civil rights. It’s basically the same idea in Switzerland: the state is accepting the immigrants as citizens, but demands them to abandon their original culture, or at least some aspects of it.

But Israel is not a secular state that can have minorities assimilate into it. Israel is a Jewish state by definition, and it doesn’t ask nor expect the Arabs to assimilate in return for full rights. Even if the Palestinian citizens here stop speaking Arabic, don’t mention the Nakba anymore or build minarets, they will still be second rate citizens by definition.

Those who promote the Anti-Arab legislation in Israel are not really imitating the French republican model or the Swiss multi-cultural democracy. They try to create something new: an ethnic democracy, were all citizens will enjoy basic rights, but Jews will have extra privileges.

To the best of my understanding, this is no democracy at all.


Arab of 48′ is in the house

Posted: September 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: media, racism | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

A friend posted on Facebook a link to an excellent blog (in Hebrew). The author’s nick is  “Arab 48″, and he describes himself as a Palestinian lawyer from the north, 61 years old (as old as the state, or if you prefer – as the Nakba). The anonymous writer is 28. He wrote that his age is 61 to represent the situation of the Arabs citizens. He is religious, and naturally, an Israeli.

Arab 48′ writes mainly about his daily life and thoughts. He focuses on his place as a Palestinian in the Jewish state, and on every day’s encounters between Arab and Jews around him. This is the stuff you won’t read in the papers: an argument between him and his brother regarding the noises from the Arab villages in the area, which bothers their Jewish neighbors; a story of an Arab cantina worker who gave him too much change, “because the boss is a Jew”; a reminder to say to your Arab neighbors “Ramadan Karim” at the beginning of the Ramadan, and more. in a time when racism is on the rise and more and more Israelis believe in ethnic segregation, this stuff is a must-read.

Unfortunately, the blog is updated only few times a month, so I recommend you subscribe, or add it to your RSS reader.


Fascism or just a sad joke? marking the Nakba to become illegal

Posted: May 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: culture, In the News, racism | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

The government of Israel has decided to make life easier for those who claim it is an Apartheid state (or just a Fascist one). Haaretz reports:

The Ministerial Committee on Law and Constitution on Sunday approved a preliminary proposal which would make it illegal to hold events or ceremonies marking Israel’s Independence Day as a “Nakba,” or catastrophe (…) According to the bill, those found in violation could face up to three years in prison.

The ministerial approval is only a preliminary step and has no legal bearing yet. Before the proposal could become a law, it must first undergo Knesset approval and cabinet consideration.

I won’t go into explaining why this offer is both bad and stupid. If you don’t understand that freedom of speech is meant to allow expressing such views – even if most Israelis find them offensive – look for your first lesson on democracy somewhere else. And if you think that you can prevent people from remembering their national heritage just because you don’t like what it says about yourself – you better learn some history as well, and start with Jewish history.

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