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Campaign to delegitimize Palestinian citizens of Israel culminates in ‘Deal of Century’

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Among the factors that drove the Joint List’s record 15 seats in this week’s election, and a 16-point increase in voter turnout from Palestinian citizens of Israel from the April 2019 election, was the proposal to transfer Palestinian citizens of Israel in the so-called ‘Deal of the Century.’

In Netanyahu’s false declarations of victory, he drew on arithmetic  which effectively erased the voices of Palestinians in Israel.  The ‘Deal of the Century’ was no different, mentioning Palestinian citizens of Israel in one clause in 181 pages to propose “land swaps” of “populated and unpopulated area”, placing people in the Triangle communities on Israel’s border in the crosshairs for potential transfer.  The affected communities took to the streets, with some surveys placing their opposition at over 90%. Understandably, they do not trust a document and administration characterized by pernicious double-speak and a coaxing of Israeli unilateralism that stipulates the “agreement of the parties”.

This flagrant defiance of the Geneva convention, however, should surprise nobody:  this does simply represent Netanyahu’s coalition politicking, trying to tempt Lieberman back into the fray, but the culmination of dangerous domestic trends within Israel regarding Palestinian citizens of Israel, making headway across the entire political spectrum.

The history of the idea of ‘population exchange’

Unlike most Palestinians who found themselves as citizens of Israel after 1948, the Triangle was only incorporated into Israel in 1949 as part of the armistice agreement with Jordan, without consultation of the residents.

The new border separated the residents of 63 communities on the Jordanian side and 8 on the Israeli side from their lands, though Israel and Jordan later took steps to correct the boundaries to make the lives of villagers smoother in areas such as Fakuah and Bartaa.

At this point, security concerns for the newly-established State of Israel overrode the demographic concerns. The nervous and thin state perceived these territories, in Tel Aviv’s backyard, as geostrategic critical. While the population of Arabs living in Israel in October 1948 was 70,000, it rose to 160,000 just one year later. Yet, as Israel’s waist expanded through settlement construction, the horizons for its security, in both physical and demographic terms, also expanded.

The idea of population exchange is rooted in the founding acts of the state of Israel, and in the two foundational pillars that proclaim Israel to be both ‘Jewish’ and ‘democratic’. These demand a perpetual vigilance regarding the number of non-Jewish citizens, which was heightened by the acquisition of new territory and peoples in 1967.

The dormant idea was then popularized by two connected phenomena in the 1990s. Firstly, the growing prominence of the two-state solution, rooted in ideas of separation and ethnic homogeneity, served to abet the logic of transfer. Secondly, as the settlement enterprise became irreversibly entrenched in 1990s boom, these communities started to be understood as bargaining chips for annexation.

By the 2000s, transfer was already part of mainstream discourse.  Although most attention is paid to the most violent and unilateral manifestations of this idea, epitomized by Avigdor Liberman’s racist campaign in 2004 to “disengage from Umm el Fahm,” softer versions of transfer found a natural home in a liberal Zionist vision, which sought to end the occupation to preserve a Jewish majority in Israel. Prominent ‘doves’ – from Barak to Peres – have flirted and even endorsed this idea.

The Campaign of Delegitimization

While the sidelining of Palestinian citizens of Israel is nothing new – they have never been part of the permanent status agreements, nor have they been given a seat at the negotiating table –  the timing of this exclusion is especially bitter, and especially revealing.

Ayman Odeh of the Joint List challenges Netanyahu’s racist statements against Palestinian citizens of Israel in a video released on twitter March 4. Screenshot.

In recent years, the Joint List have shown themselves more willing than ever to recalibrate their nationalist aspirations, even if it is temporary or pragmatic, and focus on domestic issues, such as violence in Arab communities and budgetary inequalities. They have extended their arm beyond what should be reasonably expected of an oppressed community, as shown by their historic recommendation (with the exception of Balad) of Benny Gantz, only to be met with a sharpened campaign against them.

This emanated from the Prime Minister’s office, with hateful rallies and social media posts, legislative proposals to hinder Palestinian voting, and attacks on Arab lawmakers, with MK Heba Yazbak being the latest, but by no means the first, victim. The Knesset voted overwhelmingly to disqualify the Balad MK from running in the election, but this decision was overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court.

However, significant sections of the ‘center’ and ‘left’ proved either opportunistic or paralyzed by cowardice. They allowed the Israeli right to dictate the discourse in the country, and subsequently pandered to a new normal of collapsing democratic standards and the rule of law. Gantz’s announcement that the Joint List “won’t be a part of my government” was the final nail in the coffin. While the Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance found the time to condemn the UN list of companies tied to settlement building, their silence regarding his comments was deafening. As he is fanning the flames that have enabled this idea to make so much headway in the first place, Gantz’s public rejection of “transfer” can only be read as contrived, especially as his party parrots the racist idea of pursuing a “Jewish majority” to form a government.

The inconvenient existence of this group shatters the clean separationist paradigm, and reveals more atavistic tensions: what does it mean for Israel to be the “nation-state of the Jewish people” when it has over 65 laws which directly or indirectly discriminate against Palestinians? The hollow promise of “equal civil rights for all citizens” in the ‘Deal of the Century’ with no elaboration validates a status quo of stratified visions of citizenship, far removed from a democratic state comprised of and serving all its citizens.

While the transfer of “populated” areas in the document have no precedent in law, in previous negotiations, and in the modern international system, they are the next natural step to the sustained attacks on the civic and political legitimacy of Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Jonathan Shamir

Jonathan Shamir works in the international department of the Mossawa Center – the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel. 

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11 Responses

  1. Misterioso on March 6, 2020, 3:35 pm

    For the record:

    Celine Dion must be really desperate for a gig and unfamiliar with the old adage “Lie down with dogs and you’ll get up with fleas.”

    “Celine Dion to perform on ethnically cleansed land” by Tamara Nasar, Electronic Intifada, March 5/2020

    “Canadian singer Celine Dion is set to perform in an Israeli park this summer built on top of ethnically-cleansed Palestinian land.

    “Dion is scheduled to perform during Tu B’Av, celebrated by some as Israel’s Valentine’s Day, in August.

    “The venue – Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv – is built on the ruins of Jarisha, a village that was completely depopulated of its Palestinian inhabitants by the Irgun, a Zionist militia, in May 1948.

    “Weeks earlier, the Irgun, led by future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, had carried out the notorious massacre in the village of Deir Yassin, which sowed panic and fear across Palestine.

    “Zionist paramilitary forces ethnically cleansed some 800,000 Palestinians during the 1948 Nakba to clear the way for the establishment of the State of Israel.

    “Yarkon Park has been the site of a number of such concerts and festivals that help whitewash Israel’s crimes against Palestinians.

    “By rebuffing the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israel, these concerts are tantamount to crossing an international picket line.

    “The Canadian singer prepared a video message expressing her excitement to perform ‘for the very first time in Tel Aviv.’

    “Fifty Palestinian musicians, actors and artists are urging Dion to heed the call by Palestinian civil society not to perform in Israel.

    “’The far-right Israeli regime exploits all performances by international artists to whitewash, or art wash, its systematic violation of Palestinian human rights,’ the artists said in a letter appealing to Dion.

    “’In this context, all artists have an ethical obligation to do no harm to our struggle for justice.’

    “Consider Mandela’s words”

    “Notably, Dion named one of her twin sons after Nelson Mandela, who headed the liberation movement against South Africa’s apartheid government.

    “Dion met Mandela during a trip to South Africa in 2008 and mourned his death in 2013.

    “The Palestinian appeal to Dion quoted a comment made by Mandela on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People in December 1997.

    “’We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,’ Mandela declared.

    “’It is in this spirit that I have come to join you today to add our own voice to the universal call for Palestinian self-determination and statehood.’

    “Signatories urged Dion to ‘to consider Mandela’s words and her own place in the history books.’

    “The Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is modeled on the global campaign that had helped end apartheid in South Africa.

    “The organization Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East is also urging the artist to cancel the performance.

    “And the Canadian BDS Coalition has issued an appeal to Dion. It was signed by Roger Waters and Thurston Moore, best known for their work with the bands Pink Floyd and Sonic Youth, as well as many other artists.

    “4IL, a propaganda outlet of Israel’s strategic affairs ministry, celebrated Dion’s planned performance and urged social media users to ‘show her some love’:

    “Israel advocacy group StandWithUs is attempting to depoliticize Dion’s concert.

    “’Music should never be politicized, and instead of bringing people together, the haters are trying to encourage division,’ the group stated.

    “The notorious Islamophobic bigot Pamela Geller was thrilled about Dion’s upcoming performance, calling it a ‘BDS fail’ on Twitter:

    “’The world’s greatest artists are flocking to Israel,’ Geller added.

    “Israeli concert promoter Shuki Weiss is organizing the event and financing the construction of the amphitheater where Dion’s concert is set to take place.

    “Weiss is a long-time opponent of the BDS movement and has helped artists cross the international picket line set by Palestinians. He has also urged Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, to intervene by persuading artists to come to Israel.”

  2. lonely rico on March 6, 2020, 4:59 pm

    Memo to Celine –

    There is no Courage in Apartheid

    Please sing a high note for Palestinian freedom, dignity, and human rights by canceling your August performance in Tel Aviv, Israel.

  3. Elizabeth Block on March 7, 2020, 5:18 pm

    Netanyahu did not go to Mandela’s funeral, because he would have been booed out of the stadium. South Africans do not forget the support Israel gave to the apartheid regime. Neither should we – or Celine Dion.

  4. brent on March 12, 2020, 1:00 am

    Ninety percent of Palestinian citizens in Israel do not want to be part of a Palestinian State.

    What is the significance of that? Why are they not agitating for equality under Israeli law?

    • echinococcus on March 12, 2020, 8:18 pm

      Let’s not be ridiculous. They are, and how! But their rightful demands cannot stop there; they are a lot more comprehensive and they have the law on their side to demand the ejection of the Zionist entity.

      • brent on March 13, 2020, 6:35 pm

        I am aware intellectuals among Palestinian citizens have been raising the issue of equality but I haven’t read about a campaign, marches, events or who is the target to influence.

        There seems an inherent contradiction between campaigning for equality while demanding ejection.

        Echin, I would have thought you’d have had insight into why 90% wanted to remain Israeli and not become part of a Palestinian State.

      • eljay on March 13, 2020, 8:22 pm

        || brent on March 13, 2020, 6:35 pm ||

        brent, I agree that non-Jewish Israelis should be advocating and calling for…
        – justice, accountability and equality;
        – respect for international laws and human rights and the protections that the are meant to afford all people; and
        – the reform of Israel from a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” primarily of and for Jewish Israelis and non-Israeli Jews into the secular and democratic state of and for all of its Israeli citizens, immigrants, expats and refugees, equally,
        …and that they should not be campaigning like echi to drive Jews out of geographic Palestine.

      • echinococcus on March 13, 2020, 11:51 pm


        You can’t possibly be so slow in reality. Of course the owners of the land can both call the invaders to pretend keeping to the absolute minimum of human conduct, by respecting the human rights of the occupied and enslaved population, and at the same time claim their basic right, which is to decide who can reside on their own territory — like, say, some crazy nationalist, murderous Poles and Russians and Iraqis etc.

        As for Eljay, who doubles down with “…and that they should not be campaigning like echi to drive Jews out of geographic Palestine”, he is just a vile slanderer.

        Is that Zionist propaganda guy even unable to see the difference between Jewish Palestinians, ie legitimate residents and part of the Palestinian people before the Zionists declared their intent to invade and subvert the sovereignty over Palestine in 1897 on one hand and genocidal alien invaders, i.e Zionists, on the other?

        One wonders when he received explicit permission to give away the Palestinian people’s exclusive right.

        By international right, the legitimate inhabitants of a territory are the only authority who can consent to be invaded, occupied, enslaved, etc. Well, no such permission was given by the Palestinian people. A permission that the Zionist leadership of course defined as already acquired by hook or by the crook of their Palestinian puppets. Eljay and his fellow tribals brush aside the need for Palestinian consent in the name of some “secular democracy”…. secularity and democracy to be defined by Eljay and fellow tribals, no need for a valid plebiscite.

      • Mooser on March 14, 2020, 1:13 pm

        “Brent” are you trying to ask if the ‘secular democracy’ solution will be initiated by an amnesty for Israeli crimes by the IDF and ‘security forces’?
        Because it would be very embarrassing for the knee-shooters to be in the same ‘secular democracy’ as those Palestinian guys with the crutches.

    • Mooser on March 14, 2020, 1:15 pm

      ” Why are they not agitating for equality under Israeli law?” “Brent”

      You are being blatantly dishonest, or very conveniently ignorant.

      Why don’t you quote the Israeli Constitution, or Israeli law which provides equal rights for non-Jewish citizens???

      There is no such thing. BTW, Israeli law does not even provide equality for Jewish residents of Israel.

  5. brent on March 15, 2020, 10:52 pm

    I consider the “flow of history” as pertinent and see similarities between European immigrants to America and their westward expansion and European Jews who engaged a “manifest destiny”. Of course, different experiences make for different viewpoints.

    I have not been impressed by Israeli or Palestinian self-governance and see a single state as in the best interests of the whole…. of civilization.

    I believe reason desirable changes will come when the American political system and the humanist side of Judaism are engaged, not evangelicals nor ideological Zionists. The political support system justice in Palestine enjoys, has not translated into the results desired. This deserves analysis and examination.

    I’d like insight into why such a high percentage of Palestinians want to remain Israeli and why their campaign for equality hasn’t gotten more traction.

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