Palestinians will never be equal in Israel

A police crackdown on peaceful protesters reflects 70 years of state policies that discriminate against Arabs

Jewish and Palestinian protesters the night after the arrests of the 19 Palestinian citizens of Israel, May 19, 2018. (Courtesy: Tatyana Gitlits)
Jewish and Palestinian protesters the night after the arrests of the 19 Palestinian citizens of Israel, May 19, 2018. (Courtesy: Tatyana Gitlits)

The events of a recent Friday night protest in Haifa are nothing out of the ordinary if you are a Palestinian citizen of Israel. Nineteen protesters in Haifa, joining the wave of demonstrations around the country, were arrested for precipitating public disturbance, a charge that the Jewish-led demonstrations did not receive. The detainees reported that the police beat them during the interrogations. Seven of the arrested were denied the medical care they needed, while the police postponed their right to legal representation.

The violent, oppressive nature of the arrests is both shameful and appalling to spectators, indicating how the state fails to grant police protection to non-Jews who threaten its mutually exclusive Jewish character. Instead, institutions such as the police force are given different instructions on how to handle Palestinian citizens. In this reality, Palestinians retain their status as second class citizens.

That Friday was merely part of a historical pattern of institutionalized racism directed toward Israel’s Palestinian citizens. Since the onset of Israel’s military regime, which lasted from 1948 to 1966, the state has dealt with its Palestinian population as a fifth column. Israel’s Palestinian citizens have experienced a series of gruesome events over the course of their existence as citizens, such as the Kfar Qasem Massacre in 1956, Land Day Massacre in 1976, and October 2000 Events.

Kfar Qassem symbolized a rude awakening to Palestinians, 48 of whom fell victim to the state-sanctioned policy, which was to “shoot and kill” any person found disobeying their curfew. Twenty years later, the Land Day Massacre showed a direct confrontation between the army and six unarmed citizens who suffered a similar fate as that of their brethren two decades prior. The October 2000 Events highlighted a third moment in the trajectory of Palestinian citizenship in Israel, when the state murdered 12 citizens and one resident of Gaza by live fire ammunition and the use of steel-coated rubber bullets.

Palestinian citizens are seen as infiltrators, tainting the unique brand of Jewish-Israeli homogeneity…

The crackdown on peaceful demonstrators in Haifa indicates that the discriminatory policy of the state has reared its ugly head once again. It may appear that Israel has evolved since the military regime era, however, the state continues to promulgate its policy of control and denial of protection to 20 percent of its citizenry. Palestinian citizens are seen as infiltrators, tainting the unique brand of Jewish-Israeli homogeneity, thus rendering their democratic right to challenge the dominant political structure powerless.

But why should Jews care? Commenting on the police brutality in Haifa, Issawi Frej, an MK from Meretz warned in his tweet that violence directed toward the Palestinian minority will eventually harm the Jewish majority. Although we share in his concern, we cannot ignore the past 70 years of brutality inflicted on Palestinian citizens as having had minimal effect on Jewish-Israelis. State policies enacted to pacify scenes of unrest are strikingly different when it comes to dealing with Jewish and Palestinian citizens. Just last week, Jewish protesters in Tel Aviv demonstrating against the shooting in Gaza, blocked a main street for two hours without any consequences. Meanwhile, Palestinian protesters in Haifa were arrested on the basis of waving the Palestinian flag, which is legal under Israeli law.

The events that unfolded that Friday night are not the result of unruly police behavior; rather, they are connected to state policies devoted to drawing inter-societal divisions. Such policies are by no means arbitrary, and are not used to exact police brutality on Jewish-Israelis. The argument we are left with is simply that of morality. Perhaps now is the time to acknowledge something that Palestinians have known for a century — in our ethnically defined Jewish state, Palestinians will never be equal.

Abby Kirschbaum is a California native, who now lives in Tel Aviv and manages the Jerusalem branch of Mejdi Tours, a dual-narrative travel company dedicated to exposing the many faces and places of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Abby completed her MA in Social Science at The University of Chicago, where she developed research on the role of the Kfar Qasem Massacre in the acquisition of group rights by Palestinian Citizens of Israel. 

Heli Mishael was born and bred in the Jewish community of Helsinki, Finland, where she received a religious and Zionist education. Heli is a social justice and anti-occupation activist and works as the Field Campaigner in Zazim. She completed her MA in Public Policy studies at the Harvard Kennedy School, focusing on civic studies and organizing methodologies.

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