The Everyday Reality of Apartheid Israel by a Palestinian Israeli
The Everyday Reality of Apartheid Israel by a Palestinian Israeli
try to pretend that Israel is an equal society because Israeli Palestinians can
vote once every few years in elections. However
this obscures the everyday reality for an Israeli Arab in a Jewish society. Israel is a self-proclaimed Jewish state,
what this means in practice is that Israel is Jewish for the Arabs and
Democratic for the Jews.
a myriad number of ways that Israeli Arabs are discriminated against. They are barred from 93% of Israel’s
land. They are barred from hundreds of ‘Jewish’
communities. Education is segregated and
Arab Education receives a fraction of the amount of money allocated to the Jewish
education sector. Only in one area of
life are Arabs over represented. That is
poverty. 51% of Israeli Arabs live in
poverty compared to 14% of Israeli Jews.
It is not
surprising that in the Pew Opinion Research survey Israel’s
Religiously Divided Society last year a plurality of Israeli Jews (48%)
said that they wanted Israel’s Arabs to be physically expelled from the
country. This however is only tip of the
problem. 79% of Jews in the same survey
said that they believed Jews should receive preferential treatment compared to
Protesters outside the village of Hura in the Negev, protesting against the Prawer Plan, November 30, 2013. The Prawer Plan, if implemented, will displace tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens of Israel. (Photo: Activestills.org)
an excellent essay by Fida Jiryis, the daughter of Sabra Jiryis, who wrote a
pathbreaking book ‘The Arabs in Israel’ over 50 years ago.
In the opening paragraph she explains the impossibility for an Arab to rent an apartment in a Jewish area or block of flats. It is up to the neighbours. And being Jews they always object. Some 434 small Jewish communities, 43% of Israeli land were enabled by the Admissions Committees Law to object to Arabs trying to enter ‘their’ communities. The Supreme Court upheld, by 5-4 the constitutionality of the law.
is a Palestinian writer based in Ramallah. Her Diary in this issue is adapted
from an essay in Kingdom of Olives and Ash,
to be published by Fourth Estate.
take it!’ I said, glancing round the empty apartment. The lady didn’t smile or
show any sign of agreement. I was beginning to feel uneasy. She’d looked up at
me questioningly when I knocked on the open door of her office a few minutes
earlier. Something about me must have given me away.
blocks of flats were in a perfect location, halfway between my village and
Nahariyya, a small seaside town in the Galilee. I’d be close to my parents, my
work and the beach. I’d driven past many times while they were under
construction, and as soon as they were advertised for rent I was impatient to
have a look. I’d finish work every day and go jogging on the beach …
help you?’ the lady had asked, still measuring me up.
like to see one of the apartments you’ve advertised for rent.’
gave me away; I was an Arab. She looked uncomfortable. I was used to this. I’d
just smile and pretend I hadn’t noticed. She fiddled around with a bunch of
keys and escorted me out of the office, towards one of the blocks. ‘We have one
here,’ she said.
I was a
little disappointed when she opened the door. The apartment was bright and new,
but it was very small. ‘Do you have anything larger?’ I asked.
is all that’s available.’
couldn’t argue with the system. Well, I could, but I wouldn’t get anywhere.
‘How much is the rent?’
need to ask you something first. Where are you from?’
being Israel, I didn’t pause to consider the inappropriateness of the question.
‘Fassouta. It’s a village about twenty minutes from here. Near Ma’alot,’ I
ventured, referring to a Jewish town near my village. It would have been
pointless to mention an Arab town.
She nodded, frowning. ‘I’ll need to ask you to bring two references with your
application, then I’d need to check with the neighbours.’
need to ask them if it’s OK for you to live here, because, well, no apartments
have been given to Arabs here. But if the neighbours are OK with it, we can
proceed. I’ll just put the application through quietly,’ she added, lowering
her voice to imply that she would have to make an exception.
swallowed, thanked her and left. That was the end of it. I wouldn’t get
permission from the neighbours to rent an apartment. This was one of the many
reasons I found myself, not long afterwards, moving to Ramallah in the West
Bank, part of the Occupied Territories.
one and a half million Palestinians live in Israel, not in the West Bank and
Gaza, but in Israel itself, in the Galilee in the north, the Triangle in the
centre and the Naqab (Negev) in the south. After the wiping out of Palestine in
1948, about 15 per cent of the Palestinian population remained in the new state
of Israel. On the surface, we are far more privileged than our brethren in the
West Bank and Gaza; having Israeli citizenship and a passport means that we can
vote, we have access to good education, public healthcare and social benefits,
and we can travel easily, although we can’t visit some Arab countries. We don’t
live in an occupied zone surrounded by checkpoints, with the constant threat of
clashes, Israeli army incursions and settler violence. We are free to study
almost anything we choose, in a country with a large job market. But this is a
façade behind which is a system of rampant structural and institutional
discrimination. As Palestinians, we spend every minute of our lives paying for
the fact that we are not Jewish.
lived in my family’s village of Fassouta, in the Galilee, I was reminded every
morning as I drove to work of my people’s dispossession. First, I had to drive
through the remains of Suhmata and Dayr El-Qasi, two Palestinian villages that
were destroyed in 1948. All that remains of Suhmata is a mass of shrubs and
some stones that survived the Israeli bulldozers when they ploughed the village
into the ground. In the miracle of Israel’s creation, Dayr El-Qasi was turned
into Elqosh, a Jewish village, some of whose residents live in houses that were
not destroyed in 1948, perhaps because they appreciate the Arab architecture.
The Palestinians of Dayr El-Qasi and their descendants have lived in refugee
camps in Lebanon ever since.
the Palestinians of Suhmata became internally displaced persons, and a few of
them live in Fassouta and other nearby villages. They visit the site of Suhmata
once a year, on Nakba Day, to commemorate their village. Which is worse: being
far away from your old home, or having to drive past every day and see its
ruins while not being allowed to return?
only thanks to a fluke of fate that I wasn’t living in a refugee camp an hour
or two’s drive away. My village is very close to the Lebanese border, and each
time I looked over the hills into Lebanon, I had the surreal feeling of their
being so close, yet so far away. There isn’t much security for the Palestinians
who remained; some members of the Israeli government and various academics
regularly call for the expulsion of Israel’s Arab citizens through ‘demographic
transfer’ – code for forced displacement – the ultimate aim being to achieve
the ‘purity’ of the Jewish state.
Dayr El-Qasi and Suhmata, I would drive past Kfar Vradim, an opulent Jewish
community whose rows of neat villas, lush gardens, fountains and wide pavements
contrast sharply with our narrow streets full of potholes. The differences
between Arab villages and Jewish communities in Israel, often lying right next
to each other, are so marked that one can immediately tell which is which.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that Palestinian villages evolved
over hundreds of years, while the new Jewish communities were built in a
methodical way, their homes all alike. They seem to have fallen from the sky,
and I see only ugliness in this beauty and order, because my mind unwittingly
turns to how they came to be there.
the budget allocated for infrastructure and economic development in Arab towns
and villages is a fraction of that allotted to Jewish ones. It’s the same with
the budgets for health, education, housing and employment; the list goes on.
The state would explain this by pointing out that government budgets are based
on the amount of tax revenue collected by each local authority, including
business and property taxes. Since the number of employment initiatives and
businesses in Arab municipalities is a bare minimum, there is much less tax
collected than from Jewish communities. Thus, rather than funding economic
development projects in Arab areas, the government allocates smaller budgets to
them and the vicious cycle continues.
my father, Sabri Jiryis, wrote The Arabs in Israel, a book describing
the life of the Palestinians in Israel and their systematic oppression by the
state. The core message of the book still applies today, fifty years later.
Israel’s military rule over the Palestinians in Israel has long ended, but its
attitudes to its Palestinian citizens remain largely unaltered.
time I got to work, I would already be in a state of deep alienation, and my interactions
there didn’t help. I was the only Arab among thirty or so Jewish employees, and
I always had the feeling that I was lucky to be there – as though I had no
right to such a job. Although many Palestinians hold professional jobs in
Israel, the majority survive through menial or marginal work. Construction and
manufacturing are two of the largest employers of Palestinians. Palestinians
are largely excluded from senior or well-paying positions in private
corporations or public institutions; few Arab engineers work in the Electricity
Authority or telecommunications companies, and they are excluded from the
defence and aviation industries, among others. I had been so conditioned to the
near-impossibility of finding a good job that, when I got one, I could hardly
believe it. My family and friends were astounded when I told them my salary;
what was normal by Jewish standards was considered a fortune in our community.
overheard my Jewish colleagues talking about their military service. Most of
them were called away for a few weeks from time to time to do reserve army
duty. There were heated political discussions about the then recent Oslo
Accords and Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians. Throughout all this, I
was silent and extremely uncomfortable. I was born in Lebanon and, in 1983,
when I was ten years old, my mother was killed when the PLO’s Research Centre
in Beirut was bombed. In 1995, I came to Israel as a result of the Oslo
Accords. I couldn’t help wondering, as I looked round the room at my
colleagues, how many of them had served in Lebanon during the 1982 invasion.
But I pushed these thoughts away. I was back here now, and I needed the job.
friendship blossomed with an older British colleague, who was Jewish and had
moved to Israel as a teenager and married an Israeli. One day, I invited her
and her husband to my home in Fassouta. She gladly accepted, but the visit was
tense and uncomfortable. Conversation was strained, each topic I brought up
received a lukewarm response, and they ate and left as quickly as possible. I
cleared the plates away afterwards feeling puzzled and deflated. At work the
next day, she apologised, telling me her husband had a high rank in the Israeli
army and was uncomfortable visiting an Arab home.
stunned by her forthrightness, but appreciated being told the truth. Except in
a few cities, Palestinians and Jewish Israelis live deeply segregated lives.
Social division isn’t the only problem caused by this stratification.
Palestinian communities are not only kept separate from Jewish ones: they are
kept within strict boundaries by the Israeli government. The government does
not often allow new building zones in Arab towns and villages. Thousands of
Arab homes are under threat of demolition by the state for being located
outside permitted zones. Fassouta, for example, has 11,000 dunums (one dunum
equals 1000 square metres) within the jurisdiction of its local council, but
only 650 dunums have been approved by the government for new building since
1988. The result is overcrowding; many have to move elsewhere. But many Jewish
communities forbid Palestinians to live or even work in them.
one of my colleagues stood in the doorway of my small office, beaming, coffee
cup in hand. He had always been friendly. He leaned against the door, studying
me quizzically as he drank his coffee. Then he said rather thoughtfully:
‘You’re not like other Arabs, eh? You’ve made something of yourself.’ I
wondered if he thought he was paying me a compliment in singling me out from my
crude, backward race. ‘I tell you, you Christians,’ he said, lowering his voice
as though sharing a secret, ‘you’re different. We have no problems with you!’
end of the day, I’d arranged to meet my cousin for a trip to a mall in Haifa.
We chattered in her little car, Arabic music playing, exchanging village gossip
and news of the upcoming wedding season. For a while, I was transported out of
the reality of life in Israel. But the dream shattered the minute we drove into
the car park. Hebrew signs were everywhere. Inside the mall, there wasn’t a
single sign in Arabic, though the mall served mostly Palestinian shoppers from
the surrounding villages, and Arabic is the second official language of the
state. We walked into a shop and felt that familiar nervousness in speaking our
language. But I wasn’t about to talk to my cousin in Hebrew. As we looked at
the clothes, we chatted in Arabic, though our voices subconsciously dropped.
Seeing an assistant, I pointed to a dress, asking her for the right size to try
on. ‘Those are the last pieces!’ the sour-faced woman snapped and walked off.
away uncomfortably, but we weren’t surprised by the response. Rudeness is a
known characteristic of the country, and for some reason Israelis are amused by
this. But the chutzpah of Israelis’ dealings with each other and the rest of
the world is one thing; the chutzpah, loaded with a tacit dislike and contempt,
used when dealing with Palestinians is another. When a more cheerful-looking
assistant bounded up to us to help, we were grateful.
on the dress. ‘Wow!’ the assistant exclaimed as I came out of the fitting room.
Then she added: ‘You’re so beautiful; one would never think you were an Arab!’
I returned the dress and left the shop. It’s not possible to live in Israel for
even one day and forget that we are us and they are them. In most of my
interactions with Israelis, I feel barely concealed hostility, cautious
suspicion or, at best, an attitude of benevolent tolerance.
cousin and I lined up for burgers, I glanced curiously at the Jewish Israeli
family near us, crowding at the shawarma stall. Palestinians didn’t seem to
exist in this country, but our food was sought after. The shawarma had a kosher
label. We were bending over backward trying to integrate, and the state was
happy for us to operate our falafel and shawarma stalls and do other menial
jobs, but that was the limit of our usefulness.
years later I went to the UK to do an MBA. Afterwards, back in Fassouta, I had
to find a job. I still had an Arab name and no army number (Palestinians are
exempt from military service in the Israeli army). Months later, I still had no
job. Finally, in desperation, and with mounting debts to pay off, I took one I
was in Karmiel, a Jewish town in the Galilee built on land confiscated from
three Arab villages: Deir al-Asad, Bi’na and Nahf. I blocked this out daily as
I went to work; I desperately needed the job, and I also needed to cope with
the mental and emotional trauma of being back in Israel. The Second Intifada
was raging in the West Bank and Gaza, and, every night, I watched the horrors
unfold on the news. I had nightmares full of bloodied corpses and the wailing
of victims’ families. During the day, I could barely focus on anything. At
work, I’d hear my Jewish colleagues talk about ‘battering them’, and gleefully
discussing Israel’s victories. I couldn’t respond. A colleague, in her late
twenties like me, announced loudly at the lunch table that the government was
making a mistake in not ‘going in there and obliterating everything – people,
trees, cats, dogs, everything – and solving the problem once and for
alienation, of course, exists on a communal level, not just a personal one.
Each year, on Israeli Independence Day, many Palestinians are overtaken by such
depression that we elect simply to stay at home. While Jewish Israelis are out
flag-waving, having parties and barbeques, we are commemorating our destroyed
villages, remembering our dead and those who cannot come home. Each year is a
painful reminder that another year has gone by and nothing has changed. The
entire country is even more plastered in Israeli flags for weeks before and
decades, it was illegal to raise a Palestinian flag in Israel. Palestinian
citizens of Israel are still not referred to as Palestinians by the Israeli
establishment, but by a great oxymoron of a term, ‘Israeli Arabs,’ carefully
concocted to imply that Israel was always there and we were always a minority
group within it, and to erase our Palestinian identity and make us nameless
‘Arabs’, a race that includes citizens of 22 countries. Several more names have
been created to describe us, some by our Arab brethren, among them ‘1948
Arabs’; ‘Arabs inside the Green Line’ (of the 1949 armistice between Israel and
the neighbouring Arab countries; can you imagine using this definition to
introduce yourself to someone?); and my favourite, ‘Arabs of Inside’, which
would evoke a puzzled response from anyone outside this mess. The explanation
for all these names is as pitiful as it is useless: the refusal of some Arabs
to recognise Israel and to call it by its name – another case of sticking one’s
head in the sand.
about Israel’s definition of itself as Jewish and democratic, and wondered,
what if you’re not Jewish? The answer seemed to be, well, you should leave.
I did. I moved to Ramallah in the West Bank, part of the Occupied Territories.
I soon realised I’d jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. It took a
while for this to register. My initial feelings on visiting Ramallah were
euphoric. My heart fluttered along with the Palestinian flag that I saw on
rooftops and in front of official buildings. I gazed at the government
ministries with a sense of pride; here were elements of Palestinian
sovereignty, here was a fragment of Palestine, all was not lost! There were no
Hebrew signs, people spoke Arabic and were friendly and welcoming. It was
almost like a different country.
all this, the reality of Israeli military control and Palestinian dispossession
is much more blatant here. It’s evident in the humiliation involved in waiting
in endless queues at the checkpoints, in the violent clashes that happen every
day, in the sprawling, illegal Jewish settlements gobbling up our land, in the
frustration of movement restrictions, in the constant feeling of insecurity.
The Palestinians are doing Israel a colossal favour by calling this an
occupation. It’s not a temporary state of affairs, but a systematic dispossession
just like that of 1948, only at a slower pace.
Palestinians, the choice between life in Israel and life in the West Bank is a
choice between two systems of Israeli aggression, different only in their
manifestations. Both are deadly and soul-crushing. Most Palestinians are losing
hope that there is a way out of this mess.