Salman Masalha: Israel’s apartheid doesn’t stop at the West Bank

By Salman Masalha, Haaretz – 3 March 2010

Here is a civics lesson about the Zionist heritage, which has recently basked in the limelight of another government decision.

It has often been observed that poetry and lies have much in common, and this also applies to the state of Israel’s founding document – the Declaration of Independence. It will “foster,” it told me, “the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants… it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants.” The document also calls upon “the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel” – not the “members of minorities,” so beloved by the Zionist media – “to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.”

However, since its establishment the state has not kept its promise. It continues to conduct itself like a Zionist occupation regime on every inch of the land. True, the military government has been lifted and “the Arab inhabitants” are usually free to move around in their homeland and even send representatives to the Knesset – but this is the sum total of the equality that was formulated and promised.

The alienation between Arabs and Jews can be seen everywhere. It has not arisen solely in the context of the national conflict, but is rather a result of an establishment policy which has expropriated Arabs’ lands to build communities “for Jews only” and has pushed the Arab inhabitants into localities under an “ethno-Zionist siege” on all sides.

The Israel Police, which is responsible for maintaining public law and order, provides the most blatant evidence that the Israeli regime behaves as if it is a foreign regime. It abandons the Arab localities to the rule of criminal gangs, intervening only when concern arises that the crime might spill over into Jewish locales. The Arab alienation from the police – a symbol of the regime – is apparent, among other things, in the absence of Arabic writing on police vehicles. How does an Arab citizen feel about a police force that appears in his community, but does not include any writing in his language? Does this not symbolize, more than anything else, that the police represent an occupation regime, a foreign regime? How would the inhabitant of some Jewish locale feel if there were no writing in Hebrew on police vehicles, but only a foreign language?

The alienation is also evident with regard to the central government. This is the only democratic country in the world where one-fifth of the citizens – who are declared to have equal rights, at least on paper – have no representation in the government or in “provisional and permanent institutions.” And this is the case even before we start talking about budgetary allocations, master plans, the building of cities and communities, education, culture, industrialization and more.

This national alienation is evident in the apartheid reflected throughout the media. Anyone watching talk shows on television will immediately notice a balance in terms of the guests in the studio: There is a religious person and a secular person, a settler and someone from Peace Now. Only the Arab citizen is absent from every discourse.

Were the Arab Knesset members blessed with any imagination, they would pull the words “on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions” out of the Declaration of Independence and formulate them into a bill. After all, what makes a malicious Jewish populist any better than a malicious Arab populist? There is no dearth of Arab populists who would feel right at home with the Jewish populists in the studios or on ministerial committees. If the proposal is accepted, we will advance the principle of equality. If it is rejected, we will have exposed the lies and deceit of those who take the name of the Declaration of Independence in vain.

The author is a researcher of Arab culture, a poet and a translator.

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