United in rejection - GulfToday

United in rejection

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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The group American Muslims for Palestine rally in support of Palestine at Gould Avenue Park, in Paterson, N.J.

Several years ago I went to the town of Ramleh in central Israel to interview a Palestinian woman employed by the New Israel Fund, a human rights organisation working for coexistence between Palestinian citizens of Israel and Israelis. A tall, rather severe woman dressed in black, Bouthaina took me on a walking tour of the Palestinian sector of the town, pausing at a wide empty expanse covered in gravel where homes had been bulldozed fairly recently and Palestinian Israelis forced to leave their homes.

Her family had not joined the exodus from Lydd and Ramleh in 1948 because her grandfather had refused to leave when Yitzak Rabin ordered Israeli forces to clear Palestinians from the two towns, which had been assigned to the “Arab State” by the 1947 UN partition plan. Lydd’s men, women and children were driven out on foot during the July heat in what became a “Death March.” Hundreds of Palestinians died from exhaustion and dehydration before reaching sanctuary in Ramallah and Jericho. Most of Ramleh’s inhabitants were forced to board busses and were driven to the lines held by the Jordanian Arab Legion. Bouthaina said, “My grandfather got off the bus. They put him on another. He got off again. He got off a third time” and, somehow, managed to remain along with a few hundred others. The majority became refugees in the Ramallah/Jericho area.

When armistice agreements brought an end to the 1948-49 war, 150,000 Palestinians were left in the 78 per cent of the country Israel conquered, 750,000 were refugees in the 22 per cent under Jordanian control or in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.  While a great deal has been written by and about the refugees, little was reported about the Palestinians who stayed put. They had effectively disappeared behind enemy lines while Israel became a black hole on the map of the Levant.

Farmers who stuck to their villages found their homes and lands expropriated and were forced to move to towns. Although they were granted Israeli citizenship in 1952, Palestinians were fourth or fifth class citizens in a society where East European Ashkenazis were first class and Arab, Turkish, Ethiopian and Indian Jews formed under classes with the Palestinians at the bottom. By dubbing them “Israeli Arabs,” the Israelis stripped them of their identity as natives and rightful owners of Palestine. They now call themselves Palestinian Israelis or Palestinian citizens of Israel — although Israel and the international community have not caught up with this designation.

 They lived under martial law until 1966 and were treated in the same manner that Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have been treated since the 1967 occupation. Israeli colonists have taken over Palestinian Israeli homes, building permits are few and home demolitions many. Palestinian towns have been deprived of municipal status, denying them development.

Palestinians have not been permitted to live in Jewish areas but Jewish settlers have been encouraged to move into Palestinian towns and neighbourhoods. Discrimination is rife, salaries are low, poverty is prevelant. Before 1967, those who could afford the fare, would fly to Cyprus to meet relatives living in exile from time to time.

The occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza changed the Arab view of Israel. The Arabs could no longer deny its existence because it had become the major military power in the region and an expansionist entity threatening the neighbourhood. For Palestinian Israelis the conquest of the remaining 22 per cent of Palestine was a partial blessing. They reunited on their own soil with families, friends and brethren. Their Palestinian identity was reinforced and their determination to defend their homes and land was revived. When on March 30th, 1976, Palestinians in Nazareth demonstrated against Israeli seizures and expropriations, six were shot and killed and 70 wounded by Israeli security forces. The anniversary of Land Day is marked annually by both Palestinian Israelis and Palestinians in the occupied territories who also face confiscation and colonisation.

Although Palestinian Israelis vote in Israeli elections and their parties are represented in the Knesset, they are excluded from governance and suffer from institutional and financial discrimination. Their cities, towns and villages and schools do not receive funds equal to those of Jewish Israelis. Israeli police clamp down heavily on Palestinian Israelis but do not protect them from crime or attacks by Israeli extremists who have been emboldened by the country’s increasingly right-wing governments and Western tolerance. Netanyahu’s government deepened the division between Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Israelis in 2018 by adopting a law proclaiming that Israeli sovereignty rested in Jews only, formalising the outsider status of Palestinian citizens.

Palestinian Israelis protested in 2000 against Israel’s efforts to crush the Second Intifada and began to travel to East Jerusalem, which had been cut off from its West Bank hinterland, to attend mosque prayers in al-Aqsa mosque and shop in the Old City with the aim of keeping businesses afloat.  They also used to go to Hebron for shopping and Bethlehem to boost tourism, until Israel strove to prevent them from visiting the West Bank. Hundreds of Palestinian Israelis were in al-Aqsa and al-Haram al-Sharif when Israel troops entered and attacked worshippers on Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Destiny), the holiest in Ramadan.

Since Israel’s assault on Gaza began on May 10th, Palestinian Israeli towns and quarters in mixed cities across Israel erupted in protest, prompting extremist Israeli Jews to travel to these areas and attack Palestinian citizens. Their brethren in the West Bank and East Jerualem have risen in support and in response to Israel’s onslaught on Gaza. Although divided geographically by Israel, Palestinian Israelis and stateless Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are now united in their rejection of the 73-year-old occupation of their homeland. Like Bouthaina’s grandfather they refuse to get on the bus to leave.  

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