Palestinian citizens of Israel are key to resisting the occupation

If Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, those who have grown up in Israeli society and lived alongside Jewish Israelis, were to truly organize and leverage their unique position, it would be impossible to break without ripping off the mask of apartheid.

By Rida Abu Rass

Israeli riot police wait for demonstrators marching to protest home demolitions, Ar'ara, January 21, 2017. (Keren Manor/Activestills)
Israeli riot police cut off a march by Palestinian citizens of Israel protesting home demolitions, Ar’ara, January 21, 2017. (Keren Manor/Activestills)

Over the years, both the Israeli and Palestinian Left have learned to lower their expectations — to live on crumbs of hope. So who is left to lead peace negotiations? Trump? We’ll see what he has to offer, and probably be disappointed. In Israel there is not a single leader capable or ready to lead a real, broad political movement to end the occupation — setting aside for a second that there is no majority of Jewish Israelis lining up to join such a movement. In Ramallah we have one of the least popular leaders in the history of the Palestinian struggle. So who will save us?

Palestinians in the occupied territories have grown tired of organized resistance. Two intifadas were enough. True, Palestinian resistance is still alive to a certain extent in Bil’in, Ni’lin, in the South Hebron Hills, and elsewhere, but in order to bring about real political change, more organized and far broader resistance would be needed. In a sense, Israeli deterrence has worked, and you won’t find too many people who dare resist the Israeli army these days. Not even armed resistance is a prospect these days. Salvation will not come from the occupied territories.

So that’s it? Should we pack our stuff and find a foreigner to marry? Not quite yet. There is one last source of hope: young Palestinians — citizens of Israel.

Palestinian citizens haven’t yet truly flexed their muscles. Not with all their might, and the key to ending the occupation is in our hands. Whereas Palestinians in the West Bank see Jewish Israelis at checkpoints, we learn, work and shop with them. We have had the privilege of developing an intimate working relationship with Israeli society. Furthermore, we have all been sentenced to live with the rising tide of racism in Israel, whether in civilian clothes or in uniform. Palestinians in Israel are motivated and eager to make real changes. We have a large stake in Israeli society, albeit oftentimes an unwelcome one, and are familiar with the Jewish population.

Marwan Barghouti has been calling for wide, popular and nonviolent resistance to the occupation for years. We should support him. He has been openly calling for a change of tactics, to start a civil rights campaign against Israeli oppression between the Jordan River and the sea, similar to the civil rights campaigns in South Africa and the United States. Palestinian citizens of Israel would have a central role to play in such a campaign. Palestinians in the occupied territories do not have the tools to truly disrupt daily life in Israel, as an effective nonviolent campaign for civil liberties would require. We do. If it is large enough, Israel would not be able to disrupt such a movement without ripping the mask off the true face of apartheid once and for all.

Young Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are especially ready for such a movement. The new Palestinian generation has a larger stake in Israeli society: unlike our parents’ generation, many of us live in Jewish neighborhoods, work in the heart of the Israeli economy, and are much more exposed to the rest of Israel.

Granted, making significant gains will not be easy without the support of the Israeli Left. Alongside us, however, they will be able to build a democratic majority in Israel. With us, there is a broad consensus for ending the occupation, for creating a Palestinian state, for a sustainable solution. Together, we can lay a path toward partnership, toward an environment conducive to negotiating as equals, toward open borders and mutual recognition of ownership over this piece of land.

Palestinians with Israeli citizenship must organize. We must make our voices louder among our representatives in the Knesset. We must utilize existing civil society organizations, and create new forums for internal coordination and communication. The rest of the Israeli Left must also stand up. This could be our last chance to make an organic, internal, mutual move toward ending this conflict once and for all.

Rida Abu Rass is a Palestinian citizen of Israel from Jaffa currently completing a graduate degree at Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey.