Banksy’s classic Christmas card shows a picture of Joseph and Mary crossing the desert on their way to Bethlehem and are blocked by the infamous apartheid wall that separates Israel from Palestine and the West Bank. The piece first appeared at Santa’s Ghetto exhibit in London in 2005, which followed Banksy’s trip to the middle east.
As the world celebrates Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday, Israel plans to demolish yet another Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank. Last week a law enshrining the status of Palestinians in Israel as second-class citizens was enacted. Today, more than ever, it is impossible to deny that apartheid is alive and well on both sides of the green line, as the pre-1967 armistice border is known.
First expelled from their homes in the Negev, inside Israel, by the Israeli army in the 1950s, Khan al-Ahmar’s residents are today facing another expulsion, as the Benjamin Netanyahu government seeks to expand nearby Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law. Set east of Jerusalem in an area known as E1, Khan al-Ahmar is one of 46 Palestinian communities the UN considers at “high risk of forcible transfer”.
Forcing a people under occupation from their homes, demolishing their children’s school and pushing them off the land they make a living from is not only a war crime, but also serves a clear political agenda: expelling the area’s Palestinian residents would pave the way for Israeli annexation of their land, earmarked for Jewish-only settlements. This would essentially split the West Bank in half and prevent the possibility of establishing a contiguous Palestinian state.
Yet it is abundantly clear that these shameful discriminatory practices do not stop at the green line. Netanyahu’s nation-state law – the latest example of a deluge of discriminatory legislation – is perhaps the final nail in democracy’s coffin, cementing in law a racist doctrine of “separate and unequal”. In Israel, the law states, Hebrew is the sole official language, the Jewish people have the exclusive right to national self-determination, and the “state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value, and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation”. This law, which fails to mention the words “democracy” or “equality” even once, constitutionally codifies Jewish supremacy and tells Palestinians like me: you’re not welcome here.
After voting against the nation-state law in the Knesset, I stepped out of parliament and encountered Netanyahu in the parking lot. I told him he’ll go down in history as the first prime minister of Israeli apartheid. As he was getting into his armored car, Netanyahu smirked and yelled: “How dare you speak like this about the only democracy in the Middle East …” His scornful words and chauvinistic disdain capture perfectly this law’s repugnant spirit, and what being a Palestinian in Israel feels like: you are mere guests in our Jewish home, second-class citizens who should be thankful for the crumbs we so generously give you.
For Netanyahu and his government, we are existential threats to be fought or internal enemies to be purged, never equal members in a democratic society. Rather than working equally for the benefit of all citizens, irrespective of their race, religion, ethnicity or national affiliation, Israel will now promote the development of exclusive Jewish communities.
The scheduled demolition of Khan al-Ahmar is by no means exceptional. Since Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967, 99.76% of the “state-owned land” Israel has allocated in the area has gone to Jewish settlers, who are a mere 12% of the area’s population – leaving a meager 0.24% for Palestinians, who constitute 88% of the inhabitants. As a Human Rights Watch report states: “While Israeli settlements flourish, Palestinians under Israeli control live in a time warp – not just separate, not just unequal, but sometimes even pushed off their lands and out of their homes.” This holds true across the green line, where Israel is scheduled to raze the Arab village of Umm al-Hiran, in the Negev, and displace its residents – who are Israeli citizens – to make room for a Jewish-only town by the name of Hiran.
Netanyahu has been encouraged by President Trump’s deafening silence over Israeli abuses of Palestinian rights and the administration’s green-lighting of Israel’s criminal settlements enterprise. This has emboldened him to intensify his bigoted rhetoric and racist practices – much like his kindred spirit Viktor Orbán, the xenophobic Hungarian leader (and supporter of Hungary’s Nazi-era ruler Miklós Horthy), who Netanyahu met last week. Yet no matter how hard Netanyahu and his government try, no racist law or policy will drive us, an indigenous people, from the land of our ancestors.
The ceaseless attacks on civil society organizations and critics of the occupation, and the unrelenting campaign to exclude us – the Palestinian citizens of Israel – from legitimate political participation, are an affront to anyone who believes in democracy and justice. A country cannot call itself a democracy while it keeps millions of people under occupation for decades, subjects the Gaza Strip to an inhumane blockade (aptly described as the world’s largest open-air prison), and treats 20% of its population as second-class citizens.
A vibrant and flourishing democracy is not a partisan interest of Palestinians, but our mutual interest – Jews and Arabs alike. Today we must choose: either segregation and racial supremacy, or democracy and equality. I promise to continue working for a just and inclusive society for all. Will you join me?
• Aida Touma-Sliman represents the Hadash/Joint List alliance in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset
This opinion article first featured in the Guardian Juli 23. 2018
IN HIS MEMOIR, the Israeli journalist Hirsh Goodman described how he returned home from the Six Day War in June 1967 to hear the country’s founding father and first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, speak on the radio. “Israel, he said, better rid itself of the territories and their Arab population as soon as possible,” recalled Goodman. “If it did not Israel would soon become an apartheid state.”