There is no such thing as “democratic Israel”

In August, I discussed with you the analysis that, whether or not US-brokered peace talks actually achieve a so-called two-state solution for Israel-Palestine, the talks are set up in a way that lets Israelis continue to settle on the most valuable land, demolishing Palestinian homes and seizing natural resources.

A two-state “solution” would let Israel preserve itself as a haven of ethnic privilege while shunting an unwanted Palestinian population off to a future Palestinian state. Due to Israel’s ongoing settlement project, this Palestinian state wouldn’t have the resources or infrastructure it would need to be economically viable, and therefore meaningfully independent of Israel.

So what exactly would be legitimized by a two-state settlement? Palestinian citizens of Israel are segregated from the Jewish population; they are denied the same rights and benefits as Jewish Israelis; and they are actively discriminated against – in Israeli government policy, and in their daily lives. The fact is that “democratic Israel” has more than 60 laws discriminating against its Palestinian citizens. It’s a different face of the same apartheid regime that rules the West Bank and Gaza.

For example, in the Israeli city of Lod, a three-meter-high wall separates Jewish and Palestinian districts, and the city government provides street lighting and trash collection only to the Jewish areas. Not only do communities throughout Israel have the right to exclude Palestinians, but whenever the Israeli Land Administration (which administers 93% of the land in Israel) leases a plot of land to a non-Jew, it must transfer an equivalent plot of land to the Jewish National Fund in order to keep the percentage of Jewish-owned land the same. The JNF continues to lease land only to Jews.

Palestinians, on the other hand, are routinely denied building permits. Racist land-planning and zoning regulations bar Palestinians from building in 87% of East Jerusalem, effectively strangling the hub of the Palestinian economy.

Education and social services are highly segregated as well: Most schools, for instance, are not bilingual, and none of Israel’s eight universities teach in Arabic. And “separate but equal” is as laughable a justification as it was in the jim crow South: Jewish schools receive five times the funding that their Palestinian counterparts get.

Palestinian citizens of Israel are also disproportionately the victims of police brutality and arbitrary detention at transportation checkpoints on the road or at airports. They are disproportionately likely to be convicted of murder, denied bail, and receive severe sentences (Like in the US, this is especially true in cases where a Palestinian is accused of killing a Jew).

If a Palestinian citizen of Israel marries someone from the Occupied Territories, Iran, Iraq, Syria, or Lebanon, their spouse isn’t entitled to citizenship or even residency—and their children will be deported at age 12. As in jim crow, the notion of “separate but equal” persists not because anyone seriously believes in it, but because it allows Jewish Israelis to ignore the uncomfortable truth of what their privilege really entails: the criminalization of Palestinian life.

So the reality of “democratic” Israel, which has no written constitution, is that the rights of Israeli citizens extend only to Jewish Israelis. Palestinians can be arrested without charge or trial, their homes demolished, and their neighborhoods put under military control.

And so it must be in a state whose leaders openly admit that ethnic cleansing is necessary to maintain its “Jewish character”: Like in the Naqab (Negev) desert, where the currently-sidelined Prawer Plan was set to displace up to 40,000 Palestinian Bedouin, or in East Jerusalem, where the Israeli government revokes the residency of Palestinians in order to maintain a 72% Jewish majority in Israel’s “undivided capital”.

Some of the discriminatory laws and policies seem less overtly racist because they’re couched in terms other than ethnicity: For instance, Israeli law requires citizens to serve in the Israeli Defense Force in order to get the same rights to employment, property, housing, education, insurance, and so on. But Palestinians, understandably, tend not to join the army that murders and terrorizes their sisters and brothers, making this a de facto policy of ethnic discrimination against Palestinians.

And, of course, while Jews across the globe with no familial ties to Israel can emigrate and enjoy full citizenship, the world’s seven million Palestinian refugees are barred from returning to their homeland.

Israel isn’t a democracy. It’s an ethnocracy, government for and by Jews, at the expense of an indigenous population. It was founded on colonial violence and settlement, and until the day that its regime of Jewish supremacy is dismantled – on both sides of Israel’s “disputed” borders – the racist settler state will continue to deny millions of Palestinians their rights and dignity.

But sooner or later, that day will come, and on that day, the Zionist project will finally join its archaic brethren on the trash heap of history. That’s why the people of the world must back the call of Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions – because “justice in Palestine” means more than just an end to the illegal occupation.

The only “solution” to apartheid and colonialism is decolonization: That includes an end to ethnic privilege within Israel, as well as the right of return for refugees. Only then can Palestinian self-determination be anything more than the mockery Israel, the US, and their Palestinian puppet regime have made of it.

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8 thoughts on “There is no such thing as “democratic Israel”

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