JERUSALEM, Nov 23 (JMCC) - Palestinian residents of Israel
are bearing the brunt of increasingly hostile and anti-democratic legislation, according to community leaders who say Israel is using the democratic process to silence criticism of Israeli policy from inside the country.
“In all these bills, the common denominator is that there is an attempt to harm groups and individuals who are trying in a legal way, and in a legitimate way, to promote a certain world view that certain Knesset member do not favor. Even though the tools they use are legal, there is an attempt to silence them,” said Ronit Sela, the Spokesperson for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).
In October, the Israeli Knesset approved a bill that would require individuals applying for Israeli citizenship to pledge loyalty to the state of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” This move drew large-scale criticism not only from Palestinian citizens of Israel, but also from leaders around the world.
What most people have ignored, however, is that more than 20 similar bills are also being discussed or have been raised by members of the Knesset
in recent months. These include, most notably, making public mourning of the Nakba a criminal offense, forcing organizations receiving donations from foreign countries to declare each contribution, and arresting anyone that denies the existence of the state of Israel.
Film crews, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and members of the Knesset themselves may also soon have to pledge loyalty to “the State of Israel as Jewish a democratic state.”
This practice would in effect prevent minority groups – especially Palestinians, who make up 20 percent of the Israeli population – from participating in the Israeli democratic process and in civil society as a whole.
“Every citizen is asked to be loyal according to [Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman's agenda. And if you don't fit into Lieberman's agenda, you will either be imprisoned – like a big part of the Palestinian leadership now in Israel, they are in the prison, for no good reason – or, you are all the time spoken about as a demographic threat,” said Sami Abu Shahadeh, the Coordinator of Darna, The Popular Committee for Housing Rights in Jaffa.
“The general feeling is a huge amount of frustration [among the Palestinian citizens of Israel]. People are very frustrated. They are becoming very afraid from racist policies and racist attitudes of the Jewish majority towards them,” he added.
PALESTINIAN LEADERS IMPRISONED
Palestinian civil society leaders working within Israel have also been targeted as individuals. For example, Ameer Makhoul, the Coordinator of Ittijah, the Union of Arab Community Associations and a leader in the movement for the protection of the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, accepted a plea deal with the Israeli state in late October after spending nearly six months in jail.
Makhoul was accused of contact with a foreign agent and spying for the Lebanese movement Hezbollah
. Sentencing in his trial begins in early December, and he is expected to spend between seven to ten years in prison.
Historically, the record of Israel's court system shows that nearly 100 percent -- definitely over 95 percent -- of cases where a person is accused or arrested on the basis of security violations, are indicted and put in jail. The court finds them guilty. Especially when the accused is a Palestinian, of course, said Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh, Chairperson of the Committee for the Defense of Ameer Makhoul.
“A smaller fish could get by with a lower judgment, but somebody at the level of Ameer, with his international exposure, he's not going to be shown any mercy,” Kanaaneh added, explaining that without the plea deal, Makhoul could have spent life in prison.
There are presently 400 Palestinian citizens of Israel inside Israeli jails, among over 7,000 prisoners from the occupied Palestinian territories
. It is estimated that about 9,000 Palestinians are detained every year by Israel.
Nadim Nashif is the director of Baladna Association for Arab Youth, a Haifa
-based capacity-building agency for Palestinian youth based in Haifa. He explained that the persecution of Makhoul and other leaders – combined with recent Parliamentary legislation – displays Israel’s push to silence dissent.
I think that the message basically is that there is a limit to our freedom of activism and if we as activists or people who work in nongovernmental organizations or the nongovernmental organizations themselves, if we cross these margins then we will be punished, or stopped, Nashif said.
“This is a very fascist government and they are implementing their policies in a very clear way, without any excuses.
According to ACRI’s Ronit Sela, the Israeli public needs to mobilize against the proposed legislation and bills if it wants Israel to retain some semblance of a democracy.
“I think Israelis should be demanding from their representatives in the Knesset to object to any bill that is a threat to human rights and to democracy,” Sela said.
“There is a growing sense among many that things have become worse and we are already in the midst of the slippery slope. But I do see around me more initiatives than before of people demanding from our politicians and also making an outcry in the public discourse to say that Israel must make sure that these non-democratic trends are brought to a stop.”