Israel’s double standard on cross-border loyalties

The arrest of journalist Majd Kayyal is a troubling example of Israel’s fear of ties between its own Arab population and the Palestinian Authority, while claiming the right to have similar ties with Jews around the world.

The main segment in the Shin Bet’s (Israeli Security Agency) official comment on the detention of journalist and activist Majd Kayyal for nearly five days, without the possibility of meeting his lawyers and under a strict gag order, reads as follows:

In his interrogation it became clear that [Kayyal] left for Lebanon in order to attend a convention of the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir, all the while knowing that it is an enemy state that Israeli citizens are forbidden to enter. The subject has even sought the assistance of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, which he contacted for [travel] documentation to Lebanon, in spite of his being an Israeli citizen. The subject entered Lebanon using the Palestinian documentation he was given.

As Dimi Reider mentioned in his post, and as Einat Fishbein claims in her interview with Israeli journalist Itay Engel [Hebrew], the mere passage of Israeli citizens, mainly journalists, into what is legally defined as “enemy states” is not an irregular action, and is most commonly overlooked by authorities. So what is different about Kayyal’s case? It isn’t just that he is Palestinian, but rather the fact that as a citizen of Israel he chose to obtain a second passport – a Palestinian one from the Palestinian Authority – and used it to enter Lebanon. (Entering Lebanon with an Israeli passport is completely impossible.) The story, then, is the wounding of Israel’s national pride, its feeling of hampered sovereignty over its “subjects,” as Kayyal is called in the Shin Bet’s comment.

This knee-jerk reaction is not uncommon in Israel. It is most commonly seen in East Jerusalem, where authorities crack down on anything that smells remotely of PA involvement, including a children’s puppet theater. Recently, we’ve seen it in the extreme political and public sensitivity regarding the unfulfilled promise to release Palestinian prisoners with Israeli citizenship as part of negotiations. Time and time again the issue of sovereignty is brought up as a reason to prevent all ties between Palestinians in Israel and the PA; it is also in part the basis for Netanyahu’s insistence on recognition of Israel as “a Jewish State.” (Well, that and his will to maintain the status quo for as long as possible.)

However, at the same time that the state and its security forces fight to maintain full and unconditional control over Palestinian citizens and residents, barring the possibility of dual citizenship and cross-border loyalties and affiliations, it also purports to be the sole representative of Jews anywhere in the world. Not only does Israeli law allow anyone with Jewish heritage to gain full citizenship (the kind that Palestinians living their entire lives under military rule can never obtain), the state also funds Jewish and Zionist religious, cultural and political enterprises worldwide, while encouraging Jewish migration to Israel and intervening in the affairs of other countries to protect Jews from anti-Semitism.

The point of all this is not to say that Jews should not be allowed safe refuge or that it’s wrong for Israel to fight racism and violence and support local cultural initiatives across the world. But taking all of that into account, how can it still resist the right of the Palestinian Authority to support the interests of Palestinian citizens of Israel?

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