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Analysis | Israel’s Government Is a Clear and Present Danger for Its Arab Palestinian Citizens

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When Israel’s Knesset adopted the Jewish nation state law five years ago, under Benjamin Netanyahu’s aegis, many Jewish Israelis were deeply worried about formalizing inequality and Jewish privilege into legislation with the higher status of a Basic Law.

The new law provided the right of self-determination in Israel to Jews exclusively, demoted the Arabic language and committed to Jewish settlement. Many Arab Palestinian citizens were downright scared; anxious that the Nation State law wasn’t just a culmination of anti-Arab populist hostility, but the ominous start of a new assault.

The new Netanyahu government’s legislative activity is proving them right. Below the frantic headlines about the attempted judicial capture, the government has advanced laws that target Arabs in far more dangerous ways, by marking those convicted of terrorism for deportation, or even death.

One of the laws, which has already passed, allows Israel to strip the citizenship of citizens convicted of acts of terror who receive financial support from the Palestinian Authority, and deport them to the West Bank or Gaza.

No one has to support terror or PA payments, to notice that stripping citizenship is not democratic practice; or that the law is irrelevant for Jews.

The official explanation of the bill says it intends to “regulate the issue of canceling citizenship or residency for a person convicted of acts of terror, injury to the sovereignty of the state or its wholeness, or aiding the enemy in war, and by these acts violated loyalty to the state of Israel,” before launching into an explanation of Palestinian Authority payments to terrorists. Translated, that means Jews who attack Palestinians are fully protected.

Given that Israelis use the word “terrorism” as a matter of course for Palestinian attacks on armed soldiers on active duty in a military conflict, while including injury to the “wholeness” of the state (what is that?) or “aiding the enemy” (do Facebook posts supporting resistance count?) the potential for annulling citizenship is broad.

Another bill has been called “barbaric,” by Israel Democracy Institute scholar Amir Fuchs. That’s because it requires the death penalty for terrorists.

The text of the bill is, to be honest, insane: “Those who purposely or through indifference cause the death of an Israeli citizen, when the act is motivated by racism or hostility…and with the aim of harming the State of Israel and the revival of the Jewish people in their land, are sentenced to death, and to this punishment alone.”

The bill specifies that should the trial of such “terrorists” occur in a West Bank military court, a regular majority of justices is sufficient to kill the perpetrator, rather than a unanimous decision. In a military court, no lighter punishment is allowed, and the sentence is final.

Lawmakers have floated death penalty bills for years, and they have always faded early in the legislative process. Maybe this bill goes too far even for today’s Israel: it could easily have been authored by Rodrigo Duterte, former president of the Philippines, whose ‘war on drugs’ left over 30,000 people dead.

It’s easy to blame the mad-dog Jewish supremacist Otzma Yehudit party whose lawmaker sponsored the death penalty bill. But the Israeli habit of considering extremists to be aberrations rather than a product of long-term, organic undemocratic forces needs to end.

One of the earliest and most vocal proponents of the death penalty for terrorists was hard right politician Avigdor Lieberman, once Netanyahu’s brother-in-arms, now in the opposition, since the early 2010s. Last week, Lieberman re-submitted a bill identical to the Otzma Yehudit version, and his party voted in favor at the preliminary committee vote last week.

Yet many lauded him that same week for joining the protests against the judicial takeover. With friends like these, what democracy exactly are we trying to save?

After all, Israel already has laws that target Arab citizens by suffocating political expression such as observing the Nakba, or supporting a political boycott, during the 2010s. The 2003 amendment to Israel’s citizenship law makes life a bureaucratic hell for Arab citizens married to Palestinians from the occupied territories. Despite early security justifications, this has long since functioned as an ethno-national family separation law instead.

But Israel’s anti-Arab discriminatory laws are far older. Its citizenship law passed in 1952; it privileges Jews by offering them automatic citizenship under the 1950 Law of Return, whether immigrants or not, over Arab Palestinians who were native to the land. The original law was so restrictive for Arabs that it took various amendments and decades for all Arabs to finally achieve citizenship.

Also in the early years, the Absentee Properties law of 1950 and the Land Acquisitions law of 1953 helped the state to relieve Arabs of their land and property, while the majority of those left in Israel were trapped under a military government. There was little recourse in those early years, before citizenship was defined, without Basic Laws to guarantee property rights, and with no judicial review of legislation.

Despite all this checkered legal past, still the new laws stand out. They are written to distinguish openly, almost wildly so, between Palestinians and Jews, using the nature of the crime as the obvious means to differentiate between Palestinians and Jews. By contrast, most of the previous laws are formulated in ways that nominally could apply to all. This casts a spotlight on open, de jure discrimination within Israel.

“The important difference is that the current laws are absolutely explicit about naming their focus on and thus strengthening the creation of two separate racial and national tracks. That means that Israel can no longer escape from accusations of committing war crimes, including the crime of apartheid,” said human rights attorney Sawsan Zaher.

She explains: “When you have a system of laws that explicitly applies to one racial group by the another racial group, with intent for the purpose of controlling, suppressing and discriminating against them while preserving Jewish supremacy, these are major components of apartheid.”

The current government has no hidden agenda. Just as Israel has created parallel legal systems in the occupied territories to establish profound inequality between Israelis and Palestinians, Israel’s regular laws are now racing to formalize inequality and persecute Israel’s Arab-Palestinian minority.

The only mystery is why the government would advance these bills before it has torn down the judiciary, which could hold them back. Apparently, Israel’s leaders are sufficiently optimistic that they will soon succeed.

Dahlia Scheindlin is a political scientist and public opinion expert, and a policy fellow at Century International.

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Article source: Haaretz | Dahlia Scheindlin | Mar 9, 2023

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000