Beyond Apartheid

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Al-Jazeera-English

Beyond Apartheid

by
Lamis Andoni

Israel's decision to force all prospective Israeli citizens to declare loyalty to "a Jewish and democratic state" is not only racist, but designed to further institutionalise the dispossession of Palestinians.

It is ironic that the oath should include the term democracy as the law itself is a blatant exercise in state coercion.

As Adalah, a legal centre for Arab minority rights in Israel, puts it, the new amendment "requires all non-Jews to identify with Zionism and imposes a political ideology and loyalty to the principles or Judaism and Zionism".

Targeting intermarriage

In practice, the amendment to the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law - which requires that Jews and non-Jews applying for citizenship endorse the ideology of the state - is mainly aimed at Palestinians married to Israeli Arabs.

Israeli-Arabs constitute 20 per cent of the Israeli population. The majority are Muslim but there is also a strong Christian contingent. The purpose of the law is not to impose Judaism but the Jewishness of the state - which in practical terms excludes Arabs and legitimises their expulsion.

The cabinet also renewed other restrictions passed in 2005 - the law has been renewed annually since then - which make it difficult for Palestinians to obtain Israeli citizenship.

This part of the citizenship law stops Palestinians married to Israelis from living with them - thus separating thousands of families.

Such marriages are largely between Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel, so this law would effectively discourage marriages between Palestinians from the Occupied Territories and those living inside Israel.

Israel's Palestinian minority today are those who stayed in their homes after the creation of Israel in 1948 and their descendents. But when Israel occupied the remaining territories of historic Palestine in the 1967 war, the dispersed Palestinians were able to reconnect and intermarriages ensued.

However, the law bars Palestinians married to Israelis from joining their families inside Israel until the interior ministry has granted them permission to reside in the country. The law also denies residency rights to any foreign spouse or his children if he is married to other women in addition to his Israeli wife. And it requires that Palestinians seeking Israeli citizenship provide financial guarantees and proof that they have a home in Israel.

Israel has also made it difficult - and at times, impossible - for Arabs or any non-Israelis to reside with their Palestinian spouses in the West Bank in order to force the latter group to leave.

Sacred security cow

Israeli advocates of the amendment cite security issues as a justification and argue that the new oath will discourage Arab citizens of Israel from taking part in attacks or actions against Israel.

The explanatory notes accompanying the proposed restrictions state that their purpose is to make it harder for Palestinian terrorist groups to recruit Palestinians who have acquired Israeli citizenship to carry out attacks.

"An examination of the security reality since the outbreak of armed confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians revealed growing involvement by Palestinians who took advantage of their status in Israel, received on the basis of their family reunification process with Israelis, to become involved in terrorism and abet suicide bombing attacks," the notes said.

"The Israeli identity cards granted to [these] Palestinians provided them with freedom of movement between Israel and the [Palestinian] Authority and thus made them into the terrorist organisations' preferred population for carrying out hostile actions in general and inside Israel in particular."

The claim that there are Israeli-Arabs who have used their citizenship to engage in or facilitate attacks inside Israel may be true, but the solution is to be found in addressing the root cause of the conflict - the dispossession of the Palestinians - and not in institutionalising "ethnic cleansing".

Taking an oath will not prevent an alienated citizen - whether Jewish or not - from protesting against the government or even committing violent acts. But as so often with Israel's arbitrary laws and actions, the sacred cow of security concerns is being held aloft.

Another brick

All evictions of Palestinians - whether through the demolition of homes, deportations or the confiscation of lands - are committed under the guise of Israel's security needs. But their aim is, in fact, to maintain a Jewish majority and to reduce - and if this continues, potentially end - the presence of Palestinians in both Israel proper and the Occupied Territories.

The cabinet has turned the loyalty oath not only into a tool for the subversion of Palestinians, but also into a vehicle for the continued eviction of Palestinians from their homeland.

Editors of the Israeli daily Haaretz, who urged the government not to pass the law, have unequivocally rejected the security rationale. "The wording of the initiative perpetuates the lie that these measures are required by security considerations, when in truth they are clearly driven by demographic concerns," said an editorialpublished prior the decision's ratification.

In Israel proper, the government has systematically employed discrimination - and since the 1970s the confiscation of land - to strangle major Arab cities and encircle them with Jewish settlements to prevent them from expanding outwards as any city would as a result of natural growth.

There has always been talk, mainly but not exclusively among right-wing Israeli politicians, of the need to 'transfer' - a euphemism for expel - the country's Arab minority to the West Bank or even to Arab countries.

This talk was renewed when the extreme right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party secured third place in the country's 2009 election and joined a coalition government led by Binyamin Netanyahu, the Likud prime minister.

Avigdor Lieberman, Yisrael Beiteinu's leader, himself a Russian immigrant, started to aggressively advocate 'transferring' the country's Arab minority so as to maintain a Jewish majority and the Jewishness of the state.

Yisrael Beiteinu has been the driving force behind the demand that non-Jews declare loyalty to a Jewish state and the draft amendment to the citizenship law, approved by the cabinet last Sunday, was a watered down version of an earlier Yisrael Beiteinu initiative to expel Arabs who do not do so.

But the Knesset, facing opposition and fearing an international backlash, chose to make the law a more subtle but equally threatening tool with which to intimidate Arabs into leaving.

The amended law is another brick in the apartheid system that Israel has built. But the main problem in Israel is not apartheid but the systemic colonisation and dispossession of Arabs. And apartheid in the case of Israel is a tool - not an aim in itself - to complete the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland.

Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs.

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