As the international community expressed shock over Israel’s declaration that its Jewish citizens hold the “exclusive right to national self-determination” in the state, some 20% of the population saw only an affirmation of an already bleak reality.
“I think the bill has only officialized what has already been a kind of unofficial policy of discrimination by the state of Israel towards its Palestinian minority,” 24-year-old Amran Abu Houf, a Palestinian citizen of Israel from the northern Galilee region, told Mondoweiss.
“So, I’m not really shocked that it passed,” he said.
Abu Houf, an activist with Mossawa, a Palestinian advocacy NGO inside Israel, is one of more than 1.6 million Palestinian citizens of Israel.
For him, and many others like him, the nation-state bill did not bring anything new to the table.
“In my experience, nothing really changed with this law. The discrimination has always been evident since the inception of the state,” Abu Houf said.
Some Palestinians, like university student Mohammed Khalaf, 25, called on Palestinian politicians in the Israeli parliament to boycott work in protest.
“This nation-state law is the most dangerous law in years, its saying that Arabs have no say in what happens in this country,” Khalaf told Mondoweiss.
“The least we can do is refuse to participate in the very system that seeks to deny us our basic human rights,” he said.
As Palestinian leaders, rights groups, and international officials came out in condemnation of the law, saying it would pave the way for the discrimination of Palestinian citizens of Israel, Abu Houf and Khalaf are among the majority who say that the groundwork for a full apartheid state was laid down long ago.
For them, the “only democracy in the Middle East,” was never a democracy to begin with.
Government did not provide services in Arabic
As he spoke about the new law, which demoted Arabic from an official language to “special status,” and declared Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, Abu Houf noted several cases in which Palestinian citizens of Israel have suffered under discriminatory laws and practices for years.
“Before this law, for example, Arabic was an official language of the state, along with Hebrew. But in practice, the government has never provided services in Arabic,” Abu Houf said. “If you go to the Knesset, you won’t find the government offering Arabic translations of anything.”
“Take a look at the lack of residency rights,” he said, “there hasn’t been a single new Arab locality that has been built since 1948, in comparison to hundreds of Jewish communities.”
Highlighting the case of the Palestinian communities in the southern Israeli Negev desert, Abu Houf criticized the attempts of Israeli authorities to demolish Bedouin villages and forcibly transfer its residents, in order to make way for new Jewish towns.
“The idea of advancing the development of only Jewish communities has been going on long before the Jewish nation-state bill,” he said. “Look at the town of Afula in the north. It’s a traditionally ‘mixed’ town, but Jewish residents have been demonstrating against the sale of homes in the community to Arabs.”
“This sort of racism and discrimination has been going on before the Jewish nation-state bill, the law just enshrined it and legalized it and drives these policies to continue.”
Police brutality and job discrimination
For Abu Houf and Khalaf, one of the prime examples of racially-charged discrimination in Israel is the heavy policing of Palestinian communities and the disproportionate use of violent police force against Palestinians compared to Jews.
“Just two months ago we staged peaceful demonstrations in Haifa in solidarity with Gaza, and we were attacked and beaten by Israeli police, who violently arrested several people, including the director of Mossawa,” he said.
Khalaf compared the experience of Palestinian citizens of Israel to the experience of Black Americans, drawing upon stories of racial profiling, frequent police stops and searches, and excessive use of force against Palestinians.
“They don’t treat us as a citizens, they treat us as second-class, the difference between how we are treated by the state versus how Jews are is evident,” he said. “Racism has been the law of the land since Israel was created in 1948.”
In his personal experiences with discrimination, Khalifa’s education and work experience has taken the hardest hit.
Living as what he describes as a second-class citizen, means discrimination in the education sector and job market.
“My friends and I have tried so many times getting jobs in marketing or tech, but most places don’t hire Arabs,” Khalaf said.
“Either they blatantly won’t hire you because you are Arab, or they will say they only hire people who have done the Israeli national service, which many of us Palestinians refuse to participate in,” he said.
Khalaf told Mondoweiss that after finishing his associate’s degree in an Israeli university, he was finding it difficult to get into a Bachelor’s program, despite being one of the top in his class.
“All of the scholarships from Israeli universities go to the Israeli students, not to the Palestinians. Less than 10% of the Arabs in my school were accepted to other Israeli universities, while almost all Jewish students were,” he said, expressing frustration.
With little options for him inside Israel, Khalaf is now completing his Bachelor’s degree at the Al-Najah University in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus.
Effects on rights groups
While speaking to Mondoweiss, Abu Houf pointed out the sinister reality that with the new nation-state law, the work of Mossawa and others like it who advocate on behalf of the Palestinian minority in Israel will likely become much more difficult.
“Discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel is now state-sanctioned,” Abu Houf said. “Now it will be much harder for us to do this advocacy work on behalf of the Palestinian minority, because now it is part of the constitutional law.”
Attorney Suhad Bishara, of the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, echoed Abu Houf’s sentiments, telling Mondoweiss that the main effects of the law will be felt in residency, land, and planning issues.
“All of the court decisions in the past, over 20 years, have stressed the principle of equality in land allocations, and for example, have resulted in a ban on the establishment of exclusive Jewish settlements,” Bishara said.
“All of these wins were mainly achieved by human rights organizations. With this new law, all of that work is being reversed. It will make it much harder for us to challenge any cases of discrimination against Palestinians, because this racist notion of Judaization will become a constitutional norm,” she said.
Bishara highlighted the fact that over the years, between 40-60% of historically Palestinian-owned land has been confiscated by the state for Jewish use, and that in Israel proper, there are around 928 settlements that exist exclusively for Jews, or have a very small minority of non-Jews living there.
“Once you set as a constitutional norm of Jewish superiority in all aspects of life, including spatial and geographical superiority, racism becomes normalized,” she said.
“And when it becomes normalized, people will no longer be hesitant to refuse to sell their homes to Arabs for fear of legal action. People will be able to demand freely that they do not want to live next to Arabs, and that they want to establish Jewish-only towns.”
“Yes, all of this been happening since day one,” she said. “But before this law, there have been opportunities to challenge these practices based on constitutional norms. This space to challenge will disappear, because Jewish superiority is now constitutional.”