I find it exceptionally irritating when I hear liberals worry about whether Israel will be able to remain a “Jewish and democratic state” if it retains control of occupied Palestinian lands. It’s irritating because Israel is not now a democratic state nor has it ever tried to be one.
A state which prioritises rights for one group of citizens (in this case Jews, who comprise 80 per cent of the population) over the rights of another group (Arabs, who are 20pc of Israel’s citizenry), cannot be democratic. Israel discriminates against its Arab citizens in law, social services, funding for education and in everyday life. So while the concerns of liberals in the West are about the future of Israeli democracy, what they ignore is the reality of Israel, in practice.
As I document in my book, Palestinians: the Invisible Victims, from its inception in 1948, Israel has guaranteed rights and opportunities for Jews at the expense of the indigenous Palestinians who remained after the Nakba. Instead of experiencing democracy, these Arabs were subjected to harsh military law, as a result of which they were denied fundamental human and civil rights.
During the past 70 years, these Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel have made significant advances as they organised and fought to expand their rights. But as two stories that have appeared recently in the
Israeli media make clear, the contradiction inherent in being a democracy and a Jewish state continues to plague Israel.
In the first story we read that the leadership of the Knesset disqualified a proposed piece of legislation offered by a group of Arab legislators. The bill “Basic Law: Israel, a State of All Its Citizens” sought to guarantee equal rights for all Israelis – Jews and Arabs alike.
Apparently, the Knesset leaders were so threatened by this bill that they were unwilling to even allow it to be introduced and debated. At the same time, however, Jewish members of the body are advancing another piece of legislation which defines Israel as the “national state of the Jewish People”, making it clear that Arabs are at best, second class citizens.
In another story, we learn that Jewish residents of Afula, a town in Northern Israel, demonstrated against the proposed sale of a home in their community to an Arab family. The flyer, mobilising Afula residents to come to the demonstration criticised “the sale of homes to those who are undesirable in the neighbourhood.” The former mayor of the community is quoted in the story saying “the residents of Afula don’t want a mixed city, but rather a Jewish city, and it’s their right.”
This is the impact of the apartheid system that Israel established to govern the lives of its Arab citizens. Since 1948, Israel not only confiscated lands surrounding Arab towns and villages to make way for Jewish agriculture and development, it denied Arabs the right to purchase land and homes in Jewish communities.
Meanwhile, in the West Bank, Israel appears to be preparing a similar fate for the Palestinians living under occupation. Continuing the practice the Israelis instituted in the Galilee region, they have been slowly and steadily concentrating captive West Bank Palestinians into enclaves, denying them access to their land and in some cases, evicting them from their communities.
These stories combined, have two things in common. On the one hand, they establish that it is a contradiction in terms to consider that Israel can be both Jewish and democratic at the same time. Liberals, therefore, can stop fretting about the danger facing Israeli democracy in the future. It already is, in practice, an apartheid state.
Next to consider is the fact that none of these stories made it into the US Press and so I suppose I can almost understand the Western liberal’s lament. Since they just don’t know how Israel behaves, they have no idea that the future they fear, is already here.