Palestinians, Arab Israelis hold general protest strike over nation-state law

On anniversary of deadly 2000 riots, residents of West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem demonstrate in solidarity with Arab Israelis who say law turns them into second class citizens

A Palestinian man walks past closed shops in the Old City of Hebron, due to a general strike in response to Israel's Nation State Law on October 1, 2018 (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
A Palestinian man walks past closed shops in the Old City of Hebron, due to a general strike in response to Israel's Nation State Law on October 1, 2018 (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem walked out Monday on a general strike in solidarity with Arab Israelis protesting Israel’s controversial nation-state law.

The action is also to protest steps taken by the Trump administration vis-a-vis the Palestinians, including the moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem and the cutting of funding to the UNRWA relief agency.

Joint (Arab) List MK Yousef Jabareen said the strike was a protest by Israeli Arabs who say the bill turns them into second and third class citizens

“The strike sends a message of opposition to the continued discrimination and racism towards the Arab public, which will not receive inferior citizenship status as second or third class citizens,” he said, according to the Ynet news site. “We were born in this country and will fight for national equality. Full and equal citizenship for all.”

Members of the Palestinian security forces walk past closed shops during a general strike in support of an Israeli-Arab protest against the ‘Jewish Nation-State Law’ in the old city of Nablus in the West Bank on October 1, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / Jaafar ASHTIYEH)

The strike takes place on the anniversary of deadly October 2000 riots in which 13 Israeli Arabs were killed in clashes with Israeli police at the start of the Second Intifada.

In 2000, as the second Palestinian uprising gained momentum in the West Bank, Israeli Arabs took to the streets to protest the visit of then opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount — a move that angered Palestinian and Israeli Muslims and sparked the violence.

In clashes with Israel police officers, 13 protesters were killed.

According to Reuters, Palestinian businesses and schools are set to remain closed throughout the day. Monday marks the last day of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, or Tabernacles, during which Israeli schools and many businesses are closed regardless of the strike.

A woman walks in an empty street during a general strike in support of an Israeli-Arab protest against the ‘Jewish Nation-State Law’ in Gaza City on October 1, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / Said KHATIB)

The strike is “against the policy pursued by Israel in order to erase Palestinian nationalism and the displacement of citizens from their land”, Ramallah resident Khaled Abu Ayoush said.

Mahmud Hamed however kept his bakery outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City open.

“We are a bakery,” he said. “In wars, in strikes, people usually need a break.”

Mohammed Barakeh, a former Israeli MK and the head of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, said the strike had been called in coordination with groups in the Palestinian territories.

“The strike is a message to the world that the cause of apartheid and racism is something that should not only be dealt with internally but it should be talked about globally,” Barakeh told Reuters.

Arab Israeli leaders have called on members of their community to strike against the legislation. Critics argue that the law contravenes the basis of Israel’s legal system as well as its Declaration of Independence by enshrining inequality among its citizens.

Many Israelis and some in the international community have condemned the legislation, which they say turns minorities into second-class citizens.

MK Jamal Zahalka and Jabareen, met this week with Senator Bernie Sanders and a number of US congressmen as part of the campaign against the legislation, the Walla news site reported.

Protesters against the nation-state law march in Tel Aviv on August 11, some of them carrying Palestinian flags (Hadashot TV screenshot)

Zahalka asked the members of congress to put pressure on the Israeli government to repeal the law, and after the meeting, the American lawmakers apparently expressed willingness to work against the bill and agreed to maintain contact with the Joint List.

The Netanyahu government says the legislation does not harm anybody’s rights and the new law merely enshrines the country’s existing character, and that Israel’s democratic nature and provisions for equality are already anchored in existing legislation.

Multiple petitions against the law have already been filed with the High Court of Justice by Druze, Arab and Bedouin leaders, rights groups, academics, and the Meretz and Joint List political parties. Several more petitions are currently being drafted.

Earlier this month, a delegation of Arab Israeli lawmakers from the Joint List met with the head of the Arab League in Cairo to discuss the Jewish nation-state law and its implications for a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Protesters wave Israeli and Druze flags at a demonstration against the nation-state law, in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on August 4, 2018. (Luke Tress / Times of Israel staff)

The nation-state law passed by the Knesset in July enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” and says “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” It also defines Arabic as a language with a “special” status, effectively downgrading it from its de facto status as Israel’s second official language, though it cryptically stipulates that “this clause does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.”

Its passage into the law books has prompted particular outrage from Israel’s Druze minority, whose members — many of which serve in the Israeli army — say the law’s provisions render them second-class citizens.

Last month, 30,000 Israeli Arabs and Jews demonstrated against the legislation in Tel Aviv. An earlier, similar rally of the Druze community drew around 50,000 people.

Netanyahu has said a government team will review ways to strengthen the state’s ties to minorities, but has stressed he opposes altering the controversial legislation.

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