What it means to be an Arab citizen of Israel?
10 May 2015
JERUSALEM - Today, some 1.4 million Palestinians (Israeli Arabs) are citizens of Israel, constituting nearly 20 percent of the country's 8.3 million population, according to official Israeli figures
On May 15 of every year, Palestinians mark "Nakba Day" – when the state of Israel was founded – to reaffirm their right of return to the lands from which their ancestors were forcibly displaced.
Today, some 1.4 million Palestinians (Israeli Arabs) are citizens of Israel, constituting nearly 20 percent of the country's 8.3 million population, according to official Israeli figures.
"We've been living the reality of the Nakba since 1948; the Nakba is not just an event, but an ongoing condition since then," Israeli Arab member of Knesset (Israeli parliament) Jamal Zahalka told Anadolu Agency.
The term Nakba – which means catastrophe in Arabic - reflects the reality for those Palestinians; they use it to denote the event of their expulsion and displacement from their homes and lands, the same occasion Jews mark as the day of Israel's "independence."
Israeli Arab lawmaker Masud Ghnaim, for his part, told Anadolu Agency that "to be an Arab in Israel is to live in daily confrontations."
"It is a matter of identity and holding on to our lands, and thus it is a story of perseverance despite all the challenges and all the efforts aimed at cleansing the Arab identity and making them into a minority," Ghnaim said.
Arab Israelis complain of a long series of laws promulgated by the Knesset since 1948, that began with legalizing the confiscation of their lands, going through interference in their personal affairs, and culminating with attempting to threaten their existence.
Hassan Jabareen, a prominent Arab Israeli lawyer who has been challenging such laws in courts, told Anadolu Agency that "to be an Arab in Israel is to live in one's homeland while being subject to racist laws due to one's identity."
"This means that an Arab living in his homeland is practically treated worse than an immigrant due to his national background," said Jabareen, who heads the Legal Center For Arab Minority Rights In Israel (Adalah).
According to Arab and Israeli rights NGOs, Israeli laws permitted the confiscation of lands and belongings of Arab citizens, restricted marriage to Palestinians living in the West Bank and barred them from owning property in towns designated as "Jewish-only."
Israeli laws also allowed for the persecution of Arabs based on their political stances.
Zahalka told Anadolu Agency that "after the Nakba, Israel occupied and confiscated over 75 percent of our land by instating laws."
"We’re subject to racial discrimination in all aspects of life, which means that the Nakba is ongoing for us and that it affects the entire people of Palestine, including us as part of a marginalized and scattered people," he said.
According to the Adalah center, official Israeli data indicate that the government has issued tenders for 38,261 housing units in Jewish cities in 2014, as opposed to 1,844 units in Arab town and cities during the year.
"Arab citizens of Israel, who make up 20 percent of the population, have access to only 4.6 percent of housing units offered for sale," the center said.
Wadie Abunassar, the director of the International Center for Consultations in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, describes Israel as having a racially-based pyramidal structure.
"At the peak of the pyramid is the secular Ashkenazi Jew, while the Arab is at the bottom of that structure; other categories range between those two. For example, a Druze might be at the top tier in the Arab hierarchy, but they remain at the bottom when it comes to Israel," Abunassar said.
"Even if a Druze serves in the Israeli army, he remains at a lower category because he is not Jewish," he explained.
Abunassar went on to highlight that a Jewish criminal receives a completely different treatment than an Arab detainee.
"Take the case of Yigal Amir for example, the assassin of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He was allowed to marry and permitted to have conjugal visits, whereas a Palestinian detainee, even if he is an Israeli citizen, enjoys no rights."
Israel views the Arab minority of its population as a "demographic threat," which prompted Israeli politicians such as resigned Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to propose turning over towns of high Arab population in northern Israel to the Palestinian state in exchange for other plots of land, he argued.
"When Lieberman first made this proposal, it represented the point of view of the extremist Israeli right wing. However, this point of view today is held by many Jews, which indicates their growing contempt of the Arab citizen."
According to figures by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics released in 2015, the Palestinian population all over the world stands at 12.1 million, 4.62 million of whom are living in Palestine (the West Bank and the Gaza Strip), 1.4 million are in Israel, about 5.34 million in Arab countries and 675,000 in the rest of the world.
As for historical Palestine, the number of Palestinians has reached 6.08 million by the end 2014, whereas the number of Jews stood at 6.1 million, according to 2013 estimates by the Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics.
According to Palestinian figures, the number of Jews living on Palestinian lands captured since 1948 will reach 6.21 million by the end of 2014, and that the numbers of Jews and Palestinians will be nearly equal by 2016 (around 6.42 million).
If population growth rates remain unchanged, the percentage of Jews will amount to 49 percent of the population of historical Palestine by 2020 (6.87 million Jews to 7.41 million Palestinians).
When it comes to security, Abunassar notes, "there is no law in Israel."
"There are administrative detentions, which are illegal in any democratic country; court verdicts are not always implemented, just like the case of the displaced villages of Iqrit and Biram [in northern Israel], as a 1956 court ruling ordered the return of the inhabitants of these two villages but they have yet to be allowed to return under the pretext of security."
Meanwhile, Jabareen noted that the recent push by Israeli right-wing parties to anchor into law the notion of Israel being the national homeland of the Jewish people "makes matters worse."
"Defining the country as a Jewish state means that it is only for Jews, which in itself a form of discrimination against Arab citizens in Israel and makes them second-class citizens."