London, United Kingdom – Israel is poised to unleash a new round of oppressive apartheid policies against Palestinian citizens within its own borders, according to leading experts.
The re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu, a hard-right nationalist, as prime minister sets the scene for a new phase in an historic project to end the “demographic threat” posed by Palestinian citizens of Israel to the Jewish majority, they say.
On Saturday, experts at a London conference explored the challenges facing the 1.8 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, a group that comprises 20 percent of the Israeli population yet faces widespread discrimination.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, panellist Jonathan Cook, a prominent writer on Palestine, said the controversial 2018 Nation-State Law has essentially heightened a “comprehensive apartheid” that reflects the demographic fear of Palestinian citizens of Israel among the country’s leaders.
Palestinian citizens had long been regarded as a “Trojan horse” by Israeli politicians, he added.
The Nazareth-based author told the conference: “Stating that the law turns Palestinians into second-class citizens or risks turning it into an apartheid state can easily become a trap.
“It suggests that Israel was a normal Western-style liberal democracy before the law. But the law changes very little: Israel was established as an apartheid state.”
Middle East Monitor organised the London event, which brought together prominent academics and writers from across the world who all agreed on the characterisation of Israel as an apartheid state.
Attention has turned to Palestinian citizens of Israel since the Nation-State Law declaring Israel to be the “historical homeland of the Jewish people” was passed last summer, and since Netanyahu won a fifth term on pledges to annex additional parts of the occupied West Bank.
Lawyer Suhad Bishara, a Palestinian human rights expert, told delegates: “The Nation-State Law has no one state vision. There will be annexations, and we can see that from what’s happening on the ground.”
Referring to the efforts by Israel’s Zionist left to conceal mistreatment of the Palestinians behind liberal democratic language, Cook said: “The law may have done us a favour: it makes it clearer what kind of state Israel is.”
Speakers outlined a broad range of areas – social, economic, legal and geographic – in which apartheid policies operate to discriminate against Israeli Palestinian citizens, many of whom were declared “present absentees” by Israel under a 1950 law to enable it to appropriate their land and property.
Comparing Israel with apartheid South Africa, whose government corralled the indigenous majority into self-governing “bantustans”, Professor Oren Yiftachel of Ben-Gurion University said the Nation-State Law opens a new stage in the Israeli “settler-colonial” process, which he called one of “deepening apartheid”.
“Apartheid, of course, is illegal, it is a war crime, it is a crime against humanity.”
Mapping out the process of “Judaisation” by which the Israeli state has taken control of Palestinian ancestral lands, he said the Nation-State Law enshrines this process in a legal framework, and likened the hierarchy of citizenship that now exists in the country to that of apartheid South Africa.
Mazen Masri of City University in London explored the legal strategies that now exist in Israeli law to discriminate against Palestinian citizens.
He said: “Discrimination already exists in a range of legal strategies that are meant to discriminate without actually officially sanctioning discrimination.
“The main concern of the Nation-State Law is not really the ethnoreligious and inherently exclusivist principles and also the entrenchment of Israel’s colonial nature and policy, the main problem is that this act demonstrates that Israel is closer to apartheid than democracy.”
An Israeli Palestinian politician, Dr Yousef Jabareen, told the conference that he had sat in the Knesset and had to listen to other politicians making racist arguments in which the Palestinians were depicted as both a dangerous “fifth column” but also as inferior.
“The basis of democracy is equal rights and equal citizenship and for the Palestinians these have been violated for over 70 years,” he said. “The Nation-State Law restates this: it opens the door for further policies and tools of oppression.”