Language discrimination, another blow at Jewish- Arab equality in Israel
The Israeli Ministerial Committee on Legislation recently approved a draft bill that would end Arabic’s status as an official language of the country, despite an Arabic-speaking population that includes 20% of the state’s citizens.
This would have significant practical and moral implications for Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens and Palestinians in Jerusalem who are not citizens but whom Israel labels “residents.”
It would be a further blow to their fight for equality and to remain in their homeland regardless of what state exists on it. It will add to their insecurity as citizens who may be transferred to a future Palestinian state either politically or physically or stripped of their citizenship to fulfil extremist Israeli politicians’ desire to make the country a purely Jewish state.
Arabic is used when certain services are provided and when Palestinians are required to complete official forms applying for official documents or services.
Israel has been replacing Arabic road names, particularly in East Jerusalem, with the Hebrew names that appear on signs in both Hebrew and Arabic, including “Al Quds” being listed as “Yerushalayim” in Arabic.
This, Israel hopes, will be implanted in the minds of Palestinians and visitors who will become accustomed to the Hebrew names rendering the Arabic version as part of some distant history.
It is worth remembering that Israeli Arabs are a minority only because of the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from the area when Israel was created in 1948. The discrimination and insecurity felt by Palestinian citizens of Israel is palpable.
The Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) said Israel has enacted more than 50 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of the state. They include a “citizenship law” that bars Palestinian citizens from marrying Palestinians from the occupied Palestinian territories and taking them to live in Israel.
Israeli society itself discriminates against them through “admissions committees,” which Jewish communities can use to bar Palestinian citizens from living among them.
As for Bedouin citizens of Israel, the situation is dire. Israel has not recognised 45 villages they inhabit, depriving the areas of essential services. It has embarked on a plan to transfer them to a smaller number of locations and, in some cases, to build settlements for Jews only on sites they inhabited.
Even the Muslim call for prayer has been under attack and the government moved to silence its projection outside mosques because it “disturbs” illegal settlers who moved into predominantly Muslim areas.
Contrast this with Canada where French is the mother tongue of 22% of the population but when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses news conferences abroad, he repeats his remarks in French, recognising the minority speaking part of his fellow Canadians.
Israel, on the other hand, is moving ahead with a “nation-state bill” that gives primacy to Jewish citizens. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu claims that “there is no contradiction at all between this bill and equal rights for all citizens of Israel.”
Any rational and fair-minded observer would reject that assertion and see this bill and the stripping of Arabic of its status as an official language as further proof, if any was needed, of Israeli policies that discriminate against a sizeable minority of its citizens and one that erodes visible signs of the historic Palestine’s Arab heritage.
A famous Arab song says: “The land speaks Arabic,” which people in historic Palestine still do but Israel wants them to only speak Hebrew. Rather than enrich Israel, it would be the poorer for the actions of an extremist exclusionary government.