Institutional Racism in Israel 31

I have frequently compared Israel as a state to apartheid South Africa. Citizens of the country are defined and confined by race. it is not just that all ethnic Jews, wherever they were born, have a right to live in Israel whereas many ethnic Palestinians who were actually born in Israel do not. Jews in Israel have a right of immigration for their spouses; arabs in Israel do not. Arab Israelis are actually forbidden by law from marrying Palestinians outside Israel. Many Arab communities are physically cut off by barbed wire.

It is worth reading this interview with Dr Hatim Kanaaneh. The interviewer, as is frequently a problem with pro-Palestinian groups, does not couch his questions in neutral terms but in pejorative terms which may put off the neutral reader. Try to get over that, and just concentrate on the substance of what old Dr Kanaaneh, who uses language with care and neutrality, has to say.

Here are some key parts:

Discrimination is a built-in part of life and the laws of the country. Remember that what we are dealing with here (and the basic issue of contention in the conflict between Zionism and all of us native Palestinians) is a conflict over land.

As a Palestinian I am disqualified by law from equal access to land ownership or use. This is given a deeper expression in the form of the Law of Return granting any Jewish person anywhere in the world automatic citizenship with all the benefits that accrue with it of access to land, housing, financial and social assistance, and to the symbols of the state while no Palestinian who is not born here can dream of ever becoming a citizen.

Recently laws were passed specifically to prevent our children from marrying other Palestinians and from the right to bring their spouses under the standing laws of family unification applicable to Jewish citizens.

The absolute majority of land we, the Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel since its establishment in 1948, once owned has been confiscated for the benefit of our Jewish co-citizens through a maze of some three dozen laws specifically designed for the purpose. Were it not for the 1976 uprising that has come since to be commemorated as Land Day, we would have lost the remainder. We, nearly one-fifth of the total population of Israel, now own about 3 per cent of its land. After all, we are dealing with what has been defined by Zionism as “the land of Israel” in an ethnic sense, a definition that excludes us, Palestinians. The last stroke in the continuing saga of disenfranchisement is the requirement from us to pledge allegiance to Israel as the state of the Jews. And once we take such an oath, it would be up to the same racist crowd to define what constitutes a breach of it, a process inevitably leading to our expulsion one way or the other.

Our youth, unlike Jewish youth, are exempt from conscription. Positions from which they are disqualified on this basis when they seek employment run the gamut from civil aviation all the way down to the manufacturing of ice-cream.

The worst part of the daily discrimination that we meet with is the fact that much of the final decisions on so many little items are left to the discretion of low-level bureaucrats. These, by and large, have been brought up on a deeply self-centred world-view that sees the world as one of constant struggle between “us”-the-Jews and “them”-the-goyim and considers one’s duty as serving his own people. This, of course, leaves me out of “the favours” many officials consider it their duty to do their clients. Intentional obstructionism is more often what we face.

Another area in which this phenomenon is evident is the differential implementation of the law. Take, for example, the practice of house demolition within Israel. Mind you, we are not speaking here of the savage collective punishment practised by the Israeli occupying forces against Palestinians in the occupied territories. We are speaking of the practice of demolition of homes built without permit within Israel proper.

In absolute numbers there are more illegally constructed structures in Jewish communities, but the demolition is practised almost exclusively against Arab home owners. The basis for the construction of homes without permit is also rooted in discriminatory practices in the laws of zoning which in many cases have retroactively criminalized all residents of many villages whose existence predated the state itself. Such “unrecognized villages” are frequently the site of home demolitions.

The cumulative end result of all the openly discriminatory laws, the hidden disadvantages, and the differential application of the rules and regulations are clearly seen in comparative figures from officially published data of the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics.

As a public health practitioner I can point to the single most telling indicator of the well-being of a community, that of infant mortality rate (IMR), or the number out of a thousand infants born in a certain year who die before their first birthday. This statistic regarding the most vulnerable segment of a population reflects such community attributes as the income level, the level of education, the sanitation, etc.

The relative ratio of the IMR between Arabs and Jews in Israel has run at the level of almost exactly 2 since statistics were ever collected on both groups. In the last decade it has been on the rise, a reflection of increasing discrimination. One could look at many other statistics such as the level of poverty, education, housing, etc. and the gap is obvious, but IMR sums it up best.

It is worth reading the whole interview carefully. Israel now has a Foreign Minister from a party whose major election platform was the need for further action against Israeli Arabs.

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