'Democratic' Racism: Parts 1 & 2

Jonathan Cook

An Israeli Knesset committee is currently formulating a constitution for Israel—the first such attempt in its 56 years. The task was abandoned early in the state’s history, after the country’s founding fathers feared that giving a precise definition to the state’s character would tear apart the fragile consensus between secular and religious Jews and that a Bill of Rights would enshrine in law rights it wanted to deny the Palestinians. Instead, the founding document of the state, the Declaration of Independence, made a promise: that Israel would “uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of religion, race or sex”.

For the one million Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship, the notion of a democracy in the Jewish state is a profound contradiction.

For the one million Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship, the notion of a democracy in the Jewish state is a profound contradiction.

The Law, Justice and Constitution Committee is now holding regular sessions to establish a comprehensive set of Basic Laws which will comprise the constitution. The consensus among the Jewish committee members is that the preamble to the document will proclaim the state to be both “Jewish and democratic”. The assumption is that an overwhelming majority of Knesset members will back such a constitution if it is put to a general vote of the parliament. The sole Arab committee member, Azmi Bishara, is not participating in the deliberations because he believes that such a formulation is nonsensical: the state cannot be both Jewish and democratic at the same time. Instead he is demanding that Israel become a state of all its citizens.

So who is right? Let us consider Israel’s track record in fostering democracy. We will not test its record in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, where a military regime rules over a disenfranchised and occupied population of some 3.5 million people. Rather, let us restrict the judgement to its record in governing the population within its own borders, and in particular the one million Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship. How have they fared in what the Knesset wishes to call a Jewish and democratic state?

Security Services

In the past 56 years, Israel has refused to cancel the “emergency status” it inherited from the British mandatory government. The emergency provisions effectively maintain Israel on a permanent war footing and allow for a range of austere measures that contradict the principles of democracy. Such a status was reaffirmed by the Knesset for a six-month period in May. At the time even the conservative Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee criticised the government for insisting on renewing the complete raft of emergency regulations, including some 18 which are not related to security.

Security-related powers include administrative detention (imprisonment without charge or trial), censorship and wiretapping. Inside Israel these measures are directed largely against Palestinian-Israeli citizens, covertly maintaining a regime of intimidation and control over them—a continuation by other means of the military government that ruled over them during the state’s first two decades.

At regular intervals, the minority has also been reminded that the state will not tolerate any dissent from Palestinian-Israeli citizens.  To date, the security services have committed three atrocities against them, the first against villagers out working in their fields, and the last two incidents involving the killing of unarmed civilian demonstrators. Each event has been inflicted on a new generation of Palestinian-Israeli citizens, presumably with the intention of warning them that organised action in pursuit of their rights will not be accepted.

The first massacre happened in 1956 outside the village of Kafr Qasem, close to the Green Line with the West Bank, which was then under Jordanian rule. The military government declared a curfew on the village with only a couple of hours’ notice and without informing the inhabitants. When those working out in the fields tried to return to Kafr Qasem in the early evening, 49 of them were shot dead in cold blood by soldiers.

The second atrocity happened in 1976 when Palestinian-Israelis in the Galilee tried to protest against the state’s confiscation of vast areas of their farmlands on the pretext that they were needed for military purposes. The police entered the centre of the demonstration, in the town of Sakhnin, killing six protesters.

The third and most recent incident occurred in October 2000 when the government sent into Arab towns and villages armed police and anti-terror sniper units to shoot live ammunition into crowds of protesters demonstrating against the bloodshed of the Intifada. Twelve local citizens and one man from Gaza were killed.

There has been almost no attempt to hold the officers responsible for these atrocities, or their commanders. There was a show trial of the Kafr Qasem soldiers during which all the charged were given pay rises and their commander was fined the nominal sum of one piaster. No inquiry was ever held into the deaths in Sakhnin. The October 2000 killings were at least investigated by a judge, although no one was ever charged for the deaths. Supreme Court Justice Theodor Orr admitted that the police had a history of treating Palestinian-Israeli citizens as “an enemy”. But one of the key police commanders he admonished has subsequently been promoted.

The policy of brutality continues. The political lobbying group Mossawa has called for an investigation into the killing of 15 Palestinian-Israeli citizens by the security forces in mysterious circumstances since the eruption of the Intifada. There are regular reports of Palestinian-Israelis being attacked by the police or arrested without reason. In February some 1,000 policemen entered the village of Beaneh in the Galilee to demolish five homes. During several hours they terrorised the local population, severely injured council officials who tried to negotiate, fired tear gas into the grounds of a kindergarten and verbally abused and pointed a gun at the principal who tried to remonstrate with them. (For details of the incident see the report “Let Them Suffocate” by the Human Rights Association in Nazareth.) In the south, in the Negev, a paramilitary police force, called the Green Patrol, is the strong arm behind a wave of house demolitions directed against the Bedouin. It has also repeatedly entered their villages to “enforce” the aerial spraying of their crops with toxic chemicals.

But violence is not the only weapon being used to control the Palestinian minority; their status within the society is reinforced through humiliating searches and checks when they are outside their communities. The most notorious occur at the border crossings and at the airport where they are often subjected to lengthy questioning and intimate searches by the security services. Although the pretext is security requirements—which are not applied to Jewish citizens—experience shows security is usually a secondary consideration: in early 2004 Lutfi Manshour, editor of the leading Israeli Arab newspaper As-Sinara, abandoned a flight in which he was to accompany the Israeli president after he was forced to undergo a body search; and Amir Makhoul, the director of the biggest Israeli Arab non- profit organisation, Ittijah, was taken away for lengthy questioning at the airport.


Israel has never enshrined in law the right to freedom of speech and under an emergency regulation inherited from the British mandate—the Press Ordinance of 1933—the government can close newspapers at will and without reason. This measure has been used repeatedly since Israel’s creation against dissident Arab media: the Communist Party’s newspaper Al-Ittihad in 1953 and Al-Fajar in 1981 were closed on the grounds of “endangering public safety”; and As-Shiraa in 1983, Al-Aahad and Al- Meathak in 1986, and Al-Bian in 1994 were shut down on the grounds of “being funded by a terrorist organisation”. In reality, they were closed either because they espoused Palestinian nationalism or genuine coexistence or because they were receiving money indirectly from Palestinian organisations.

The main purpose of the measure has been to silence those parts of the Arab media that adopt critical positions. In December 2002 the emergency law was used to close Sawt Al-Haqq Wal- Hurriya, the weekly newspaper of the extra-parliamentary wing of the Islamic Movement. The movement, under its leader Sheikh Raed Salah, has surged in popularity in recent years and uniquely has been organising campaigns to highlight discrimination and political threats to the minority. The interior minister closed the paper, which has been published since 1989, on the grounds that its articles “endanger public safety” by inciting against Jews, Zionism and the state of Israel. The editor and a columnist are both due to stand trial in September, under a new law charging them with inciting against the state.

More generally, Arab journalists are both informally and formally excluded from access to even lowly positions within the Hebrew media. The Israeli Broadcasting Law defines the media’s role as one of representing Jewish society, reinforcing Jewish, Hebrew-speaking culture and establishing a bond between Jews living in Israel and the Diaspora. The Broadcasting Law ignores the significance of the Palestinian minority, its culture and identity. Only a small fraction of public radio and TV output is intended for Palestinian-Israeli citizens. In addition, according to the Ilam media centre in Nazareth, only one per cent of media workers are Arab. Currently Haaretz, Israel’s “leading liberal daily newspaper”, employs just one Arab journalist, a sports writer.

Even those rare Jews who do speak out face an almost impossible task. The two biggest circulation newspapers, Yediot Aharonot and Maariv, both recently sacked leftwing Jewish journalists who too openly criticised the policies of the government, including the highly regarded reporter Meron Rappaport. All articles dealing with security issues—a term in Israel that covers vast areas of public policy—must be submitted to a military censor. There is no appeal against his decision.

In a revealing aside, the Haaretz newspaper reported a few weeks ago that for several years the Israeli Broadcasting Authority (IBA) has been setting up illegal roadblocks in Arab areas, at which drivers are stopped and required to pay fines for not having TV licences. Nearly $5 million has been confiscated from Arab citizens on the threat of impounding their cars or refusing to return their identity papers. In some cases the debts owed by drivers were fabricated by IBA officials. These roadblocks, which only operate in Arab areas, are entirely illegal but have been staffed by policemen.


Although officially Arabic is a state language, its standing is far lower than both Hebrew—the other state language—and English—a non-state language. Few Jews learn more than basic Arabic at school, whereas Palestinian-Israeli pupils are required to take Hebrew as a main subject until high school graduation—the bagrut exam. Extra points are earnt in the bagrut for excellence in Hebrew but none are earnt for Arabic, making it much harder for Palestinian-Israeli citizens to enter university.

There is a regular flow of stories about Arab workers being sacked for using Arabic in the workplace, including in March by McDonald’s Israel. These stories represent the tip of an iceberg according to Arab labour organisations such as Sawt Al-Amal. Although there have been recent successes in the courts to enforce the inclusion of Arabic on road signs, most still give precedence to Hebrew and English—even in mixed Jewish and Arab cities. The court’s decision was prompted by the judges’ concern that a lack of signs in Arabic was leading to traffic accidents. In addition, the absence of pavements, poor road layout and badly maintained roads in Arab areas mean Palestinian-Israeli citizens are more than twice as likely as Jewish citizens to die in road accidents. Public meetings are held in Hebrew, as are all court hearings. There was a recent attempt by the state to make Arabic speakers pay for their translation costs in court cases.


Israel separates the education of Jews and Arabs until university entry. This is justified on the grounds that the two peoples have different languages and cultures and that they mostly live in separate geographical areas. However, it also justifies separate allocation of resources. Because of higher Arab birth rates, Arab pupils comprise a third of the total school population but their schools receive just seven per cent of the education ministry’s budget. This unequal funding is compounded by the much lower budget allocations to Arab municipalities, which also contribute to the school budget.

A report by Human Rights Watch in 2001 identified systematic discrimination in education resources that disadvantages Palestinian-Israeli children: class sizes are much bigger; there are fewer textbooks and many of them are inadequate; buildings are in far worse condition; there is a widespread lack of kindergartens, vocational programmes and remedial classes. The standard of special education for disabled children is particularly hashly criticised. In contrast, a substantial number of Jewish children—secular and religious alike—have benefited from a system of double funding of schools run by the ultra-Orthodox, which receive money from the budgets of the education and religious affairs ministries. Their elementary schools, which teach a form of fundamentalist Judaism, now account for the education of a quarter of all Israeli children.

The security services have taken an uninterrupted interest in shaping the education of the Palestinian-Israeli minority, to ensure that Arab children cannot learn about their heritage and history or gain insights into their national identity. As one senior Shin Bet official told Haaretz recently of the security service’s traditional policy: “The Shin Bet not only determined and intervened in the appointment of principals and teachers, but even decided who the custodians and janitors that clean the bathrooms in the Arab schools would be.” It still has a department dedicated to vetting teachers and investigating incidents of what it perceives to be “political” activity: discussions of Palestinian history or identity.

The curriculum taught to Arab children is also different from that taught to Jewish children, even when there is no apparent justification for the difference. So for example, world literature is not usually taught in Arab schools, including authors such as Shakespeare, Chekhov or Moli?re. Mahmud Ghanayim, head of the Arabic Language and Literature Department at Tel Aviv University, fears the exclusion of world literature is part of “the government’s attempt to create an Arab student who is not open to the world”. This deficiency is not remedied by the inclusion of great Arabic literature. The curriculum, unchanged since 1981, excludes the most famous Palestinian poets, Mahmoud Darwish, Rashid Hussein and Samih Al-Qassem, as well as Palestinian writers such as Ghassan Kanafani. The sole Jewish member of the 1981 committee that selected the literature list vetoed any works that might “create an ill spirit”. Paradoxically, Darwish is available—if rarely taught—in the curriculum of Jewish schools.

The history curriculum for Arab children was set by a Jewish-dominated committee in 1982 and barely touches on Palestinian history. A revised trial edition, published in 1999, which devotes more space to the Palestinian experience, is almost never used in schools. According to Said Barghouti, the former supervisor of history and civics in the Arab sector, the education ministry never published the textbooks. However, a new textbook has been produced for the civics curriculum—the first which will be the basis for both Jewish and Arab children. In Hebrew it is entitled Being Citizens in Israel: A Jewish and Democratic State ; in Arabic it is called Being Citizens in Israel and minor editorial changes mean the Jewish features of the state are downplayed. However, the Education Minister Limnor Livnat has been insisting that Arab schools be forced to identify strongly with the state’s Zionist mission. Schools that don’t fly the Israeli flag or make children sing the Israeli national anthem—which includes words identifying the state with the Jewish people—have been threatened with budget cuts.

Although there is integrated education at the college and university level, Arab students are still hugely marginalised. Although Arab students comprise about a quarter of Israelis in that age group, they are only eight per cent of the university student body. Entry is made much harder by the matriculation exams that use a points system which gives higher value to the Hebrew language than Arabic. Psychometric scores used in selecting candidates also discriminate against Arab students because they are culturally biased against them and rely on the English language, which Arab children learn as a third language, after Arabic and Hebrew. Admissions interviews too are always conducted in Hebrew. A revised admissions system, in place during 2003, was abolished in November last year after officials admitted that it was benefiting Arab schoolchildren from poorer families. In the words of the admissions authority, this was seen to be at the expense of Jewish children.

The percentage of Arab lecturers at the universities is even lower than the number of students, standing at only one per cent. The places of many lecturers and professors at the universities are funded by a state security body, the National Security Council, and many lecturers are required to teach at military and police colleges as part of their work. Campus protests by Arab students are severely circumscribed. Haifa University, where a large number of Arabs study, requires several days notice for demonstrations and has repeatedly suspended or expelled Arab student leaders. Waving a Palestinian flag at these demonstrations can lead to arrest by police. In addition, attempts to create an Arab university have so far been blocked by the state.


In principle there is protection of religious rights, such as the freedom of religious practice and worship. But in reality Israel has devised a partial theocracy in which large areas of the citizens’ private dealings with the state fall exclusively under the control of religious authorities. So there is no option of a civil marriage within Israel, nor are inter-faith marriages possible. The religious authorities—Jewish, Christian and Muslim—have sole authority over issuing birth, marriage and death certificates. The Interior Ministry refuses to classify citizens on their ID cards in any terms other than ones that reveal their ethnic and religious identities. Even the adoption law of 1981 provides that a child can only be adopted by people of the same religion. The outcome, if not the purpose, of all these measures has been to reinforce the ghettoisation of the weaker, non-Jewish religions.

As an avowedly Jewish state, official funding is overwhelmingly targeted at Jewish religious institutions: throughout the 1990s the Palestinian minority received approximately two per cent of the Religious Affairs Ministry’s budget. Adalah, the legal centre for the Arab minority, has tried to challenge these discriminatory practices with some success. In 2000 the High Court backed a petition against the Religious Affairs Ministry’s allocation of its entire cemeteries budget to the Jewish sector. Enforcement, however, has been far less successful.

The antiquities authority directs most of its energies at excavating and preserving ancient Jewish sites. It has been assisted in this by another legal relic of the British mandate era, a regulation that restricts classification as an antiquity to artefacts produced before 1700. This measure excludes many historic Muslim and Christian sites from protection. Although in principle there is no interference in observance of Muslim and Christian holy days and festivities, in practice the Israeli economy is geared up to recognising only Jewish rest days: many Palestinian-Israeli citizens, for example, have great difficulty taking time off work on Fridays or Sundays, or during Ramadan.

The Declaration of Independence states that Israel will “safeguard the Holy Places of all religions”. In fact, according to a forthcoming report by the Human Rights Association in Nazareth, almost all of the Muslim and Christian holy places that existed in Israel before 1948 have been destroyed, fenced off, locked up or converted for the use of Jewish communities. In the Jewish artists’ colony of Ein Hod near Haifa, the mosque is now a restaurant, while many kibbutz and moshav farm collectives use confiscated churches and mosques as animal pens. Similarly, graveyards attached to Palestinian villages that were destroyed in or after 1948 are almost always off- limits, even when the surviving refugee families live nearby. The courts have done almost nothing to protect Christian and Muslim holy places when these policies have been challenged in the courts.

Religious practice is also made virtually impossible by Israeli planning laws for one in 10 Palestinian-Israeli citizens who have been administratively criminalised and live in “unrecognised” locales, even though most of these communities pre-existed the establishment of the state. These citizens have no rights to build places of worship. In February 2003 when the Bedouin of the unrecognised village of Tel Al-Mileh built a mosque with their own money after years of being denied a permit, the government demolished it.


In September 2002 the government re-established a unit inside the Labour and Social Welfare Ministry called the Public Council for Demography, after its closure four years earlier. The council’s main task is to ensure the “preservation of the Jewish character of Israel” and oversee the work of the ministry’s Demography Centre. Staffed by academics, gynaecologists and lawyers, the council is charged with devising state policies for increasing the Jewish birth rate, and implicitly “disincentivising” large Arab families. As part of this, the government has been trying to tie child allowances and other state benefits to military service, from which most Palestinian-Israeli citizens are excluded.

The demographic problem is seen by Israeli politicians as existing on two planes: a local and a national one. At the local level, the state has worked tirelessly since its establishment to ensure that Palestinian-Israeli citizens do not gain a numerical advantage over Jews in any geographical location. Because there are two Arab heartlands—in the Galilee in the north and in the Negev in the south—this policy has required strong state interference in these two areas’ development. Both the Galilee and Negev have been and continue to be subject to a policy of “Judaisation”: encouraging Jews, often poor immigrants, to move into towns and settlements built on confiscated Arab land through a system of government grants, preferential mortgages and tax breaks. Arab communities do not receive these benefits.

At the national level, a consensus has developed that the state made a historic misjudgement in allowing 150,000 Palestinians to remain on their land in 1948, thereby leaving modern Israel with what is often referred to as “an existential crisis”—meaning the state cannot exist as a Jewish state if there are too many Arabs living in it. Scholars point out that within a decade Palestinians inside both the occupied territories and Israel will outnumber Jews in what was once Palestine. This view has even become fashionable on the left: revisionist historian Benny Morris has criticised the first Israeli Prime Minister Ben Gurion for not committing graver war crimes to clear the land of all non-Jews.

But the debate is not just a historical or academic one. In May former Transport Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for the expulsion of the “Arabs of Israel” on Army Radio. It was not the first time he, and other ministers, had made such racist remarks. At the influential Herzliya conference in December 2003 Dr Yitzhak Ravid, a senior researcher at the government’s Armaments Authority, demanded that Israel “implement a stringent policy of family planning in relation to its Muslim population”. Demographic warnings were also issued from the very top, including a speech at the same conference by Benyamin Netanyahu, who is the treasury minister and is expected to become the next prime minister. He observed: “If there is a demographic problem, and there is, it is with the Israeli Arabs who will remain Israeli citizens.” Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has repeatedly launched, apparently as a trial balloon, the idea of transferring the Arab-dominated area known as the Little Triangle, next to the Green Line, into the West Bank along with its 100,000 Palestinian-Israeli citizens. He has not mentioned the need for their consent.


In 1950 David Ben Gurion said the citizenship law and the law of return would together “constitute the Bill of Rights, the Charter, guaranteed to all Jews in the diaspora by the state of Israel”. In fact, these two laws-- entitling Jews anywhere in the world to claim the right to immigrate to Israel and then receive citizenship—form the backbone of a legal system of citizenship discrimination. Under the two laws, the indigenous population, the Palestinians, are conferred either non- citizenship—the refugees in exile—or second-class citizenship --Palestinian-Israeli citizens. These classifications are immutable as no Palestinian immigration—as opposed to Jewish immigration—is allowed. The one exception to this rule were Palestinians who gained Israeli citizenship on marrying an Israeli citizen. Last summer, however, that loophole was closed by the Knesset. It passed an amendment to the citizenship law banning family reunification in one case only: marriages between Israelis and Palestinians. All other examples of family reunification were unaffected. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch condemned the law as blatantly racist.


Related to the question of Israeli citizenship—a territorial issue—is the question of nationality—an identity issue. Israel has never assigned an “Israeli” nationality to its citizens. This is because it refuses to recognise Israel as a nation apart from the Jewish nation. In 1970 the Supreme Court backed the government in ruling that there was no such thing as Israeli nationality. Instead the Interior Ministry assigns its citizens one of 137 possible statuses: from Jew, Georgian, Russian and Hebrew through to Arab, Druze, Abkhazi, Assyrian and Samaritan.

Each citizen’s assigned nationality—and their presumed security threat --is immediately revealed to the authorities on his or her identity card either as a “ethnic label” or as code number.


Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, the authorities have been working relentlessly to transfer as much private Arab land as possible to state, and therefore Jewish, control. In 1948 the Jewish community controlled just six per cent of the land, whereas today 93 per cent is under the control either of a government body known as the Israel Lands Authority or of quasi- governmental Zionist bodies such as the Jewish Agency or the Jewish National Fund. This transformation has been effected through the wholesale confiscation of private Palestinian-owned lands by the state, either from the refugees of the 1948 War through legislation known as the absentee properties law or from Palestinian-Israeli citizens through the ongoing expropriation of their lands for military zones, conservation areas or Jewish immigration. Today Palestinian-Israeli communities own only three per cent of the land and control even less—for much of their land falls under the planning authority of obstructive Jewish regional councils.

The land control mechanisms perpetuate a legally enforced system of territorial separation, or apartheid. The attempt by an exclusive Jewish community called Katzir to block the application for residency by an Arab family called the Qaadans has been a test case for the past nine years. Although the courts reluctantly backed the Qaadans’ claim in 2000, no enforcement of the ruling was ever made. In May the Israel Lands Authority, facing yet another court hearing, finally allotted the Qaadans a plot of land in Katzir to avert the threat of another ruling against them. However, the case produced no legal precedent: the courts have not addressed the question of whether the main exclusion mechanism, these communities’ vetting committees, are legal. The ethnic stranglehold on selection in these hundreds of exclusive Jewish communities has yet to be broken. The next Arab family that wants to cross the ethnic divide in Israel will have to launch the same costly and time- consuming legal battle as the Qaadans.

Palestinian-Israeli citizens also have almost no involvement in the hierarchy of state planning committees. These committees designate land and resources for future development. Dozens of Arab communities, most pre-existing the state, are officially declared illegal—they are termed “unrecognised villages”—and have no building or planning rights at all. Even in legal Arab communities building permits are usually difficult to obtain. A recent government report found more than 30,000 illegal structures in the Negev alone. Last year more than 500 Arab homes were demolished in Israel and East Jerusalem.


A report by the Adva centre for equality in Tel Aviv showed last year that the worst 36 blackspots for unemployment in Israel were all Arab communities. Although the national jobless rate hovers around 10 per cent, many Palestinian communities suffer official unemployment in the mid to high 20 per cent, and this is after the figures are skewed to bring down Arab joblessness. Palestinian-Israeli citizens have little protection from overt discrimination at work. It was recently revealed that Arab labourers working on an extension of the Knesset building in Jerusalem were being made to wear hard-hats marked with a painted red cross to distinguish them from non-Arab workers and to help snipers track their movements. There have been innumerable examples of workers being sacked for using Arabic at work. A website called “Hebrew Work” which lists businesses that refuse to employ Arabs has not been closed down, despite complaints from Mossawa to the police and Labour Ministry.

Large swaths of the Israeli economy are officially off limits to the Palestinian minority on the pretext that the work is security related. This not only covers the main defence industries such as the Rafael Armaments Authority, the nuclear reactor, the secret nuclear weapons factory and the Israeli Aircrafts Industry, but most government corporations such as Bezeq, the telecoms company, which employs only a handful of Palestinian-Israeli citizens out of a workforce of some 10,000. In an interview in Haaretz in May, Nachman Tal, a former deputy director of the Shin Bet, said such state discrimination was rife. “I recently checked and found that out of the 13,000 permanent employees in the Israel Electric Corporation, only six are Arabs.”

In another incident in May the governor of the Bank of Israel, David Klein, admitted that there was not one Arab among his staff of 800. In its 50-year-long history, the bank has employed only two Arabs, and they oversaw the bank’s operation in the occupied Palestinian territories. Both were dismissed when the territories were handed over to the Palestinian Authority in 1994.

The civil service is the largest employer in the country and by law must offer equal employment opportunities. Recent laws, including one introduced by Azmi Bishara, require affirmative action for Palestinian-Israeli citizens in the civil service and on the boards of government companies. According to figures released by the Civil Service Commission in May, however, only five per cent of the country’s 55,000 civil servants were Arab. In fact, the situation is deteriorating: of the 4,500 civil servants recruited in 2003, only four per cent were Arab. Many ministries have no Arab representation at all, including the Water Commission and the Communications Ministry. In the powerful ministries such as those for finance and foreign affairs, the number of Arabs employed was in single figures. Most Arab civil servants work in the Health Ministry—where 57 per cent of them are employed—or in education. This is because Arabic-speaking staff are needed to administer health clinics and schools in the Arab sector.

According to human rights groups the situation is even worse than it appears. The figures for Arab workers include all non- Jewish groups, such as immigrants from the former Societ Union, hundreds of thousands of whom were not considered Jewish by the rabbinical authorities although they are largely integrated into Jewish society. The excuse for the lack of Arab representation cannot be lack of qualifications. Most Arab graduates cannot find work in the “Jewish” private economy, but only a third of Arab civil servants have a college degree. Another third only had a high school education. On the boards of government companies, only 31 of 641 directors were Arab—less than five per cent.

A system of “national priority areas”, which offers extra benefits to residents and businesses, is applied almost exclusively to Jewish communities—even though figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics in May showed 70 per cent of the poorest areas in Israel were Arab. Adalah has been petitioning the court to end this practice, so far without success. At the moment four small Arab villages have been given priority compared with 492 Jewish communities.

There is also no opportunity for hi-tech or investments employment in Arab areas. “The entrepreneur does not know the banker; he wasn’t in the army with him and lacks the network that exists in Jewish society,” says Naif Abu Sharqiya, a student of small businesses in the Arab sector. Instead 35 per cent of Arab male graduates end up as teachers, three times the number of Jewish graduates. Those Arabs who manage to become trained in science and technological fields usually have no choice but to work abroad or abandon their research.


From the very establishment of the state, almost all independent political activity by the Palestinian minority has been severely regulated or banned. During the 18 years of the military government, movement between towns and villages was prohibited without the permission of the military governor. Freedom of assembly was rarely possible and Arab parties were banned from publishing newspapers. Instead Palestinian-Israeli citizens were offered a series of “Arab lists”, off-shoots of the main Zionist parties that had no serious platform for the minority. The one independent party that was popular with the minority, the Communist Party, which rejected the state’s Zionist agenda, has been hounded throughout the state’s history. Even as late as the 1980s the Shin Bet officially classified the party as “a danger to the state” and banned its conferences. A former senior Shin Bet official Reuven Paz said: “The Shin Bet believed then that any national organisation of Arabs would be an undesirable development.”

The first independent Arab party, Al-Ard, had a short life. It was banned in 1963 and its members jailed. Subsequently, on their election to the Knesset, representatives of all parties—including Arab ones—have been required to sign a pledge of loyalty to the state as “Jewish and democratic”. In this way, the minority’s own political representatives have been effectively neutered. None of the Arab parties has ever been allowed to join one of the coalition governments. Arab voices have been entirely absent from the decision making process—unless they are prepared to join the Zionist parties.

Worse than this, a relentless campaign to discredit and intimidate outspoken Arab politicians has been waged by the government, with almost no scrutiny from the Israeli media. A report by the Nazareth Human Rights Association in late 2002, shortly before the last election, called “Silencing Dissent” revealed that the security services had assaulted all the Arab Knesset members in that parliament, a few of them several times, at peaceful demonstrations. All but one had been hospitalised in such attacks.

As well as physical attacks, there have been legal assaults too. Azmi Bishara has been stripped of his parliamentary immunity and put on trial for speaking out against the occupation. The spiritual leader Sheikh Raed Salah has been in jail awaiting trial for the past year, originally on charges of supporting terror. It was soon clear there was no basis for the accusation, which has been scaled down to claims of financial irregularities by his Islamic Movement. Four leaders of Ibn Al-Balad, a party which seeks a one-state solution, were arrested in February and have since been held in administrative detention.

Published Friday, July 16th, 2004 - 11:14am GMT

Article courtesy of Al-Ahram Weekly

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Jonathan Cook

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