Palestinians ‘angry but not surprised’ by Israeli nation-state law

The law has negative implications for Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin as well as Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Sunday 22/07/2018
A man walks past a mural with writing in Arabic that reads: “My country, you gave us love and light which revealed paths for the lost” in the Israeli Arab city of Umm al-Fahm. (Reuters)
A man walks past a mural with writing in Arabic that reads: “My country, you gave us love and light which revealed paths for the lost” in the Israeli Arab city of Umm al-Fahm. (Reuters)

LONDON - Palestinians denounced the passing of legislation that says Jews have a “unique” right to self-determination in Israel, which the measure defined as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

The law, passed by parliament July 19, declared Hebrew as the country’s only official language and demoted Arabic to a “special status.”

The measure states that a “united Jerusalem” is the capital of Israel and that “the state sees the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.”

The move has negative implications for Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin as well as Palestinians in the occupied territories. Most Palestinian citizens of Israel are either Muslim or Christian whose first language is Arabic.

'Racism by Israel'

“We are angry but not surprised. We suffer from discrimination and racism by Israel on a daily basis. We witness that when we are denied employment or building permits,” Kholoud Abu Ahmed, an Israeli citizen of a Palestinian origin, told the Arab Weekly. 

“The law only confirms what we already know: That we are not welcome in our own land and that Israel wants to drive the rest of us out. Our language and culture have always been a target. The law will allow discrimination to continue under a legal cover.”

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hailed the passing of the law.

“This is our country, the Jewish state. In recent years there have been those who have tried to undermine that and question the principles of our existence. Today we made it into law: This is the country, the language, the anthem and flag,” he said.

'The end of our democracy'

Arab members of Israel’s parliament tore copies of the bill in protest. Ayman Odeh, who heads the Arab Joint List alliance, pulled out a black flag during his speech in parliament. “This is an evil law… a black flag hovers over it,” he said. “This is the end of our democracy.”

The bill was sponsored by parliament member Avi Dichter, who rejected allegations that the bill was discriminatory against minorities.

“Unlike the disinformation and fake news that were tossed around [regarding the bill], this basic law doesn’t hurt the culture of minorities living in Israel, doesn’t hurt their sabbaticals and holidays and certainly doesn’t hurt the Arabic language, which remains a mother tongue for 1.5 million of Israel’s citizens,” said Dichter before the vote.

Dichter’s remarks were echoed by Netanyahu, who insisted that Israel “honours the individual rights of all its citizens.”

Rights activists, however, were not convinced.

“The Basic Law suspends the two systems of law that are perceived as legitimate under international law: The first system is the state’s domestic legal system, which should be based on equality before the law and the rule of law. The second system is that of international humanitarian law, which is applicable to an occupied territory,” read a statement by Adalah, a legal centre that campaigns for Arab minority rights in Israel.

'Prohibited under international law'

Adalah General Director Hassan Jabareen said the law “is not only immoral but also absolutely prohibited under international law.” He warned that “by defining sovereignty and democratic self-rule as belonging solely to the Jewish people — wherever they live around the world — Israel has made discrimination a constitutional value.”

The bill drew criticism from 14 progressive American-Jewish organisations, which warned that the bill endangered Israel’s future as a democratic state.

The bill, which supports Israeli sovereignty over occupied territories, was branded as “dangerous” by Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

'An apartheid, single state'

Ben White, a British journalist and author of “Cracks in the Wall: Beyond Apartheid in Palestine/Israel,” said the bill would harm Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line.

“With this new Basic Law, Israeli authorities are doubling down on the long-standing discrimination faced by Palestinian citizens (of Israel), and indeed giving such discrimination constitutional support,” White told the Arab Weekly.

“With annexation of all or parts of the West Bank on the political agenda, this law should also be seen in the context of Israel consolidating an apartheid, single state.”

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