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Israel's forgotten Palestinians
Israel's mistrust of its Palestinian citizens raises questions over their future.
Last Modified: 18 Feb 2009 14:05 GMT

Palestinian women and girls are the most disadvantaged sector of the Israeli population [EPA]

The rising mistrust of Israelis towards the Palestinian citizens of Israel raises the question of what will happen to the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine, who already suffer discrimination.

While they used to make up the majority of the population of Palestine before the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, only 150,000 out of 950,000 native Palestinians remain within what is now known as the state of Israel.

After this tragic war and the forced expulsion of the people – known by Arabs as al-Nakba, or the Catastrophe - Israeli forces occupied 213 villages and expelled more than 400,000 refugees before the British mandate ended on May 15, 1949.

After the defeat of Arab forces in December 1948, Israel confiscated nearly 85 per cent of the territory. Most of this land was taken from about 800,000 Palestinians from 531 villages, cities and tribes, who were thrown out or fled in fear of their lives.

Those who remain

Today, the Palestinians who remain in Israel account for less than 20 per cent of the population, roughly numbering 1.4 million of a total population of 7.3 million.

As part of its longstanding effort to "divide and rule", Israel identifies them as "Arab Israelis" rather than the Palestinian citizens of Israel to separate them from their kin in occupied territories.

The majority of them live in all-Palestinian towns and villages located in three main areas: in Galilee in the north, in the "little triangle" in the centre, and in the Naqab, or Negev, as it is referred to in Hebrew.

By referring to the desert area of Naqab as Negev, Israel tries to achieve a fait-accompli to erase what remains for the natives - a name.

Up to 220,000 indigenous Palestinians are displaced within Israel and not allowed to return to their homes, while 43 villages, where more than 70,000 Palestinians live, are not recognised by Israel.

All citizens are equal?

Israel identifies itself as a state "Jewish in essence and democratic in character".

Azmi Bishara, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and a former member of the Knesset, says it is unrealistic and prejudiced for Israel to be both Jewish and democratic.

"I would call it trivial democracy. It is a democracy for Jews," Bishara told Al Jazeera.

He called for a fair and impartial state for all Israeli citizens, taking into account the sizeable non-Jewish community.

"The Israeli state was established in 1948 on the ruins of the Palestinian people. Now if you want, in the language which will be known probably in Australia or America or even in South Africa, we are indigenous people, the natives of the place," Bishara said.

"And Israel was built on our ruins. We did not immigrate to Israel in order to become Israelis, like many French people would like the Algerians to integrate into France or to be accepted as equal citizens.

"We did not choose to be Israelis. Israel came to Palestine, destroyed Palestine and emerged from the ruins of Palestine.

"We are Arab Palestinians. Israeli identity does not exist even according to Israel - they insist their identity is Jewish. There is no such thing as Jewish Israeli identity.

"Our Israeli citizenship was forced upon us. Now we use it as a framework for work to demand equality."

Racism and discrimination

Discrimination favouring "Jewish nationals" pervades nearly all walks of life, depriving Palestinians from enjoying their social, civil, cultural, political and economic rights.

Negatively indentified as "non-Jews" in Israeli statistics, and subdivided into groups according to religious affiliation rather than nationality, Israeli law establishes Jewish nationality status as well as Israeli citizenship as differentiated levels of civil status.

The theocratic character of the Israeli legal system is shown by the fact that the enjoyment of full rights is determined by faith.

In depth


Al Jazeera's coverage of the Israel elections

Palestinian women and girls are the most disadvantaged sector of the Israeli population. They are the lowest paid and least educated segment, subject to legal abuse and inadequate judicial protection.

Every year, Israel demolishes dozens of houses belonging to Palestinian Bedouin in unrecognised villages in Naqab, leaving dozens of families without shelter.

"Most Palestinians in Israel live in discrimination in all walks of life. They cannot go back to their villages. They become internal refugees, living 5km from their villages, from which they were driven away, and cannot go back to their properties," Bishara said.

"There is a phenomenon called 'unrecognised villages'. Villages that should not be there, although they were there before the state of Israel emerged. So, it is a severe case of discrimination."

Figures and statistics

According to a report released by the Israel Democracy Institute in June 2007, about 56 per cent of the Jews in Israel publicly voice their opposition to full equality for the Arabs.

As many as 78 per cent of them reject the idea Arab parties should join the government or any crucial political decision-making body. 

Other Israeli statistics show that half of Israel’s non-Jewish population is defined as "poor".

Among non-Jewish citizens, 51.2 per cent of the families were poor as opposed to 15.4 per cent of the Jewish families in 2006, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

As stated by the Law of Return, relatives of Palestinian citizens of Israel abroad cannot return to Israel, while Jews automatically qualify for citizenship.

Most worryingly, 66 per cent of Jews do not trust Palestinian citizens of Israel and 55 per cent of them think that they should leave Israel.

Government prejudice

Tzipi Livni, the current foreign minister of Israel and a frontrunner in the race to become the next prime minister, told a group of secondary school students in Tel Aviv on December 11, 2008, that Palestinian Israelis should not remain in Israel once a Palestinian state is eventually created.

"My solution for maintaining a Jewish and democratic state of Israel is to have two distinct national entities," Livni was quoted by army radio as saying.

"And among other things I will also be able to approach the Palestinian residents of Israel, those whom we call Arab Israelis, and tell them: 'Your national aspirations lie elsewhere,'" Livni said.

Another party leader who advocates Livni's plan is Avigdor Lieberman, whose party Yisrael Beiteinu seems set to become the third-largest in Israel.

Lieberman also wants to strip citizenship from Palestinian citizens of Israel, whom he considers to be disloyal to the "Jewish state".

The rising popularity of Lieberman reflects the general mood of the Jews towards the indigenous population.

Such discrimination does not exist against Jews in Arab countries. In Morocco, for instance, Jews are well integrated in the society and Andre Azoulay, a Moroccan Jew, is a senior adviser to King Mohammed VI.

Israel is not accountable for such prejudiced measures, but if such things happen to Jews anywhere in the world, they will be considered anti-semitic.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Al Jazeera.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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