Tom Walker lifts the lid on the racism and discrimination that Palestinian citizens of Israel face – oppression that destroys the myths put forward by the state’s supporters
An Israeli farmer watched his village being razed to the ground last week. The grandfather could do nothing as more than 1,000 armed police and “volunteers” threw all his family’s things into the street and bulldozed his house—for the sixth time in a decade.
According to CNN, crowds of people cheered as the authorities set fire to anything left standing.
How could this happen? It’s simple. The Israeli in question was Ismail Mohamed Salem—one of the state’s 1.3 million Arab citizens.
The place was al-Arakib, a village of around 300 now homeless people in the majority-Arab Negev region of southern Israel. It is just five miles from the Israeli city of Beersheba.
Villagers have been living there since before the founding of Israel in 1948. They even have original land deeds. But the Israeli authorities say al-Arakib is “unrecognised”.
The Israeli state has long denied running water and electricity to such unrecognised villages. They are not even marked on maps.
Now it is denying the village any right to exist at all.
This is nothing unusual in Israel—the oppression of Palestinians inside the state’s borders is just as systematic as that in the West Bank or Gaza.
After decades of resistance to Israel, the suffering of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is relatively well known.
But less well known in the West is the situation of the Arab population inside Israel itself. This group is made up of the descendants of Palestinians who managed to remain inside the suddenly-imposed Israeli borders in 1948.
Today they account for 21 percent of Israel’s population. This percentage continues to grow—a fact that worries Israeli leaders, who see the Palestinians as an “existential threat” to their state.
The demolition of al-Arakib, and the treatment of Palestinians living in Israel, makes a mockery of the fiction that Israel is “the only democracy in the Middle East”.
The demolition is part of a deliberate, systematic plan to break up such Arab populations, force them out and make sure Jews outnumber Arabs in every part of the “Jewish state”.
Two days before the demolition, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Different elements will demand national rights within Israel, for example in the Negev, if we allow for a region without a Jewish majority.”
Israel operates under the cover of saying it is only enforcing its rules on permits, and that the villages it demolishes are “illegal”.
Yet since Israel was founded, while 1,000 new Jewish towns and villages have been created, not one Arab town or village has been given legal permission to build.
Behind its facade of “democracy”, Israeli society rests on deeply-ingrained racism.
For example, Professor Dan Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University did a study of 124 textbooks used in Israeli schools.
He came to the conclusion that “over the years, generations of Israeli Jews were taught a negative and often delegitimising view of Arabs”.
He added that the books claimed Arabs’ main characteristics were “brutality, untrustworthiness, cruelty, fanaticism, treacherousness and aggressiveness”.
Daniel Banvolegyi, a school student in Jerusalem, says: “Our books basically tell us that everything the Jews do is fine and legitimate and Arabs are wrong and violent and are trying to exterminate us.
“They teach us that Israel became a state in 1948 and that the Arabs started a war. They don’t mention what happened to the Arabs.”
Such miseducation leaves many Israelis unaware of their own state’s brutal history. Instead, schools are used for indoctrination.
Last year, Kiryat Gat, a town of 50,000 people in southern Israel, produced a video titled “Sleeping with the Enemy”—to warn Jewish girls about the “dangers” of starting relationships with Arab men.
The video, which was shown in schools, calls mixed couples “an unnatural phenomenon”.
Opinion polls and surveys of the Jewish population show the effect this kind of material has had. More than half consistently say that they believe that an Israeli marrying an Arab is “treason”.
One survey showed that 75 percent of Jews do not want to live in an apartment block shared by Arabs—and 50 percent would refuse to work for an Arab.
Employment is one of the areas where the discrimination is most visible.
In Israel’s public sector, only 6 percent of workers are Arab. In some government departments the figure is less than 1 percent.
“Not by chance are there no senior Arab civil servants, no deputy directors in the ministries, no legal advisers,” says Ahmed Tibi, who heads Israel’s parliamentary committee on Arab employment in the public sector.
But the parliament does nothing about this. Instead, it spends its time drafting discriminatory laws.
The current session features legislation to force every citizen to pledge allegiance to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state”, make promoting a boycott of Israel a criminal offence, and punish anyone who marks the founding of Israel as a day of mourning, as most Palestinians do.
The Israeli state was built on racism from the beginning. Its founding “Declaration of Independence” repeatedly describes it as a “Jewish state”.
This was the culmination of the aims of the Zionist movement for a Jewish state on the land of historic Palestine.
Israeli leaders are determined to ensure that the Zionist state retains its Jewish majority so it is able to dominate Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and within its own borders.
This is why the state positively encourages any Jewish person from anywhere in the world to come and set up home there—while denying the Palestinians any right to return.
And it’s why Israeli politicians of all political persuasions routinely refer to the growing Arab population as a “demographic threat”. Netanyahu has said, “If there is a demographic problem, and there is, it is with the Israeli Arabs.”
Last year Michael Oren, the current Israeli ambassador to the US, wrote an article about “existential threats to Israel”.
“Israel, the Jewish state, is predicated on a decisive and stable Jewish majority of at least 70 percent,” he wrote.
“Any lower than that and Israel will have to decide between being a Jewish state and a democratic state.
“If it chooses democracy, then Israel as a Jewish state will cease to exist. If it remains officially Jewish, then the state will face an unprecedented level of international isolation, including sanctions, that might prove fatal.”
This kind of rhetoric is common—and Israel’s policies towards the Arab population are nothing new.
In the 1970s, the newspaper Al-Hamishmar got hold of a leaked Israeli memo, the Koenig Report.
Noting that the Arab population was then increasing four times faster than the Jewish one, it set out a vicious plan.
“Expand and deepen Jewish settlement in areas where the contiguity of the Arab population is prominent,” it says.
“Examine the possibility of diluting existing Arab population concentrations.”
Israel has systematically done this. This means that it would now be almost impossible to disentangle the two populations, as the “two-state solution” advocated for the region by many would require.
Israel’s ongoing policy of “settling” everything in sight shows that it has no intention of agreeing to any such plan.
Al-Arakib is a case in point. Now that it’s been bulldozed, the Jewish National Fund, which owns huge swathes of land across Israel, plans to turn the area into a newly-planted forest.
It’s all part of “Blueprint Negev”: a plan to get Jewish people to move to the region.
“Today,” the Fund writes, “we face the challenge of a lifetime—developing the Negev, the largest region in Israel with the smallest population.”
Its campaign slogan is “Israel is 60 percent smaller than it should be”—referring to the amount of the state’s total land area the Negev covers.
It plans to prioritise building housing for young Israeli soldiers, and hopes to attract up to 250,000 new settlers.
A leaked Israeli army document says, “Israel’s long-term security and economic survival is dependent upon its ability to truly settle all areas within its borders.”
The aim is the “Judaisation” of the largest area possible.
But whatever happens, people like Ismail Mohamed Salem won’t go quietly—he is already rebuilding his house in al-Arakib. “This is my land,” says the 70-year old. “Why should I leave?”