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July 4, 2012

The Palestinian Minority in Israel : Systematic Discrimination

Siedlungsbau Palestinian workers wait for Israeli soldiers to open the gate of a separation barrier between the Jewish settlement of Modiin Elite and the west bank village of Harbeta to return home after the day's work in Israel, 15 March 2012 (photo: Oded Balilty/AP/dapd)

The Israeli government and its advocacy groups like to boast of the country’s supposed democratic, multicultural way of life. In reality, Palestinians in Israel experience systematic discrimination in such a way that calls into question the validity of the “Jewish and democratic” formulation. By Ben White

It has been received wisdom in the West for decades to see Israel as “the only democracy in the Middle East”. In recent times, however, Israeli policies have been subject to increased criticism, particularly in Europe – and specifically in terms of military action in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the territories occupied since 1967.

Yet whether criticising “disproportionate” strikes or highlighting the radical Jewish settler movement, substantial Western disapproval of Israeli policies is restricted to the territory where it is assumed a Palestinian state will someday be created.

Ignored by this analysis are the 20 per cent of Israel’s citizens who are Palestinian, a minority increasingly targeted by Israel’s security-political establishment. Addressing this knowledge gap and examining the issues facing Palestinians in Israel since 1948 sheds light on the core of the conflict.

Confiscation and expulsion

With Israel’s establishment, around 85 percent of Palestinians inside the borders of the new state were expelled and became refugees; those who remained are now 1 in 5 of Israel’s citizenry (whose identity has been intentionally obscured with the “Israeli Arab” label).

photo: AP
“With Israel’s establishment, around 85 percent of Palestinians inside the borders of the new state were expelled and became refugees.” Pictured: Palestinian Ahmed Elaian, 86, shows the keys of his home in Israel, abandoned during the 1948 war, on Nakba Day The Israeli government and its advocacy groups like to boast of the country’s supposed democratic, multicultural way of life. In reality, Palestinians in Israel experience systematic discrimination in such a way that calls into question the validity of the “Jewish and democratic” formulation.

The amount of land belonging to Palestinian refugees that was expropriated by Israel’s ‘Absentee Property Law’ amounts to around 20 per cent of the country’s total pre-1967 territory. The body of refugees includes roughly one in four Palestinian citizens who, as “present absentees”, have also had their lands and property confiscated by the state.

Provoking mass evictions

These policies meant that by the mid-1970s, the average Palestinian community in Israel had lost between 65 and 75 per cent of their land. Since 1948, over 700 Jewish communities have been established in Israel (not including settlements in the West Bank and Gaza) – but only seven for Palestinian citizens (and those as a means of resettling the Bedouin population in the Negev desert).

While the Israeli government talks of “developing” the Negev, tens of thousands of Bedouin live in dozens of ‘unrecognised villages’. They suffer from home demolitions and a lack of basic infrastructure. A serious new threat is the Prawer plan, with planned mass evictions meaning up to 70,000 Arab citizens face forced relocation and the destruction of their villages.

Significant authority over areas like land ownership and rural settlement is invested in bodies that are constitutionally mandated to privilege Jews, while residency in 70 per cent of Israeli towns is controlled by admissions committees that filter out those deemed “unsuitable” for the “social fabric” of the community. These small communities, particularly in the Negev and Galilee, play a crucial role in maintaining Jewish spatial hegemony (many of whom also sit on the land of destroyed Palestinian villages).

Segregation policies

Discrimination is systematic. The Education Ministry spends more than five times as much on Jewish students as Palestinian students.

photo: AP
“The uncomfortable truth is that Israel is democratic for Jews, and Jewish for Palestinians.” A Palestinian youth watches demonstrators clash with Israeli troops as they mark the “Land Day” in east Jerusalem on 30 March 2012. At the annual “Land Day” rallies Israeli Arabs and Palestinians protest what they say are discriminatory Israeli land policies Public officials, including Members of Knesset and cabinet members, routinely and publicly express racism towards Palestinians with impunity. Shin Bet, the domestic intelligence agency/secret police, openly fights peaceful and legal efforts by Palestinian citizens to challenge the Jewish nature of the state.

The uncomfortable truth is that Israel is democratic for Jews, and Jewish for Palestinians, as evidenced by the racist priorities shaping immigration, land, planning, development budgets and more. To point to a handful of Arabs in the Knesset, football teams and on television is nothing better than shallow propaganda.

Denying rights on the basis of ethnicity

Laws and policies designed to benefit one group of people over another and enforce separation fit the description of apartheid under international law. This year, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has slammed Israel, condemning “segregation” in both Israel’s pre-1967 borders, as well as in the Occupied West Bank.

No amount of diversions by Israel’s supporters can hide the grim, daily reality of occupation and colonialism. From the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, a de facto one state has emerged, a regime which grants or denies rights and privileges on the basis of ethnicity.

This is not a democracy, and the sooner the tough questions are asked – and Israeli policies identified and resisted for what they are – the more likely it is that a post-colonial future can emerge where Palestinian rights are realised and both peoples share the land on an equal footing.

Ben White

© Qantara.de 2012

Ben White is a freelance journalist, writer and activist, specialising in Palestine/Israel. He has been visiting the region since 2003 and his articles have been widely published in the likes of The Guardian’s Comment is free, Al Jazeera, New Statesman, Salon, Christian Science Monitor, and others. His most recent book, ‘Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy’, was published by Pluto Press in January 2012, with a foreword by Member of Knesset Haneen Zoabi.

Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de

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Nawar Qassem: Challenging the Discourse of Sectarianism in Syria

Posted by ⋅ July 1, 2012 ⋅ Leave a Comment

I am very honored to host this post by Budour Hassan, a Palestinian anarchist law student living in Palestine. She writes about Nawar Qassem, a Syrian activist who was detained on June 28th by the Assad regime. You can follow Budour on twitter @Budour48.

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Nawar Qassem: Challenging the Discourse of Sectarianism in Syria

It is an arduous task to write about someone you have never met or talked to, but it is even harder to explain how that complete stranger has invaded your thoughts and haunted your dreams.

Nawar Qassem, an incredibly courageous young man from Tartous, has turned into just another number on an endless list of nameless detainees in Syria. I first read about Nawar on Twitter upon his arrest – or abduction, to be precise – by Syrian regime forces from his parents’ house on Wednesday June 28th. Nawar had been shot in the thigh earlier this month and his injury requires a surgery outside Syria. Sounds like a tediously familiar story, doesn’t it?

As desperately as we try to deny it, most of us have normalized mass-killings in Syria. We have lost count of the number of martyred, injured, detained, disappeared and displaced Syrians since the start of the Syrian uprising. In today’s Syria, a day is considered relatively “quiet” if the death toll does not exceed 50.

In today’s Syria, the sudden, painless death by a sniper’s bullet is a luxury many Syrians dream of: before his arrest, citizen journalist Hassan al-Azhari from Latakia said that he preferred death over arrest. But even that was too much to ask. He was arrested and tortured to death.

In today’s Syria, the basic rights of paying farewell to your loved ones, mourning them in peace, and burying them properly are privileges that thousands of bereaved families have been deprived of.

In today’s Syria, having a name is a curse in life and death. Few dissidents afford to reveal their identity out of fear of persecution, arrest and torture. At times, even the dead must remain unnamed since the mere mention of their names may be too great a threat for their families and comrades.

In today’s Syria, martyrs have become numbers flashing across our TV screens and their stories remain untold. Think of the man who was killed a few days before his wedding. Think of the medical students who were shot dead a day before their graduation. Think of the little girl who fled the heavy shelling on Baba Amr only to be murdered along with her entire family in Deir Ezzour.

In today’s Syria, there are tens of thousands of detainees; most of them do not get Facebook pages calling for their release or trending campaigns raising awareness to their plight.

In today’s Syria, only one side bears the burden of proof. And no, it is not the side that has enslaved Syrian citizens for four decades. The oppressed in Syria have to protest, document the protest, get shot and shelled, treat the injured, live-stream the shelling while risking their lives in the process only for couch “anti-imperialists” to reject their reports blithely because they are anonymous peasants who do not have celebrity status or hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers like Tahrir Square’s superstars; because their reports are unsubstantiated; because some of the pictures posted in social media are outdated or unverified which must mean that the entire uprising is fake or exaggerated. It matters not that with so many massacres across Syria, we get virtually identical images of charred corpses and graphic injuries. It matters not that spreading unverified or false photos and news is not by any means exclusive to the Syrian uprising, but rather transpires everywhere including in Palestine; it matters not that the very people demanding utmost accuracy from Syrian protesters in the name of integrity unthinkingly quote sources sympathetic with the Syrian regime.

In today’s Syria, massacres and protests define towns and cities with the stench of death replacing the scent of jasmine.

Why, then, at a time when massacres and mass arrests became a routine, has Nawar Qassem’s story occupied my mind and touched me so profoundly? Perhaps because it challenges the paradigms and stereotypes that have come to characterize the Syrian uprising and dominate the discourse over Syria. Nawar is an Alawite. And it is painful that we are obliged to mention a person’s sect to show that the revolution is not a Sunni insurrection. Nawar is a Syrian Alawite who has been active in the revolution since its outbreak. Nawar has dedicated his time and energy to assist Homsi refugees, working in Tartous, a city that has been a stronghold for the regime. Nawar is a Syrian Alawite non-violent activist meaning that he faces a serious risk of torture and an extremely vengeful, wrathful punishment at the hands of his jailers.

It is precisely because Nawar Qassem does not fit the accepted narrative that you will not hear about him in the media. Writing about a guy from the “minorities”, who is one of many activists working behind the scenes, does not sell copies like the “Sunni market” story. Speaking about solidarity and unity in Syria is not as contentious as publishing Adnan Arour’s disgustingly sectarian statements. Covering the protests of Salamiyeh – a mixed town of Ismailis, Sunnis, and Shia Twelvers, all of whom have been protesting since the very beginning of the uprising as well as aiding the injured and the displaced – does not serve the narrative that “minorities” staunchly support the regime.

By no means am I trying to paint the Syrian uprising as a utopia or as a perfect uprising. It is not. The revolution has indeed been stained by sectarian sentiments and random violence at times. While it is the regime that is chiefly responsible for sowing sectarianism and driving revolutionaries into armed – and at times religious-motivated – resistance after months of largely peaceful protests, sweeping the flaws of Syrian society and the Syrian revolution under the rug is wrong. So, too, is condoning sectarianism and any crimes committed by the Free Syrian Army against civilians.

The Syrian uprising is our window into the Syrian society; after years of being accustomed to viewing the Syrian society through the eyes of the regime, we finally got the chance to see a different, unfiltered Syria with all its flaws, tensions, heroism and accomplishments. Despite the savagery of the Syrian regime and the insistence to portray the revolution as a civil war, acts of sheer courage, creative non-violent resistance and inspiring – albeit criminally under-covered – solidarity shine through amidst the incitement and hate-mongering.

Nawar Qassem was shot and arrested because he shakes the very foundation of a regime built on fear mongering and divide and rule tactics.

The Syrian regime proves again that the clever signs of Kafranbel, the cartoons of Ali Ferzat, the lens of Bassel Shehadeh’s camera and the roaring chant of “The Syrian people are one” pose a much greater threat to its existence than any armed battalion.

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Shin Bet Arrests Israeli Druze at Syrian Border, Slaps Gag on Media Reporting

by , July 02, 2012

The Syrian news service, SANA, reported on June 29 that Israel’s Shin Bet security service arrested Dr. Eyad Jamil al-Jawhari, a resident of the Golan village of Majdal Shams. Jawhari is completing medical studies inside Syria and was returning home via the Golan border crossing when he was arrested. His family, who had been awaiting his arrival, was told he had been arrested. He is currently being held in the Shabak section of Kishon prison, where numerous Palestinian security detainees are interrogated.

The Shin Bet has secured a gag order on reporting about the incident, so no Israeli media outlet has reported the story. When and if they do, they will not be able to use the detainee’s name because of the gag. This Syrian media report notes that Jawhari has already appeared in the Nazareth court and that his detention has been extended. That means it’s likely he was arrested at least a few days ago.

This is a critical period and explains the Israeli gag. Opacity allows Israel to proceed with a minimum of public scrutiny. It is the time when the suspect likely is refused access to counsel, and when he’s likely to be tortured, as happened in the cases of Dirar Abusisi and Ameer Makhoul. These were both Palestinians arrested by the Shin Bet under gag, which I succeeded in breaking with the help of Israeli sources. That is why I’m publishing this report as urgently as I can. It’s critical that the news be reported widely outside Israel, as this may exert some pressure on the authorities not to mistreat Jawhari under cover of silence and darkness.

There could be two plausible reasons for his detention: given the civil war raging inside Syria, Israeli security forces are eager to obtain any intelligence they can about the situation. Therefore, someone returning from Syria would be a perfect source and worthy of detention and debriefing. The Shin Bet would first approach and ask him to collaborate. But if he refused, it’s plausible that Shin Bet would arrest him.

But given what we know of the incident at this point, I’d say it’s more likely that the security police determined that Jawhari had “nationalist sympathies” (an Israeli catchword for Palestinians who are too outspoken in their political views) and possibly had contact with individuals inside Syria who are verboten as far as Israel is concerned. Perhaps he met someone connected with Hamas or Hezbollah. A charge of contact with an “enemy organization” can bring very long prison sentences. Makhoul accepted a 9-year prison sentence for allegedly meeting a Hamas operative in Jordan at an environmental conference. The actual individual, Hassan JaJa, is a landscape designer in Amman, and the Shin Bet never proved he had any Hezbollah affiliation.

But the truth is that it wouldn’t even take that much for the Shin Bet to persecute you. All you have to do is be a prominent activist supporting the movement for civil rights for Israel’s Palestinian, Druze, or Bedouin minorities.

Israel’s Druze community is generally considered quite loyal to the state and so rarely suspected of such sympathies. But some communities in the Golan retain strong ties to Druze living on the other side of the Syrian border, which would make the security services suspect them of dual loyalty, or not having any loyalty at all (to Israel).

I’ve put out word to Israeli prisoners’ rights activists to try to determine which prison holds Jawhari. From there, we will be able to notify the human rights community of what has happened, and they can try to help make his case more public and transparent.

On a different subject, I reported here recently on the 2010 execution of East Jerusalem Palestinian, Ziad Jilani, by Israeli border police. When the Israeli court and police refused to prosecute those who murdered Jilani, his widow, Moira, appealed to the attorney general. Two days ago, he released a voluminous document rejecting her appeal and refusing to open a criminal investigation. The legal memo, though it didn’t go so far as to say the murder was justified, denied a credible case could be made for murder or any criminal act. It whitewashed the incident and rewarded impunity a legal victory.

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