Isn’t it time to finally ask why every single attempt to achieve full equality for Palestinian citizens has failed?
By Umar al-Ghubari (translated by Richard Flantz)
This week the Israeli army radio, Galei Tzahal, conducted a survey which, among other things, polled the attitude of Israeli Jews regarding full equal rights for Arab citizens of Israel. The results of the survey, conducted among 503 Jews, revealed that the Jewish public in this country is almost equally divided on this issue. 45 percent oppose full equal rights for the state’s Arab citizens, 43 percent are in favor, 6 percent replied “it depends” (it’s unclear on what) and six percent do not know their position on this.
Two interesting points arise from the way this survey was conducted. First, in a militaristic society like Israel, it is not surprising that an army radio station intervenes in the civil realm without question, reflecting the clear overlap between (Jewish) civil society and the military in Israel. Secondly, those conducting the survey only asked Jews, and are thus acting on the idea that Jews in this country have the sole authority to determine whether and how equal the Arab can be. By doing so they continue to shape public opinion such that it is completely natural that Jews have the final word.
68 years of failure
Because of these deeply-rooted conceptions, which stem from the very definition of the state as the state of the Jewish people, there is no chance of achieving equality in the State of Israel — even if the results of the survey were to show that a large majority of Jews supported equality in principle. This is not just about what people want, it is a question of whether it is even possible. The State of Israel, with its self-definition, its mission, the way it was established, its priorities, its symbols, name and national anthem, cannot — even if it wanted to — bring about equality between Jews and non-Jews.
The state of the Jews is by necessity a racist state. It cannot be anything else. This is structured and rooted in its very definition. It was founded on Jewish privilege, supremacy and sovereignty, and many of its laws were legislated and many of its goals were formulated on the basis of giving preference to its Jewish citizens.
Since the establishment of the state, Palestinian citizens, as well as a small portion of the Jewish citizens, have struggled to achieve equality for “Israel’s Arabs.” We can assume that some of the leaders of the state indeed believed in equality as a value. But the outcome has only been 68 years of failure. Discrimination continues while equality seems very far away. Is it possible that all these people failed because they weren’t good enough, or talented enough, or resolute enough?
Isn’t it time, after all these years, to ask what doesn’t work? What makes all attempts at equality fail?
What haven’t they tried and what haven’t they invested in? Energy, time, discussions, speeches, promises, meetings, demonstrations, arrests, violence, people killed, people wounded, strikes, assemblies, reporting, research studies, committees, High Court injunctions, recommendations, resolutions, plans and even budgets, but equality hasn’t come. Nor will equality come. Because how can you do two contrary things — discriminate while guaranteeing equality — at the same time?
In a state that defines itself, for example, as the state of men, women will never be equal — even if their equality is enshrined in the first paragraph of its declaration of independence. A state that is, from the outset, established for whites will never manage to secure equality for blacks, even if it claims to do so. Even if its white leaders negotiate with the black leaders, even if they speak together and declare that they are determined to achieve equality and co-existence between blacks and whites in the state of the whites, they won’t succeed. The discriminatory foundation upon which the state is based is stronger than any plan or any budget. This is what is happening to the Palestinians in the state of the Jews, which in addition to its racist self-definition insists on preserving an overwhelming Jewish majority at any price, which means keeping the Arabs as a minority on the margins at any price. It shows that turning the Palestinians into a minority in the state was not accidental, and certainly was not the result of circumstance. This is a practical translation of the meaning of a Jewish state.
Its name too, Israel, is a reflection of this conception. Those who chose the name of the state created the deliberate exclusion and alienation of the citizens who are not connected to “Israel,” the great-grandfather of the tribe of Israelites. How could anyone outside this tribe possibly feel they belong or are equal? How abusive is it to forcibly impose an Israeli identity on Palestinians who have just been defeated by the Israelis? And today they’re even being required to not only be Israelis, but to be “Israelis all the way,” as the Prime Minister recently stated.
Change the ideology, not the strategy
Equality in the state of the Jews is unattainable, and the struggle to achieve such equality if a futile one. Even if you will it, it will remain a dream. It’s an illusion. Even if there will be an Arab prime minister in Israel who will operate according to its laws, self-definition and goals as they are today, it would not bring about equality for the Arabs. Because the failure is determined from the outset. It is engraved in the definition of the state and embedded in the character of the regime. This is the meaning of Jewish rule. Those who in the course of 68 years have not built a single Arab town and at the same time have built hundreds of towns for Jews, and those who created a budget nine times greater for Jewish students than for Arab ones cannot claim that this happened by mistake or due to inattention, nor as the result of neglect or a failure of policy. This is a worldview. This is an ideology. After all, it is clear that a Jew is preferred over an Arab here, and it is clear that this will find expression in every sphere of life: in the state’s budgets, in the attitude of the police, in security checks at the airfields, in the master plans, in the railway lines, etc.
To eliminate discrimination and change the power relations between Jews and Arabs toward real equality, it is necessary to give up on the ideology that produces inequality. Those who carry the banner of the struggle need to change direction and to demand the establishment of a truly democratic political framework — one that will not give preference to one race over another. This will pave the way for a struggle that has a chance of implementing the principle of equality. Full equality, not as a gesture or nicety on the part of the majority – regardless of who the majority is — and not as a prize for good behavior on the part of the minority, regardless of who the minority is. Equality without without reservations, which eliminates the equation of rulers and ruled, occupiers and occupied, expellers and expelled.
That is where the struggle has to go.
Umar al Ghubari is group facilitator, a political educator, and he documents and photographs the Palestinian Nakba. This article was first published published in Hebrew on Local Call — read it here.