Palestinian citizens will always be enemies in a Jewish state

The Or Commission’s report on the October 2000 events was a symbolic indictment of Israel’s ‘enemy doctrine’ toward its Palestinian citizens. But Israel has not absorbed the lessons of the report, because demands for equality remain anathema to the states raison d’être.

Joint List head Ayman Odeh speaks at the List’s Arabic launch event, Nazareth. (Photo courtesy of the Joint List)
Joint List head Ayman Odeh speaks at the List’s Arabic launch event, Nazareth. (Photo courtesy of the Joint List)

Twelve years ago, in its report on the events of October 2000, the Or Commission of Inquiry wrote a statement that was unprecedented in the history of Israel’s Palestinian minority. After extensively criticizing the police’s violent conduct, the commission concluded: “The police must instill among its officers the understanding that the Arab community as a whole is not their enemy, and that it should not be treated as an enemy.”

Though perhaps unintended, the commission’s statement amounted to a symbolic indictment of Israel’s longstanding “enemy doctrine” toward its Palestinian citizens. For the first time, an official Israeli body was acknowledging the systemic hostility behind the state’s policies since 1948, and determined that those attitudes had to change in order to resolve the roots of the people’s grievances.

Twelve years later, however, it is clear that Israel has not absorbed any lessons from the report. Far from revising its enemy doctrine, the state has intensified it. Government ministers in charge of law enforcement spew out racist speech to delegitimize the rights of Palestinian citizens. The Shin Bet routinely monitors and harasses Palestinian activists for attending demonstrations or writing social media posts against Israeli policies. Now police officers have permission to open fire on Palestinians who throw stones in Israel just as they do against Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Israeli Border Police officers aim assault rifles toward Arab demonstrators in northern Israel during October 2000. (Courtesy of Adalah)
Israeli Border Police officers aim assault rifles toward Arab demonstrators in northern Israel during October 2000. (Courtesy of Adalah)

These continuing trends reveal how the idea of the internal enemy remains a powerful force for Israeli policy. It rallies many among the Jewish public behind the government and marginalizes criticism of their methods, bonding the state and society with assumptions of the dangers posed by the “other” Israeli citizens. No one questions the police’s violent suppression of anti-war protests, just as no one blinks when Palestinians like Kheir Hamdan are unjustifiably shot by the police. Netanyahu did not even have to give details last month to justify the use of live gunfire against Arabs in the Naqab; all he had to do was say there were people throwing stones in the South, and the public understood him.

The enemy doctrine is not only intrinsic in Israel’s security apparatus, but permeates all aspects of social and political life. Palestinian citizens today find themselves targeted by laws that deny their right to live where they wish, that intimidate them from speaking about their grandparents’ losses in the 1948 war, and that ban them from marrying Palestinians from the occupied territories. Arab political parties wanting seats in the Knesset are faced with disqualification motions and vilifying campaigns against their platforms and representatives. Contrary to claims of a democratic spirit, Israel’s laws and policies show that it fears everything about its minority: their presence, their narrative, their votes, and even their children.

There is a flip side in that many, if not most, Palestinian citizens view the state with the same enemy mentality as the state shows to them. But the hostility of a discriminated population toward an oppressive state is not the same as an oppressive state’s hostility toward a discriminated population. It is not just the fact that Israel is a colonial state that brought itself upon a native society, but that it is a state that makes ethno-racial identity the building block of its regime – and expands it in even more severe forms through its military occupation. This system, which the Jewish majority sees as justified in order to protect the “Jewish state,” guarantees nothing for Palestinians except their permanent inequality.

Palestinian citizens of Israel march to commemorate the killing of 13 protesters by Israeli police in October 2000, Sakhnin, October 1, 2015. (Omar Sameer/Activestills.org)
Palestinian citizens of Israel march to commemorate the killing of 13 protesters by Israeli police in October 2000, Sakhnin, October 1, 2015. (Omar Sameer/Activestills.org)

For Israel, the solution to ending its enemy doctrine is for Palestinians in the state to accept the hierarchy of their citizenship. But for Palestinians this is unacceptable. Their citizenship is not supposed to be a malleable tool to be reshaped as the Jewish majority sees fit; it should be a guarantor of their rights to the land, which belongs to them just as much as it belongs to Jews.

The Palestinian citizens’ struggle for equality is therefore anathema to Israel’s raison d’être, and in turn makes them a permanent enemy to be watched and controlled. If that entails a continued struggle over the state’s identity and character, then the very same factors that drove the October 2000 protests remain no different in 2015. Palestinian citizens only hope that others will realize it is better to be an enemy of the racial inequality espoused by the state, than to be a proponent for it.

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