TEL AVIV, ISRAEL (Analysis) — Who needs a Nation State Law? What does the insistence and the passing of a law that states Israel’s exclusive rights to the land and the state mean? Since many laws and the reality on the ground make it seemingly obvious that Israel is already a state for Jews, one would think this law is redundant at least, if not totally unnecessary.
So is Israel’s government suffering from a serious case of insecurity? The question why this law was necessary is particularly interesting considering that the Knesset, the Israeli house of representatives, has legislated dozens of laws that make certain that within occupied Palestine — or Israel — Jews are privileged and that the Jewish and native Palestinian communities remain completely segregated from each other. This law added nothing that was not already stated in other laws. Palestinians, in comparison, do not seem to need a law that says they have a right to the land and that their language is superior to others. Still, this Israeli government, which claims Israel has historical rights that date back to biblical times, felt the need to pass this law.
According to Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, there are over 65 Israeli laws that discriminate directly or indirectly against Palestinian citizens in Israel and/or Palestinian residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. The number of discriminatory laws grows constantly.
From its very inception, the State of Israel passed laws that limit the rights of Palestinians in all areas of life — from citizenship rights to the right to political participation, land and housing rights, education rights, cultural and language rights, religious rights, and due-process rights.
On its website, Adalah maintains a database — published in Arabic, Hebrew and English — that summarizes the contents of each law, the circumstances of the law’s enactment, and the grounds for its classification as a discriminatory law. For example, The Nationality Law is a fundamental law that defines who gets to be a citizen, and several sections of the law deny the rights of Palestinian refugees who were residents of Palestine prior to 1948 to gain citizenship or residence status.
In some cases the State uses laws that pre-date the State of Israel. For example, Trading with the Enemy Act from 1939 prohibits trade with enemy states. This Act is used to prevent books published in Arab countries from being imported, even though for more than half of the population Arabic is the mother tongue.
The current government of Israel has made claims that courts, and particularly the Supreme Court, have liberal tendencies that are at odds with the government’s policies, particularly regarding the Palestinians — and to circumvent this the government has been working on legislation to limit the courts’ jurisdiction. Prime Minister Netanyahu, not wanting to give his coalition partners who are to the right of his Likud party an opening to outdo him, had to enshrine the Nation State Law as a Basic Law. By doing so, he accords constitutional standing to the discriminatory laws, practices and policies of the state so that, if challenged in court, the judges would have to rule in favor of the state.
Then again, according to Adalah’s former International Advocacy Coordinator, Amjad Iraqi, the numbers prove that the courts were never, in fact, adverse to Israel’s discriminatory policies. According to a study of 9,490 cases from 1995 to 2016, the court dismissed 87 percent of petitions filed against government laws and decisions. Even Aharon Barak, who presided as Chief Justice and was considered very liberal-minded, rejected 84.2 percent of such petitions.
However — even with all of these laws and legal measures that secure the privilege of the Jews in occupied Palestine; and even with the enormous military and a vast security apparatus, which includes a massive wall, special roads and checkpoints that keep Palestinians at bay — one senses a deep sense of insecurity in Israeli Jews, not felt or seen among Palestinians.
Israeli society is a fearful society. Constant and unnerving fear is at the heart of everything that is Israeli. At the same time, fear is very obviously absent from Palestinian life. One can see this in all aspects of life, and it became clear to me once again just recently while in Jerusalem. As I was completing my run the hour was late and, as the day turned to night, I found myself in a forested area near what used to be the Palestinian village of Sataf, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. One rarely finds Israelis in a forested area in the dark. At night, Israelis are told, one must never venture into the forest because of the risk of Arabs lurking in the dark waiting to kill us. Finishing my run I noticed people in the forest and, before I saw who they were, I assumed they must be engaged in something illicit.
When I got close enough, I noticed children, mothers with baby strollers, families having a picnic enjoying the cool evening breeze that the Jerusalem hills offer at the end of a hot summer day. I also noticed that they were all Palestinians. Were they not informed of the dangers? How could they be there in the dark night, in the forest, calm and oblivious to the fears that dominate the lives of Israelis? How is it, I asked myself, that Palestinians are not afraid to walk in the night?
Similarly, when one walks in the Old City of Jerusalem, one sees children everywhere. Many Palestinian families still live there and, just like their fathers and mothers and grandparents did before them, they run up and down the narrow streets and alleyways of this ancient city. The Old City is also full of heavily armed soldiers and police, and children, teenagers and young adults often get harrassed, beaten and detained by these Israeli security forces that roam the Old City. Yet they do not seem to be afraid.
In contrast, the children of Israeli settlers who live in the Old City — as in many other places where Jews live in occupied Palestine — always walk with armed escorts. In the Old City you will very often see a young child or maybe two, with one armed guard in front and one behind and at least one armed guard by the door of every home that was taken by settlers. It makes you wonder who is occupied and who is not.
The Nation State Law, the walls, and the checkpoints are all erected and maintained by Israel in order to cultivate and maintain the fear within Israeli society and the keep it segregated from the natives of the land, the Palestinians. Palestinians do not need a law stating that they are a nation, that Palestine is their country, or that Arabic is the language of Palestine. They do not need an army or security guards to follow them around. Unlike the Israeli government and Israeli society, they are free, they are secure, and they see no reason to fear.
Top Photo | An Israeli soldier aims his rifle at an unarmed Palestinian during a protest against Israel’s apartheid wall in the Palestinian village of Bilin near Ramallah. Majdi Mohammed | AP
Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”