Israel is going down a very dark road.
Not long ago, Lod, an Israeli city near the commercial hub of Tel Aviv, was a sleepy backwater. Its 20,000 Arabs among 45,000 Jews peppered their Arabic with Hebraisms, voted for Jewish parties, and described themselves as Israeli. The Arab population, drastically reduced in the 1948 war that marked Israel’s birth, has revived, exceeding its previous total.
But the calm has been disturbed. This month Israel’s leaders have taken their demand that the world—and the Palestinians—should recognise their state as specifically Jewish in exchange for a renewed freeze on building Jewish settlements in the West Bank, to Lod. Cabinet members have proposed “strengthening” the city’s population by bringing in more Jews and have approved a wider bill requiring new citizens to swear a loyalty oath accepting Israel as Jewish and democratic—in that order. Other measures are aimed at Israel’s Arabs, including a ban on teaching the Palestinian narrative that Israel expelled most of its Arabs in the war of independence.
Liberal Israelis fear that these measures may import the Arab-Israeli conflict, which had been largely confined to the territories occupied by Israel beyond the 1948 partition line, into Israel proper. Adding to the psychological barriers, the Lod authorities have erected physical ones. This year they have finished building a wall three metres high to separate Lod’s Jewish districts from its Arab ones. And where the Arab suburbs are cordoned off to prevent their spread, Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, encourages building for Jews to proceed with abandon.
His foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on the coalition’s far right, champions building quarters for soldiers’ families in the town. The equally chauvinistic interior minister, Eli Yishai, who heads an ultra-Orthodox party, Shas, grants building permits for religious Jews. A series of gated estates are sprouting across the city reserved for religious Zionists. “These blocks will ensure Lod stays Jewish,” says Haim Haddad, the town’s chief rabbi, one of the first to move into a new estate.
By contrast, old Arab houses are under threat of demolition. Now and again, bulldozers demolish a couple, stressing Arab vulnerability. A study by a liberal Israeli group called Shatil (“Seedling”) estimates that 70% of Arab homes in Lod lack legal status. Many municipal services, such as street lighting and rubbish collection, stop at the boundaries of Arab suburbs. Sixteen kilometres (ten miles) from Tel Aviv, Israel’s richest city, sewage flows through some of Lod’s Arab streets.
And this from a recent article in Ha’aretz:
The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill which gives the right to absorption committees of small communities in Israel to reject candidates if they do not meet specific criteria.
The bill has sparked wide condemnation and many believe it to be discriminatory and racist, since it allows communities to reject residents if they do no meet the criteria of “suitability to the community’s fundamental outlook”, which in effect enables them to reject candidates based on sex, religion, and socioeconomic status.
The bill is due to be presented before the Knesset plenum in the coming weeks.
Israeli Arab MKs were outraged by the proposal and walked out on the committee’s discussion of it.
MK Talab al-Sana (United Arab List – Ta’al) called the bill racist and said it was meant to prevent Arabs from joining Israeli towns. MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List – Ta’al) compared the bill to racist laws in Europe during World War Two, and the two told the committee members before leaving the hall: “We will not cooperate with this criminal law – you have crossed the line.”
The committee’s chairman, David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu), responded to claims the bill was meant to reject Arabs from joining Israeli towns. “In my opinion, every Jewish town needs at least one Arab. What would happen if my refrigerator stopped working on a Saturday?”