Palestinians in Israel: from the margins to nation re-building players
by Ameer MAKHOUL
Since 1948, the war on Lebanon was the most touchable war among Palestinian citizens of Israel. The question was not to define a collective position or several different positions, but it was to be on the fire line.
Among civilians, out of 39 citizens of Israel who were killed during the war, 18 were Palestinian
citizens in Galilee and Haifa. Taking into consideration that Palestinians in Israel number 1.1 million (18% of the population) while in Galilee and the North they represent 50% of the population. There is almost a consensus within the Palestinian community that they were not targeted at all by Hezbollah. In his speech of August 8, Hassan Nasralla called the Palestinian citizens of Haifa to keep away from the city for their security. Nasralla knew very well that both Palestinians and Israelis were listening to his speeches, and both communities would leave the city of Haifa. For me this was one of the clearest signs that Hezbollah didn't target civil populations, while Israel targeted the whole civil infrastructure of Lebanon as well as the population through acts of war crimes and ethnic cleansing. The same thing is currently
happening in Gaza and the West Bank.
While the Israeli authorities and media attempted to prove, for their own political needs, that
Palestinians in Israel were targeted by Hezbollah, which was rejected by this community, it was also an opportunity to compare not with the year 1948 or the fifties and sixties but with the year 2000 to be convinced that Palestinian community was only targeted by Israeli policy and paid mostly a high price during the wars and also during the so-called peace agreements like the massive confiscation of Palestinian lands in Naqab after the Camp David agreement with Egypt, or the "Plan for Development in Galilee and Negev (Naqab)" which aims to change the demographic balance of both areas where there are large Palestinian populations. This plan was part of Sharon’s "Plan of Disengagement from Gaza". The government spoke about ideological and moral compensation for the Israelis in general and for the settlers in particular.
In the beginning of October 2000, the Israeli police and security forces targeted the Palestinian
citizens and people were killed. It was during the first week of the Al-Aqsa Intifada which started simultaneously on both sides of the Green Line. The State of Israel targeted the Palestinian community politically while the police snipers targeted the demonstrators.
In 2000 the Palestinians demonstrated against the State of Israel policy and the government’s
aggressive policy. Many illusions, based on the belief that Israel was a normal and democratic state, vanished.
In 2006 during the war, the Palestinians in Israel also demonstrated against the State of Israel and its structural aggression, colonialism and racism. But mostly they demonstrated in order to support the Lebanese and Palestinian peoples and to protest against the Israeli aggression.
According to Mada Al-Carmel Center for Applied Social Research, "75% of the Palestinian citizens
of Israel considered Israeli military actions in Lebanon as war crimes", while "52% believed that the
objective of the war was to serve US interests"(www.mada-research.org ).
The feeling of human shields
The Hezbollah rockets were sent to target Israeli strategic sites which are located closely to
Palestinian villages and towns in the North of Israel. But eventually, the rocket by itself is blind and doesn’t
distinguish who is who, but Israeli policy, decision making authorities, media and the public opinion
distinguish between Palestinians and Jews, they all discriminate against the latter and justify racial
discrimination. Palestinians recognized how influential the accumulated racial discrimination was in terms
of lack of security infrastructure and how risky the existence of Palestinians is in Israel.
One of the major questions raised within the Palestinian community was, why are we on the fire
line? Why were there casualties within the Palestinian community? Every Palestinian citizen of Israel was convinced that Hezbollah would never target this population, or at least Hezbollah is not the side who has declared aggressive position toward Palestinians at all and toward Palestinians in Israel in particular. So this couldn't be an answer. The other side of the same picture is: why did Palestinians suddenly discover that their villages, towns and neighborhoods in big cities were located closely to Israeli strategic sites – military and industrial? And they felt that Israeli media used not to mention and even to des-inform the places where rockets of Hezbollah fell in Palestinian Arab villages. During the war, a series of rockets (91 rockets) fell in a village called Bo-qaya'a (the Hebrew name is Beqi'en), 62 rockets fell in the neighboring
villages of Kisra and Kufr Sami'e. Yet, the Israeli Hebrew media continued reporting that rockets were falling in Ma'alut Israeli town area, and the Israeli Arabic language radio and TV mentioned the Hebrew name given to this historical village (Peqi'en) instead of the Arabic formal name. This was perceived by the village residents that it was a media des- information aimed to protect the Ma'alut Israeli town on the account of Al-boqaya'a village (Al-ssenara Weekly, August 4, 2006). The same happened in Tarshiha, a village which was annexed to Ma'alut, since the establishment of Ma'alut was mostly founded on demolished villages of Tarshiha and Suhmata and lands confiscated in 1948. Three teenagers were killed but the media report spoke about Ma'alut, not Tarshiha.
The same was seen in the village of Majd Alkurum, where dozens of rockets fell, and three people were killed. It's a village near the city of Carmi'el. Carmi'el was established in the 50s. The major goal for the Planning authorities was the “Judaization” of Galilee and the confiscation of Palestinian lands. The industrial zone of Carmi'l which includes Hi-technology and military industries in addition to strategic factories and compounds are outside the neighborhoods of Carmi'el but closer to the Palestinian village of Majd AlKurum. Maghar near the Sea of Galilee where 2 people were killed is near one of the major military bases in the north, which is supposed to serve as the second northern front of IDF.
In the Northern Palestinian village of Fasouta, the Israeli field artillery was encamped 50
meters from the village houses. Any reaction of Hezbollah to the Israeli bombing aiming to target the artillery would reach the village.
In Wadi Nisnas which is the biggest Palestinian neighborhood of Haifa (approximately 10,000
citizens) there is one shelter, the population doesn't know where it is. But also most of the buildings are "absentees’ properties" by Israeli Law which means properties of the 70,000 Palestinians, out of 72,000, who were expelled from Haifa in 1948. These buildings are mostly old and neglected as the state and the municipality of Haifa own them through a semi – governmental company called Amidar. The buildings lack an internal shelter as the Israel Law conditions new buildings. But this not the whole issue. Wadi Nisnas is the main neighborhood downtown, it's very close to the Israeli Navy base, it's close to the police and security main compounds in the city. It's very close to the harbor of Haifa which is also used by the US
Navy together with the Israeli Navy.
Two relevant people in their sixties were killed after a rocket fell in Wadi Nisnas neighborhood.
Although the alarm system to warn that rockets are fired and should fall in one minute, but for these two persons they needed about 5 minutes to reach the only shelter in the area.
Things became clear. A strong feeling of being historically sustained human shields for the Israeli policy and for Israel was expressed by the Palestinian citizens of Israel. This had been expressed by civil society organizations, politicians and by civilians in general.
The lack of security infrastructure was also re-discovered. Nazareth, the biggest Palestinian Arab city in Israel fought for having an alarm system, in order to give the population a signal that a rocket could fall. The internal front army supplies such a system to every Israeli city, town, village, Kibbutz and to every neighborhood in the big cities. Two children of Talouzi, an internally displaced family, were killed when one rocket fell without any warning of the IDF. The Nazareth elite Jewish town which was established in the 50s in order to block any future possibility to have a larger Palestinian community around Nazareth, on each square meter that was confiscated from Palestinian lands, this town has all the needed security infrastructure.
Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrala in his TV speech on the following day, expressed his apologies and deep sorrow for the victims of the Talouzi Family. Muhammad Talouzi, the father, clearly said in a very sad tone: “Hassan Nassrala shouldn't apology, I never blamed him, I blame Ehud Ulmert and Amir Peretz" This was the broadly shared opinion of Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Internal Palestinian solidarity and nation building within the conflict "Keep looking to Beirut and Gaza not to Haifa": this was a major campaign led by the civil society which became popular among Palestinians. Even when the Palestinian community was on the fire line and casualties fell, the opinion was the same. Finally, it was clear that there was no mass destruction or serious
destruction on the ground of Haifa and the North. Yet, the Israeli media and public opinion, who are not used to see Arab resistance, led a campaign to balance the suffering of Haifa and to that of Beirut. This was part of the justification of the Israeli mass destruction policy in Lebanon and the continuation of the war.
Since the Oslo Accords, we believe that Palestinians in Israel adopted more consciousness and that they should depend on themselves in confronting challenges regarding their status in Israel and their position within the Palestinian People. This kind of consciousness and political behavior to insure protection and communal solidarity was demonstrated during the war.
The Palestinians demonstrated strong feeling of responsibility reflected on the one hand by
opposing the war, but mostly to take care and to insure being protected. In continuation to this, the feeling of responsibility was demonstrated by the internal solidarity within the Palestinian community in Israel, and from the West Bank and Gaza toward the Palestinians in Haifa and Galilee. Many efforts from the Naqab (South) and the Triangle Area (middle of the country) were made by families and institutions to host Palestinians from the North who are on the fire line. It was also the first time that families, individuals and institutions – both public and private - from the West Bank demonstrated solidarity with Palestinians inside the Green Line, offering them a shelter. Thousands of families from the North spent the war time, or part of it, in Ramalla, Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
It was the first time since the 1967 War and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, that
Ramalla as well as Bethlehem were more secure than Haifa. It's the first time that solidarity was needed and expressed from outside the Green Line to those inside of it. In 2002 during the Israeli invasion of the West Bank cities, the institutions of Palestinian civil society gave alternative offices to civil society organizations in the West Bank, in addition to humanitarian support. During the war in 2006, organizations such as the Palestinian network for environment and Palestinian agricultural relief committees, Palestinian Health work committees offered their services and hosted Palestinian civil society organizations from Northern Israel.
In Gaza where it's impossible to meet with each other because of the occupation, it was a day by day discussion and phone calls to express concern.
In the Naqab desert where the larger part of the population are living in unrecognized villages where they lack any human being infrastructure, they offered their tents to be shared with people from the North.
The motivation was a real feeling of solidarity on the one side, but also to challenge the Israeli
system of the State which handed over the major part of its state responsibility and duties to the Jewish Agency to find collective solutions for the Jewish community in the North. By its constitution, the Jewish Agency is for Jews only. The state should claim neutrality.
Learning from the past experience, the civil society and communal organizations played a crucial
role within the community. An emergency system was initiated in order to meet the needs of the Palestinian population especially in villages and towns where rockets had fallen. It was a system offering hotlines and guidance for the citizens in terms of emergency services, claiming compensation from State authorities, estimating the damage, and psychological help. The Galilee Society for Health Research and Services coordinated Atta'a (Giving) emergency center, while Haifa Social Development Committee initiated hotline services for the Palestinians in Haifa.
The feeling of responsibility was also expressed through the voices raised in order to resist the use made by Israeli media and authorities of casualties within the Palestinians as a part of the psychological aspects of the war machine. On the one hand, Palestinians felt neglected. They also felt the accumulating consequences of the state discriminatory policy. If in “normal” times Palestinian citizens of Israel consider the day by day discrimination as their agenda, during the war and being on the fire line made the accumulation of historical sustained structural discrimination visible and touchable.
On the other hand and simultaneously the feeling was that the state – at formal and informal levels – suddenly wanted to hug its sustainable victims. But this hug was not for the victims but for the benefit of the state and the Israeli aggression. It's part of the other front of the war which is the public opinion – locally and internationally. Palestinian civil society organizations were aware of this aspect of the war.
Ittijah, the umbrella organization of 84 NGOs, led a campaign focused on the message that "we aren't in the same boat where the Israeli state and public opinion are supporting the war, we are in the boat of Lebanese and Palestinian peoples who are the victims of the Israeli aggression". The same thing happened with the attempts of the Israeli media to strike a balance between the attacks on Haifa and the mass destruction of Beirut, South Lebanon and Gaza. That was a clear and leading position in this direction made by Palestinian civil society organizations, mainly by the Union of Arab Community Based Associations (ittijah). One was an open letter under the title of "Keep looking to Bierut and Gaza not to Haifa" made by the writer of this report. In addition to a press release campaign such as that of August 6, after a rocket fell in Haifa and
killed 2 Palestinians from Wadi Nisnas neighborhood. Ittijah’s call was clear: "The crime of killing 2 Palestinian citizens of Haifa is to be registered under the name of Ulmert, Peretz and Haloutz, who are the sole responsible for each drop of blood". It added: “We the Palestinians of Haifa are not a part of the "Israeli boat" but on the same boat of the Lebanese and Palestinian peoples. All are victims of Israel".
Palestinian citizens of Israel actually challenged the Israeli hegemony and some of the academic
definitions which have attempted for many years to define for this community what the community should think about itself, and what dilemmas the Palestinians were living. Eli Rechis from Tel Aviv University, Head of the center for the research of Arab society, wrote about the dilemmas which the Palestinian Arab community are suffering. The main dilemma is the loyalty issue: either to the State of Israel or to the Palestinian People. But this wasn’t the issue that Palestinians were busy with at all.
The media were a major tool during the war. As the Israeli media were mostly blocking out
Palestinian voices, the Arab satellites and international media who were located in Haifa and the North were addressed by the Palestinians as well as by the Israelis. The Palestinian Arab Lawyers demonstrated on August 2 at the Carmel center in Haifa where the international media were concentrated during the war.
Women against the war and coalitions against the war in Haifa also demonstrated several times at the same place. Aljazeera, the most popular Arab media network, linked simultaneously between Lebanon, Gaza and Palestinians in Israel.
Ilam, the Arab Media center based in Nazareth, monitored the Israeli media during the war. The Israeli media were blocked out toward Palestinian citizens and leadership, it also played as a part of the war machine instead of its watchdog role, as reported by Ilam.
The war of the Peace Camp!
During the war, Palestinians realized that there was no Israeli Partner to stop the Israeli aggression. This was the war of the traditional “Peace Camp” in Israel. "There is no just war but this one" declared Youli Tamir Minister of education (July 17). Youli Tamir is a co- founder and leader of "Peace Now" movement which strongly opposed the 1982 Israeli war in Lebanon. Meretz – Yahd party lead by Yousi Bilin, supported the minister of defense, Amir Peretz and his decision to begin the war in Lebanon.
The feeling among the Palestinian community was that there is no alliance within the Israeli public opinion which massively supported the war and called for escalating it. It was a feeling of clear situation based on two opposing sides. In some places there were joint Palestinian – Israeli activities and a core group of Israelis who were opposing the war in principle, and demonstrated in hard situations and protested against the war. But the masses supported the war, with declarations of revenge and the 'need' to defeat Hezbollah in a short time whatever Israeli price and casualties. Among the Israeli masses the formula of opposing the war was not based on how bad and negative it was, or how many crimes and massacres were committed by IDF but rather on how big and high the price Israelis should pay.
On the other hand, there was strong escalation of aggression toward Palestinians in Israel, calls for "transfer", "killing", "fifth column" became 'normal' and no critic was heard. Threats on lives of political activists became also common, as well as total de-legitimization also became the main Israeli opinion toward the Palestinian community. Personally I received a series of threatening phone calls following an interview with Al-jazeera on August 6th, while at the same time the number of support calls from Palestinians and Arabs doubled, locally and regionally.
But more influential was the political motivation of paternalist control and escalation: "The Arabs of Haifa should decide which side they are supporting" repeated Youna Yahav the Mayor of Haifa "the city of Co-existence". On September 5th, he declared that "every one who opposed the war is a traitor" and the elected Palestinian Deputy Mayor, Walid Khamis, was fired from his position.
The escalation is usually done by different means, the above-mentioned one is the widest, but
following it there is also a policy which aims to weakening Palestinians from inside. The reflection of this policy is to make a difference between positive and negative Palestinians, radicals and moderates…etc. The moderate and positive Palestinians are those who demand equality in budgets allocations, while the negative and radical ones want to change the racist and discriminatory structure of the state of Israel. This policy is related to the Palestinian community as an internal Israeli issue and tries to disconnect it from the wider Palestinian cause and the Palestinian People as a whole. This policy is a mainstream control policy. Any cooperation with other Palestinian groups in the West Bank and Gaza or the Diaspora or with Arab peoples is considered “radical” and should be treated by the state violence: Uzi Bebzinin titled his article "Israeli Arabs are crossing a line" (Haaretz 20/9/2006), and the Palestinian political leadership is expected by the Israeli mainstream to play just a local role based on services for the welfare of the Palestinian community.
But this is not what is expected from Israeli Zionist parties by the same mainstream. "Let Bishara go and encourage them …It must be noted that not all Arab MKs are involved in such incidents. Hadash party MKs,such as Mohammed Barakeh, do not participate in the much-publicized trips to Damascus and Beirut, and devote most of their efforts to furthering the status of the Arab citizen." (Haaretz editorial 18/9/2006) [Note : Azmi Bishara was an Arab Member of the Knesseth (MK)] As a "Jewish state" and a "State of the Jews" it’s for granted for Israeli mainstream to share tasks and roles between the State and the Jewish international institutions (Jewish Agency, National Jewish Fund , AIPAC and the Zionist organizations in the USA). In recent years, these organizations have offered their funding support to Palestinian groups, municipalities and civil society organizations. They are playing a crucial role in the reimbursement and compensation act of 6 -10 billion NIS to the citizens of Northern
Israel. One of the dilemmas of the Palestinians is whether to accept the funding of these resources. On the one side, it is complementary money to the state budget and it's the main resource. But this is the money of the Jewish organizations not of the state of Israel which should be claimed for equality. The Jewish Agency money means that recipients accept the structural discriminatory definition of the state of Israel as a Jewish state. As a conclusion they would lose the justification to challenge this ethnic discriminatory structure. This money structurally contains some political and ethical conditionality. This is the dilemma of the frame
of legitimacy. While the state and the Jewish Agency are able to create interest for Palestinian groups, which deepens the fragmentation of the Palestinian people.
Two major dimensions and political strategies were demonstrated among the Palestinians in Israel : One was based on the concept that Palestinians in Israel should take part in sharing the challenges of Palestinians and Lebanese, as most of the Palestinian protest activities occurred in Palestinian towns and villages. The message was mostly to target the Palestinian and Lebanese peoples, for internal support and empowerment. Terms such as "to share the challenges", "to share the tasks", "we are part of the Palestinian and Lebanese peoples", "we are not a part of the Israeli public opinion". New coalitions were initiated in order to give space to this approach such as "The Public Committee for the support of our Palestinian and Lebanese peoples", coalition of political movements with the participation of Islamic Movement, Abnaa Albalad, and civil society groups. The other dimension was to identify which groups within the Israeli society opposed the war and to make coalition with them. While the message should address the Israeli public opinion and the strategy was that breaking the Israel consensus would stop the war. This approach was led by the communist party and Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, as well as by the National Democratic Assembly. In fact these two dominant political parties adopted both dimensions.
Palestinians in Israel considered the role of the USA as part of the war machine and the Bush
administration as the main stakeholder in the war, and that became more visible when the Secretary of State repeated that the ceasefire was pre mature in order to give IDF the backup to continue with the mass destruction and killings and to defeat Hezbollah.
One demonstration was held in front of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, but it was to protest and to blame the US policy without any expectation and with no attempt to dialogue with them.
A delegation of civil society organizations met with the EU delegation to Israel (July 28) and
protested the EU double standard and their “follow my leader” policy with the USA. Several letters and reports were submitted to the EU delegation, and European Embassies. The Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) through the Euro Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) submitted a report in this regard. The Public Committee for the Support of Lebanese and Palestinian Peoples also addressed the EU delegation. The use of international tools and pushing the issues of Palestinian citizens of Israel on the international agenda as a part of the Palestinian cause became more visible during the last summer.
Weak points and future challenges:
The Israeli public opinion is more aggressive than before the war. There was a growing opinion that the Israeli superiority was well established, and that Israel couldn't be defeated, and they didn't show any reflections of revising the hegemonic concept that war can solve all the crises of Israel. It didn't make the approach more realistic and that war was very risky and that Israelis should seek peaceful solutions. The major voices were still in the direction of revenge and that only mistakes of IDF didn't allow it to win the war in a short time. This public opinion is ready for another round of the war. It's more aggressive toward Palestinians in general and particularly toward Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Ideas of transfer and ethnic cleansing became very popular. Efi Eitam, former minister and leader of The National Front ultra right party, called last week for a transfer of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, and to remove the Palestinian leadership in Israel from the political arena. Eitam’s views gained a lot of support within the Israeli public opinion.
Three MKs [Members of the Knesseth] of Balad Party are under police investigation because they had visited Beirut and watched what the Israeli war machine did in Lebanon, while the media are campaigning to deprive these leaders of their parliamentary privileges (See Haaretz editorial 18/9) The Minister of Defence, Amir Peretz, declared illegal the "Ansar Alsajeen Association" ("Friends of Prisoners" association) on the basis of administrative order and confiscated all its properties to the benefit of the State. (7/9/2006). This was during the campaign led by this registered NGO to include Palestinian citizens of Israel who are political prisoners in any agreement on an exchange of prisoners.
At the cabinet weekly meeting of September 10, the Minister of Tourism, Gedon Ezra, called to
compensate Palestinian villages in the North less than Jewish villages and towns, as a punishment for those who "supported the enemies of Israel".
This lack of active leading collective structures was felt by several means: one is that leading
political parties mostly protested separately, while the people's voice was clear but not organized and it was accepted among the Palestinian community. In addition several steps were taken to express the nature of the political parties. The Communist Party, in order to express their anti imperialist position organized a mass demonstration in front of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, the Balad Party sent a delegation of their leadership to Syria and Lebanon knowing in advance that they could pay high price in terms of investigations and harassments. The Islamic Movement and Abnaa Al-balad, both extra parliamentary parties, demonstrated through the mass rally in support of the Lebanese and Palestinian peoples. The civil society organizations
took part in all, after a collective decision of emergency meeting of July 22.
The level of community organization and the capacity of leading structures are not meeting the risks and challenges. The only organizational sector which was coordinated is the NGOs and civil society organizations but this is not authorized to lead the community by itself. On the other hand the "Follow Up Committee for Arab Community" in Israel which is the leading umbrella of political parties and mayors didn't meet at all during the 35 days of the war, neither did it take any action as a leading committee.
The issue is not the technical and performance side, but the essence of these leading structures. Is the approach of reorganizing this part of the Palestinian people, based on the commitment of the Palestinian citizens of Israel within the Palestinian cause, not only to be considered as integral part of the Palestinian people? Or to be considered as an internal Israeli issue and to be separated from other parts of the Palestinian people and away from the process of nation re-building? How should Palestinians in Israel be protected in front of the state and how to meet the challenges of internal and external fragmentation? How to gain more recognition among Arab peoples and what kind of leading structure to be formulated? What kind of interaction and mutual influence between the wider Palestinian situation and the situations of Palestinians in Israel? Within the lack of Palestinian leading collective vision and strategy how Palestinians in Israel could and should define their vision within potential Palestinian vision?
These dilemmas have been dealt with collectively for a long time of three years. A document called "Haifa covenant" is almost drafted to finalize this year. This document sponsored by Mada Research Center and Adalla Legal Center should give directions and show horizons for answering the mentioned dilemmas.
Finally, the war didn’t change the nature of the conflict in the Middle East or the nature of Israel, which continues to be the same Israel whether in Haifa or Gaza or Beirut. It gave some hopes that Arab peoples’ potential for resisting the American Israeli global hegemony of the region is still an option and a track of hope.
Palestinian citizens of Israel made a clear message that they don't want to continue being in margins, and just to be considered as electoral reserve in Israel. This part of the Palestinians wants to be equal player on the re-nation building at the level of the Palestinian people as well as the Arab world.
The writer is a political Palestinian activist and analyst, and the general director of Ittijah – Union of Arab Community Based Associations.
DIALOGUE REVIEW – october 2007 – number 19