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November 20, 2001
The true measure of Israel's 'democracy'

By Ali Abunimah


The true measure of Israel's 'democracy'

By Ali Abunimah

The Jordan Times
November 20, 2001

THE ISRAELI government and Zionist establishment's campaign of harassment and incitement directed at Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin has reached new heights. On Nov. 14, Israel's Public Security Minister Uzi Landau speaking in the Knesset called several Arab members of that body "agents of the Palestinian [National] Authority" and said they were "collaborating with the Palestinian [National] Authority in their struggle against Israel."

Given that the Israeli government labels the PNA a "terrorist" organisation and likens its leader, Yasser Arafat to Osama Ben Laden, it is understandable that Mohammed Dehamshe, one of the targeted Knesset members, responded angrily to Landau's remarks, saying that "someone who calls us agents -- agents! -- is not a minister for public security. He is a minister for public incitement. He is a minister of liquidations. He is calling for our liquidation in this state".

The previous week, the Israeli parliament had lifted the immunity of Azmi Bishara, another prominent Arab member, so he could be criminally indicted for remarks he made supporting the internationally recognised right of Palestinians and other Arabs living under Israeli military occupation to resist. Several Jewish members of parliament have now introduced bills to make it a crime to advocate armed struggle against Israel no matter what it does. The blatant hypocrisy and racism of these Israeli acts is underlined by the fact that Israeli Jewish lawmakers such as Avigdor Lieberman who openly advocates the ethnic cleansing of the entire Palestinian population, or Gideon Ezra who called for the "liquidation" of the families of suspected suicide bombers, not only enjoy immunity but seats in the Israeli government.

Rehavam Zeevi, the tourism minister assassinated in revenge for the Israeli state murder of PFLP leader Abu Ali Mustafa, was given the funeral of a national hero despite the fact that his views of Palestinians and what should be done with them were nothing short of fascist.

The mounting attacks on Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrate that, increasingly, Israel's much-vaunted "democracy" has ruthlessly policed limits which exclude and punish anyone who does not support the Zionist ideal of a state dominated and governed by Jews at the expense of non-Jewish citizens. In effect, it demands that Palestinian citizens of Israel wishing to participate in Israel's version of democracy must become Zionists.

Palestinian citizens of Israel were never under any illusion that their citizenship ever amounted to more than the third-class variety. They are discriminated against in every aspect of economic, political, academic and social life, and have learned that the regular promises of Israeli politicians of all parties to introduce greater measures of equality and end state discrimination in funding evaporate as soon as election results are declared. What Palestinians in the occupied territories have suffered in terms of land confiscation and Jewish-only settlement construction since 1967, Palestinian citizens of Israel experienced in equal or greater measure during the first decades of Israel's existence when they lived under martial law and saw their land taken away for "Judaisation" schemes aimed at changing the demographics of their regions and limiting their growth.

For the younger generation of Palestinian citizens of Israel who did not experience the trauma of 1948 and its immediate aftermath directly, the true value of their lives in the eyes of the Israeli government was measured when thirteen unarmed Arab civilians were shot dead by Israeli police during protests in October 2000, an act of state brutality never witnessed against even violent and armed Jewish demonstrators.

And yet, despite all these wrongs, until recently Palestinian citizens of Israel could be assured that even if they were excluded from political power, they were free to speak their minds with little fear. But when a member of a "democratic" parliament is not free to represent the views of his constituents without fear of being criminally prosecuted, or labelled a traitor by a government minister, then no democracy in fact exists.

It is hard to avoid, once again, a comparison between Israel and apartheid South Africa in its dying days. For many years, white South Africans lived under what could reasonably be described as a democracy. If you were white, you voted in free elections, could read and write or more less do what you wanted (unless you were a communist or a member of the "terrorist" African National Congress), and could criticise the government harshly as white opponents of apartheid, such as Helen Suzman, did. But as the apartheid regime began to crumble in the face of increasing internal and external challenges, it cracked down more and more on any and all who opposed it, banning newspapers, meetings and demonstrations, and arresting white dissidents.

Today, as Israel lurches ever further to the right and ever more extreme ideologies enter the mainstream, Palestinian citizens are the first to see their few rights slashed away. History shows time and again that power and privilege determined to preserve themselves know neither limits nor recognise excesses. What is being done to Arab citizens of Israel today may tomorrow be the fate even of Israeli Jews who oppose a racist vision of the future in which Israel's closest neighbours and indigenous population, the Palestinians, are viewed not as equals with whom peace based on justice and equality is to be built but as a "demographic threat", as a "cancer" and as "insects" who can only be looked at down the barrel of a gun or from the turret of a tank.

Ali Abunimah

The writer lives in the United States. He contributed this article to `The New Intifada' (Verso Books, 2001).