Can a country that has deprived over a third of its population of basic civil rights, including the right to vote, for nearly half a century, be called a democracy? Next week, citizens of Israel, who proudly claim they are the only democracy in the Middle East, will vote in the fifteenth national election they’ve had since 1967. In June of that year, Israel captured and occupied the entirety of Palestine including the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, the areas most presumed would soon become the long-delayed Palestinian state.
Sadly, after decades of fruitless negotiations, the goal of an independent state for the Palestinian people seems more and more a cruel chimera. There is little remaining support for a two state solution among the Israeli electorate and Israeli leaders, including its prime minister, now admit publicly there will be no Palestinian state. The bleak reality of nearly half a century of Israeli military occupation and settlement of the Palestinian territories has made it obvious that the Zionist goal of creating so-called Greater Israel, or Eretz Israel, which includes pre-1967 Israel, as well as the West Bank and East Jerusalem (Judea and Samaria), was achieved in 1967. Greater Israel has only been strengthened and solidified in the ensuing 48 years as Israel gradually transferred over 10 percent of its Jewish population into over 200 illegal, all-Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It continues to build new settlements at a frenetic pace. Israel’s Minister of Housing predicts a 50 percent increase in the Jewish West Bank settler population from 400,000 in 2014 to about 600,000 in four years. The current Jewish settler population of 300-350,000 in East Jerusalem will likely grow at the same rate.
Greater Israel has every appearance of being a fait accompli, This sad fact raises the question of whether the non-Jewish Palestinian population of Greater Israel will be ever be afforded basic human civil rights including the right to vote. Half a century is certainly far too long to wait to be treated like a human being. Even the most complicated military occupation in history, the US occupation of Italy, Germany, and Japan at the end of World War II, was ended in less than eight years. After helping rebuild infrastructure and civil institutions, the US returned full sovereignty and all territory to its three former enemies. Despite its 48 year military occupation, Israel has accomplished none of those tasks. Instead, it has illegally seized more and more Palestinian land and property, while transferring greater and greater numbers of its Jewish citizens into Palestine to solidify its seizure of Greater Israel.
The current population of the Greater Israel is about 12.9 million: 6.2 million Jewish Israeli citizens, 2.1 million non-Jewish Israeli citizens, and 4.5 million non-Jewish Palestinians who are not recognized by Israel as its citizens even though they’ve been under Israeli occupation and control for 48 years. In next week’s election, 48 percent of Greater Israel’s population, Israeli Jews, will be allowed to vote, as will the 16 percent who are non-Jewish citizens of pre-1967 Israel, the so-called Arab Israelis. The remaining 36 percent, the non-Jewish, mostly Muslim Palestinians, who live in the West Bank and Gaza, will be excluded from voting as they have been in all prior national elections since 1967.
Jewish Israelis who live in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, and who now comprise about 20 percent of the West Bank population, will be allowed to vote in this election even though they, like their Palestinian neighbors, live outside the borders of pre-1967 Israel. Basic human civil rights, including the right to vote, are extended only to Jews in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Muslims, Christians, Druze, and other non-Jews apparently don’t qualify for these rights.
As many have pointed out, Israel faces a conundrum: If it insists on having its Greater Israel, including the occupied territories, it must also accept the 4.5 million non-Jewish inhabitants of those territories as fellow citizens and afford them the same civil rights, including the right to vote, it affords its Jewish Israeli and Israeli citizens. If it fails to do so, as it has for nearly half a century, it richly deserves the label of apartheid state.
Stephen Robert, the former chancellor of Brown University and a Jewish-American and major life-long supporter of Israel, concluded in 2012, after a humanitarian aid trip to East Jerusalem and the West Bank, that “… Israel has created a system of apartheid on steroids.” Americans in general, and Jewish Americans in particular, need to face up to this hard reality. The Israel of their dreams does not reflect the reality and brutality of today’s Israel, which certainly does not share or reflect the values of our own democracy. The Israel of today is a country that has brutally occupied and controlled millions of non-Jews for nearly half a century while denying them the most basic civil rights including the right to vote.
Congress’s contemptible fawning support for this atrocious behavior needs to stop. We need to send a strong and clear message to our fellow citizens and to our representatives in Congress that Israel’s abhorrent behavior is immoral and unacceptable. Israel must end its apartheid-like control of the Palestinians and allow them to have a nation of their own along the internationally-recognized pre-1967 borders, or it must accept non-Jewish Palestinians as equal citizens with all the rights and privileges currently afforded to Jewish and non-Jewish Israelis, including the right to vote.
The Palestinian people have been waiting and fighting for their freedom and a state of their own for nearly half a century. They’ve waited long enough. Israel must either give them full citizenship rights as fellow Israelis or give them their freedom. In a few days, Israel’s will hold an election which will exclude over a third of its population, making a mockery of its claim to be democratic. It is high time we shouted that unpleasant fact from the rooftops of Congress.