The changing relationship between Israelis and the Palestinians in Israel
Johny Mansour, Palestinian historian and academic from Haifa
It seems that the ramifications of the Sheikh Jarrah crisis spilled over the borders of this Jerusalem neighborhood that been suffering under occupation since 1967 and reached many Palestinian cities and villages inside the Palestine of 1948 – the cities that are defined as ‘mixed cities’, inhabited by Jews and Arabs – but now where Jews are the majority. However, it was mostly Arabs until the year of the Nakba.
The ramifications of this crisis included the attacks and break-ins by far-right radical Jewish groups demanding to kick out Arabs and calling “Death to Arabs”, as the Nazis once called – “Death to the Jews”.
Buses of extremist settlers and inhabitants of Jewish towns in Israel marched and attacked many Arab neighborhoods under the protection of the Israeli police and military. This revealed the complicity of Israeli security forces under a non-declared government decision with extremists – these agencies do not make a move without a political-level decision.
This cover-up showed a fault within the relationship between the ‘state’ as a ruling body that facilitates the lives of all its citizens and the Arab Palestinians in Israel, who make up almost 23% of Israel’s total population.
This fault is not new, and it is unrelated to the consequences of the Sheikh Jarrah crisis. Instead, it goes back to the core of the Zionist then Israeli mindset, which rejects the presence of those who remained from the Palestinian people on Palestinian land after the Nakba in 1948.
1948 Palestinians are citizens of Israel but with incomplete citizenship. In other words, the state gave them ID cards and enforced its laws on them. Indeed, it issued unjust laws to limit their rights and freedoms.
However, their citizenship is not the same level as that of Jews, who Israel claims to have full right to the lands of their ancestors, while other people do not. This is the essence of the “Nation-State of the Jewish People” law passed by the Knesset in 2018.
In practice, this law deems non-Jews to be incomplete citizens, with fewer rights historically and otherwise. Hence, in some instances, the state can take away their citizenship and strip them of their civil rights, up to expulsion from the country as “an unwanted citizen”. The impacts of the Nation-State Law above on the individual and collective behavior of Israelis could be seen in the assaults and break-ins by extremists of the Palestinian neighborhoods in mixed cities, attempting to harm residents and their private properties, in addition to public properties. This highlights the state’s policies toward those it deems its citizens of Arab Palestinians. It does not protect them and their properties, in the absence of projects that ensure equality in rights and reformed justice, in addition to other privileges the state is giving its Jew citizens.
The events of May 2021, which some call the consequences of Sheikh Jarrah, have revealed not only an external fault in the relationship between the state and the Palestinians in it but also an intentional social structural crack with roots dating back to the foundations of the Zionist movement, and the ideas of its critical thinkers known as ‘Fathers of Zionism”.
They are the ones who laid the foundation for translating the Balfour Declaration of 1917 into a tangible reality in the form of a political entity which is the State of Israel, in collaboration and complacency with Britain. This country was represented through the Mandate of Palestine. They are also the same people who drafted Israel’s Declaration of Independence, providing room for freedom of worship, accommodation, and living without discrimination.
The historical reality of this artificial entity, whose founders relied on implementing actual steps to evict the people of Palestine, the original owners of the land, and settle occupiers in their place. Those Palestinians who remained were placed under martial law for twenty years, despite being considered state citizens. This meant Palestinians in Israel were under constant surveillance and were continuously oppressed so as not to rise against the state forced upon them against their wishes.
This decades-old reality continues to this day in different forms, relying on rules of racial discrimination. This racial discrimination manifests itself in the apartheid policies implemented on the ground.
The cities we referred to above as ‘mixed cities’ are anything but. They are cities with two separate peoples, each having its own neighborhoods and suburbs and institutions that serve them. The only space where the two peoples meet is the economy. Even relations in universities and higher institutes considered mixed spaces do not encourage mixing and working together. This is evident by having two student unions in each university and college, one for the Jews and another for the Arab Palestinians.
So, the hierarchy takes on a pyramid shape in both looks and actions. Control is coming from above and down to the pyramid’s base, directing it as per political agenda that aligns with the idea of keeping Jewish predominance in the state. The state is implementing its practices to ensure a tight grip around the necks of the Palestinian citizens in it.
The settlers’ attacks and break-ins of the Arab neighborhoods in the mixed cities, and several Palestinian towns inside Palestine, stopped quickly a few days after they began. It reminded some watchers of the Kristallnacht in 1938 in Nazi Germany.
The attacks stopped amidst the arrests of hundreds of Palestinian youths, some of whom were charged with crimes. In contrast, no charges were brought against any of the attacking settlers, despite being recorded by cameras in the streets and shops.
This situation again sends coded messages to the Palestinians inside that the carrot/stick policy is held by no one else but the state, which will use it when and however it wants. Hence, this crisis does not mark an end to the wavering nature of the relationship between Israel’s state and those it theoretically deems as its Palestinian citizens. Instead, it is another round with more to come.