Today the Israeli government approved a proposal by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to change the declaration of loyalty required of all non-Jews applying for Israeli citizenship (excluding those entitled to citizenship according to the Law of Return). Neeman’s proposal seeks to amend the current declaration – “I declare that I will be a loyal national of the State of Israel” (Nationality Law 5712-1952, art. 5c) – to include the words “as a Jewish and democratic state”.
The timing is symbolic. Exactly ten years ago, the first ten days of October 2000 were marked by protests in northern Israel, brutally repressed by Israeli police, who used live ammunition, rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas against Palestinian Israeli citizens, leaving 13 dead. Israeli security forces have never used live ammunition against Jewish protesters – no matter how violent. The contradiction between “Jewish” and “democratic” could not have been more poignant. The events were a watershed for Palestinian Israelis, comparable to 30 March 1976 (“Land Day”), demonstrating once again their second-class citizenship and exclusion (“treated as enemies”), and affirming their connection to Palestinians on the other side of the “green line”.
And for many Jewish Israelis, the protests themselves (in solidarity with Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in the OPT) reflected the basic disloyalty of Palestinian citizens to the Jewish state.
A commission of inquiry (the Or Commission) identified institutional discrimination as one of the root causes of Palestinian discontent, and made a series of recommendations to address this inequality. Not only have the commission’s recommendations been ignored, but since October 2000, efforts have been redoubled to “Judaise” the Galilee, Wadi ‘Ara and the Triangle, and to discredit Palestinian Israeli leaders and representatives in the Knesset. The ban on Palestinian family unification (where one spouse is an Israeli citizen and the other a Palestinian from the OPT) can also be traced to these events, as can recent attempts to reinforce Israel’s “Jewish character” – in proposed legislation such as the amendment to the declaration of loyalty (for other examples, see the Association for Civil Rights in Israel’s position paper Harming Democracy in the Heart of Democracy), and in the repeated demand for international and especially Palestinian recognition of Israel “as a Jewish state”.
Another Israeli policy with roots in the October Events is the crackdown on Palestinian civil society, as described by Ameer Makhoul.
In The Time of the Green Line, Yehouda Shenhav compares the situation of Palestinian citizens of Israel to that of emancipated Jews in 19th-century Europe (beginning with Prussia, in 1841), who were afforded individual freedoms, but required to be “Christians” in public. Shenhav writes:
According to the model of the green line, Palestinian nationalism must accept the Judaism of the public sphere; it does not allow recognition of Palestinian nationalism that is not subservient, and denies Palestinian citizens of Israel collective political rights. The demand that the state be Jewish and democratic requires Palestinian citizens of Israel to define their nationality as Jewish, even if they are Muslims or Christians by religion. … Palestinian citizens of Israel are not willing to define their nationality as Jewish … all the more so, because the Jewish state defines their own nationality as that of an enemy.
During the Oslo years, many Israeli Jews, even on the left, believed that this transformation had largely been accomplished, that Israel’s Palestinian citizens had developed a national identity distinct from that of other Palestinians, a “Jewish” identity. The events of October 2000 shattered those illusions, but led very few to question the political and ideological system behind them, opting instead for more of the same: forced Judaisation, not only of the land, but of all of its inhabitants – with the caveat that they will never be treated as equals.