New mobilisations inside Israel

Submitted by martin on 25 May, 2021 - 6:14 Author: Martin Thomas
Standing Together

The new mobilisation of the Palestinians within Israel is, or could be, a historic shift.

The Arab grandees, and much of the small middle class, had fled Palestine before the 1948 war started, many hoping to avoid war and return after the Arab states had won.

The Arabs remaining in Israel after the war and the expulsions were mostly peasants. They lived mostly under military government until 1966. Large tracts of their land were seized by chicanery.

As with the Palestinian Arab people in the West Bank and Gaza who submitted to Jordan and Egypt seizing those areas and extinguishing the UN-promised Palestinian state, they resisted little. They had been defeated both in the Arab-nationalist rebellion of the late 1930s and, by proxy, in the war fought over their heads in 1948. They had been ruled by the Ottoman Empire for centuries, then by the British; and now it was another power.

A general Arab nationalism emerged in middle-class circles in the early 20th century. After 1967 a distinct Palestinian nationalism took more shape, first among exiles and refugees, in the Gulf, in Jordan, in Lebanon. Its influence filtered across, notably into the West Bank (leading to the "first intifada" of the late 1980s).

Inside Israel, some things eased from the 1970s and 80s. Arab-majority towns and villages gained local self-government. More Palestinians have moved to live in "mixed cities" like Haifa, Acre, and Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Arabic had been notionally an official language from 1948, but its actual official use on anything approaching parity with Hebrew expanded greatly from the 1990s.

More Palestinians now enter Israeli universities and get "professional" or public-service jobs. Benjamin Netanyahu perhaps believes such changes will reconcile Palestinians to inequality: both democratic inequality, and material inequality like difficulties in getting building permits and thus continuing demolitions of "unauthorised" Palestinian homes. In fact, they have increased confidence and rebellion.

Christian and Druze Arabs, previously more reluctant to identify as "Palestinian", have done so more since the campaign against the Nation-State Law of 2018, formally demoting Arabic to an "auxiliary" language.

The assertiveness, if it can win appropriate political shape, can push back and win concessions. Those will always be limited until victory for the Palestinian people's right to self-determination in a state of its own alongside Israel, and for peace; but a new surge of Palestinian activism within Israel on democratic and secular lines has the potential to filter out into the West Bank and Gaza and the diaspora, breaking a decades-long political impasse there.

Some have seized on recent reports from the Israeli human rights group B'tselem and from Human Rights Watch that Israel is guilty of "apartheid" to bolster already-held views that Israel is unreformable and nothing will serve except conquest and suppression of Israel.

In the first place, to remedy one injustice (oppression of the Palestinians) by imposing another (suppression of the Israeli Jews) is not progress.

The brief B'tselem document attempts no equation with South Africa before 1994. It lists, with justified anger, the inequalities suffered by Palestinians, and argued that they amount to "apartheid" in a looser sense, without any argument about equation to South Africa rather than to, say, Turkey in its treatment of Kurds, or Algeria, of Berbers, etc.

The Human Rights Watch document is much longer. It states that it "does not set out to compare Israel with South Africa under apartheid or to determine whether Israel is an 'apartheid state'." Its chief argument is that the whole Israeli-ruled realm must be taken as a whole, and that the horrors of Israeli colonial rule in the West Bank, especially, feed back to and define the whole picture.

The answer, difficult but clear, is for Israel to get out of the West Bank and make way for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Talk on protests in Britain of Israel being "an apartheid state" or "a terror state" is not just loose but understandable expression of anger against oppression, as it might be within Israel.

It serves a noxious narrative. Israel equals South Africa before 1994. Apartheid had to be wiped out, so Israel must be wiped out. The Israeli Jews equal the white minority caste in South Africa (13% at the time of the apartheid in 1994), with its monopoly on political power and economic advantage. If any of the Israeli Jews can stay, that can only be after they are reduced to a harmless minority. Apartheid in South Africa was brought down by boycotting South Africa, so boycotting Israel is the answer now.

In fact the Israeli Jews are a nation, with a bourgeoisie and a working class. In fact, they are mostly a refugee-origin nation, not an upper crust superimposed on a majority.

In fact, the boycott of South Africa between the early 1960s and 1994 was a selective tactic widely supported by the majority within South Africa and supposed to target the South African upper crust. The proposed boycott of Israel has seen its "successes" mostly in the exclusion of Israelis, as Israelis, from film festivals, LGBT rights marches, academic posts, and such. In fact, apartheid was brought down not by boycott, and certainly not by external conquest and wiping South Africa off the map, but by democratic revolt of the majority within South Africa to reshape the country.

Standing Together in Israel aims to speak for a Jewish-Arab democratic majority there. That majority remains to be shaped, in battle both against Netanyahu and the other Jewish chauvinists, and against Hamas and its like. Our solidarity should be with that democratic battle, and with movements like Standing Together.

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