Language discrimination, another blow at Jewish- Arab equality in Israel

First published by the Arab Weekly on 6/8/2017

Israel has been replacing Arabic road names with the Hebrew names.

 

The Israeli Ministerial Committee on Legislation recently approved a draft bill that would end Arabic’s status as an official language of the country, despite an Arabic-speaking population that includes 20% of the state’s citizens.

This would have significant practical and moral implica­tions for Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens and Palestinians in Je­rusalem who are not citizens but whom Israel labels “residents.”

It would be a further blow to their fight for equality and to remain in their homeland regard­less of what state exists on it. It will add to their insecurity as citizens who may be transferred to a future Palestinian state either politically or physically or stripped of their citizenship to fulfil extremist Israeli politicians’ desire to make the country a purely Jewish state.

Arabic is used when certain services are provided and when Palestinians are required to com­plete official forms applying for official documents or services.

Israel has been replacing Arabic road names, particularly in East Jerusalem, with the Hebrew names that appear on signs in both Hebrew and Arabic, includ­ing “Al Quds” being listed as “Yerushalayim” in Arabic.

This, Israel hopes, will be im­planted in the minds of Palestin­ians and visitors who will become accustomed to the Hebrew names rendering the Arabic version as part of some distant history.

It is worth remembering that Is­raeli Arabs are a minority only be­cause of the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from the area when Israel was created in 1948. The discrimination and insecurity felt by Palestinian citizens of Israel is palpable.

The Centre for Arab Minor­ity Rights in Israel (Adalah) said Israel has enacted more than 50 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of the state. They include a “citizenship law” that bars Palestinian citizens from marrying Palestinians from the occupied Palestinian terri­tories and taking them to live in Israel.

Israeli society itself discrimi­nates against them through “admissions committees,” which Jewish communities can use to bar Palestinian citizens from liv­ing among them.

As for Bedouin citizens of Israel, the situation is dire. Israel has not recognised 45 villages they inhabit, depriving the areas of es­sential services. It has embarked on a plan to transfer them to a smaller number of locations and, in some cases, to build settle­ments for Jews only on sites they inhabited.

Even the Muslim call for prayer has been under attack and the government moved to silence its projection outside mosques be­cause it “disturbs” illegal settlers who moved into predominantly Muslim areas.

Contrast this with Canada where French is the mother tongue of 22% of the population but when Canadian Prime Minis­ter Justin Trudeau addresses news conferences abroad, he repeats his remarks in French, recognising the minority speaking part of his fellow Canadians.

Israel, on the other hand, is moving ahead with a “nation-state bill” that gives primacy to Jewish citizens. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu claims that “there is no contradiction at all between this bill and equal rights for all citizens of Israel.”

Any rational and fair-minded observer would reject that as­sertion and see this bill and the stripping of Arabic of its status as an official language as further proof, if any was needed, of Israeli policies that discriminate against a sizeable minority of its citizens and one that erodes visible signs of the historic Palestine’s Arab heritage.

A famous Arab song says: “The land speaks Arabic,” which people in historic Palestine still do but Israel wants them to only speak Hebrew. Rather than enrich Israel, it would be the poorer for the ac­tions of an extremist exclusionary government.

As printed

Palestinian Bedouins face Israeli discrimination from the river to the sea

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 5/12/2016

Palestinians transfer the rubbles of their housing tins after it was dismantled by Israeli bulldozers on 19th August 2013 [Saeed Qaq/Apaimages]

Image from Middle EST mONITOR: Palestinians transfer the rubbles of their housing tins after it was dismantled by Israeli bulldozers on 19th August 2013 [Saeed Qaq/Apaimages]

Will they or won’t they and when? This has been the question being raised constantly over the past few weeks about Israel’s intention to expel the Bedouins of Um Al-Hiran village in the Negev.

Their expulsion and the demolition of their village were to take place on Tuesday 22 November following an announcement by the Israeli Land Authority. A last minute appeal to the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court was rejected. In the event, the demolition order was postponed by police who claimed it was “to allow the legal process to exhaust itself following a last-minute appeal to the court”. However, it may also have been due to a show of solidarity by activists and members of the Knesset who spent the night there and possibly international pressure.

Responding to a parliamentary question on the day the demolition was to take place, the UK’s Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood said: “I have raised with the Israeli Ambassador the concerns expressed in the House of Commons about plans to demolish the Bedouin village of Umm Al-Hiran in the Negev. Demolition orders delivered to residents had stated that initial demolitions would occur on 22 November. Although the demolition did not happen yesterday, the threat remains.”

However, rather than call on Israel to end the threat to the village and to connect it to the services Jewish communities expect, he simply called on “the Israeli authorities and Bedouin community to work together to find a solution that meets the needs and respects the rights of the people affected. This should include a robust planning process that adequately consults and addresses the needs of Israel’s Bedouin communities.”

The “planning process” the British minister refers to has already determined that a settlement for Jews only would be built on the ruins of Um Al-Hiran. To add salt to the wound, the new Jewish settlement would be named Hiran.

Um Al-Hiran is not the only village facing demolition.  It is one of approximately 40 Bedouin villages which Israel does not recognise and has refused to provide with the necessary services. They are home to 85,000 of Israel’s 170,000 Bedouin citizens and, while the majority were moved to the Negev from their original locations in 1948, some of the villages predate the creation of Israel.

Another village, Al-Araqeeb came to prominence after Israel destroyed it repeatedly. Its inhabitants refused to leave and rebuilt it after each demolition. In June of this year, it was demolished for the 100th time while its residents were observing the month of Ramadan and therefore fasting from sunrise to sunset.

The Bedouin community in the Negev has been under threat of eviction from their villages for a number of years. Their plight was sealed in 2103 when the Prawer-Begin bill was approved by the Israeli Knesset with 43 votes for and 40 against. The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) called the plan “discriminatory” and claimed that it would result in the mass expulsion of the Arab Bedouin community in the Naqab (Negev) desert in the south of Israel. It argued that if fully implemented “it will result in the destruction of 35 “unrecognised” Arab Bedouin villages, the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel, and the dispossession of their historical lands in the Naqab.” Israel claimed the plan would provide the Bedouins with economic development and they would be better integrated into Israeli society.

The Prawer-Begin Plan was “halted” when one of its architects, Beni Begin, announced that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had accepted his recommendation to halt progress on the bill just before the end of 2013. Significantly, Begin admitted that contrary to reports, he had never approached the Bedouins with the plan and thus did not receive their approval on the matter. One could not imagine the fate of a Jewish Israeli community being decided without consultation with them. However, to this day it is not clear whether the bill was shelved or postponed.

It seems though that by targeting individual villages for demolition, Israel is continuing with its plan on a village by village basis. It is also continuing with its plan to populate the Negev with Jewish only communities, including five new settlements that will be constructed on the sites of the “unrecognised” Bir Hadaj and Katama villages.

The situation for Bedouins in the West Bank, who do not hold Israeli citizenship, is similar in many ways to their counterparts with Israeli citizenship. They number approximately 50,000. Their insecurity is particularly highlighted in “rea C, the part of the West Bank under both security and administrative Israeli control according to the Oslo Accords. Here, small communities living often in temporary structures have their structures destroyed by the Israeli army.

In July of this year, a leaked letter from eight European ambassadors to Israel representing Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Ireland and Norway protested the confiscation by the Israeli army of shelters for two “vulnerable” Bedouin communities. The letter claimed “these confiscations, as well as previous demolitions, compounded by the inability of humanitarian agencies to deliver relief items to the affected households, create a coercive environment that potentially pressures them to leave their current sites against their will. “If that scenario materialises, the UN expresses its concern that it may amount to forcible transfers, which are considered a grave breach of international humanitarian law.”

Another example of life as a Bedouin in the West Bank is reported here.

Israel has also developed plans to expel Palestinian Bedouins from their current villages East of Jerusalem to a “new town” without their knowledge or any consultation with them. The town would accommodate about 12,500 Bedouin from the Jahalin, Kaabneh and Rashaida tribes and would be located near Jericho in the Jordan Valley area of the West Bank. The arrogance of the colonialist Israeli state is exemplified by its claim the proposal “suits the ‘dynamic changes’ Bedouin society is undergoing as it moves from an agricultural society to ‘a modern society’ that earns its living by commerce, services, technical trades and more.” It does not seem to have consulted the people in question about whether they agree with this or not and what kind of future they see for themselves.

And so it seems the Bedouins that have inhabited historic Palestine, from the river to the sea, for far longer than Israel has existed, moving from one area to another as and when they wished, must now accept a future determined for them. Whether the state whose citizenship they hold in the Negev or their illegal occupier in the West Bank, Israel treats the Bedouins with contempt, making arbitrary decisions for them which in reality suit its colonialist agenda. How else does it explain replacing Bedouin villages with Jewish only settlements? This is pure discrimination and racism rather than “development”.

East Jerusalem is occupied but the hearts and minds of the children are not

This column first appeared in the Middle East Eye on 6/10/2016

Jerusalem has a special place in the hearts of people all over the world. I was fortunate to visit it again recently, or rather “return”, as my parents were both born in this great city.

My first sighting of the Dome of the Rock never fails to send a shiver down my spine. There is no other place like it. It is home to holy sites revered by followers of the world’s three great religions Islam, Christianity and Judaism. They are literally within shouting distance of each other.

Politically, Jerusalem is claimed by Israel as its “eternal united capital”, but the Palestinians too claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. No state, apart from Israel, considers it to be Israel’s capital and, in the absence of a Palestinian state, Palestinians can only dream of it becoming their capital.

The additional reality is that far from it being united, the city is divided into West Jerusalem, which is predominantly, if not exclusively, inhabited by Jews today after the expulsion of its Palestinian residents by Jewish gangs in 1948, and East Jerusalem with an overwhelmingly Palestinian population but an increasing number of Jewish settlers in illegal settlements which Israel has been building since the capture of East Jerusalem in 1967.

One city, two worlds

The contrast between the two Jerusalems could not be starker. As a friend who recently visited for the first time told me: “I could not believe the difference between west and east. The west in many places had a western, American feel with wide roads, pavements and grass verges, while the east seemed underdeveloped, crowded and chaotic.”

There are many aspects of the occupation of East Jerusalem that are troubling, including the settlements, the wall, house demolitions, house evictions, arbitrary closures, attacks on Al-Aqsa mosque and lack of permits for Palestinians to build and expand. However, the situation for children is particularly disturbing.

A quick drive through east and west reveals almost no playgrounds or parks for Palestinian children in East Jerusalem to use while a visitor would encounter many well-equipped playgrounds and parks in the predominantly Jewish west.

While Palestinian families occasionally make use of facilities in West Jerusalem, they do so reluctantly, fearing discrimination and harassment by their Jewish counterparts. Instead, some choose to make a journey to Ramallah or Jericho for their children’s and their leisure outings. This is sad because it reduces the opportunities for interaction between the two communities, especially the children, before their characterisation of the other is formed through parental or societal influence.

You have to ask what the municipality presiding over both parts of the city is doing to deliver services to the Palestinian taxpayers, who cannot turn to the Palestinian Authority for them because Israel does not allow it to operate in Jerusalem.

Never shall they meet

Opportunities for Jewish and Palestinian children to mix at school are almost non-existent. Jerusalem’s only Arab-Jewish school has faced attacks from Jewish extremists including an arson attack in November 2014, anti-Arab graffiti in June 2015, and even had its listing on Waze, a google-owned app changed to “a threat”.

While the two populations are largely segregated, the level of poverty in the city affects both communities with some 50 percent of Jerusalem’s 850,000 residents living below the poverty line including 82 percent of the population in East Jerusalem.

The impact of Israel’s “security needs” on Palestinian children is profound. Every year, hundreds are arrested and interrogated. Between January and the end of August, 560 children alone were detained by Israel. Many are taken during the night or in the early hours of the morning. They are reportedly often deprived of the presence of a parent or lawyer and sometimes are made to sign confessions written in Hebrew under duress.

In the absence of reasonable provision of leisure facilities and under a brutal daily occupation you would think that children can find some comfort, enjoyment and security in their East Jerusalem schools.

Well, on the face of it, this should be possible. However, in reality there is no happy story to tell. Israel, through its occupation, is on a mission to attract the hearts and minds of Palestinian children, to love it, adore it and accept it as the ruling entity over them, without question.

During my visit, I witnessed the start of the new school year. Families were busy buying books, stationary and the status symbol school bag for their children. The bag tends to be in the style of the current craze. This year, it seemed anything depicting images from Disney’s Frozen was a must have.

One of my young relatives was upset not because she had not bought a Frozen bag and book covers, but because her cousin was also planning to buy the same. “Why can’t she buy Mini Mouse?” she asked. Children will be children. She, like most if not all Palestinian children, was oblivious to the battle for her identity and belonging that is being waged by Israel on Jerusalem’s youngest residents.

Chronic shortage of space

East Jerusalem’s schools suffer from a basic lack of infrastructure and resources.

A report published in August by the nonprofit organisation Ir Amim found that the number of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian children studying in the “informal education system” – schools which are publicly recognised, but only partially funded and operated by third parties – has surpassed those studying in both the formal education system, which are fully publicly funded and operated, and those who study in private schools.

Ir Amim reported that the shortage of classrooms in East Jerusalem had grown to 2,672 units, stating that “authorities have perpetuated the classroom shortage by not allocating sufficient land to build more classrooms in East Jerusalem”.

The report also worryingly noted that 36 percent of students drop out of school in East Jerusalem. Anecdotally, the number of boys that drop out is higher than girls. As men are often the main breadwinner in families here, this raises a serious question about what the boys go on to do with their time, considering their low skill levels and the lack of opportunities for employment, and its overall impact on the society.

As a result of parent perception of the inadequacy of public schools, many are forced to turn to private education. This is extremely costly, particularly when one considers the economic situation in East Jerusalem characterised by low wages and high taxes.

Hearts and minds

The other worrying feature of the current situation is Israel’s attempt to influence children’s understanding of their identity and how they should view it. It has been trying to do this through the imposition of the Israeli curriculum as opposed to the PA curriculum in East Jerusalem schools. Israel has been trying to do this for years but, having faced severe resistance from parents and the schools themselves, it is now linking the release of investment in schools to the adoption of the curriculum.

People I talked to during my recent visit referred to this as “educational blackmail”. Several told me they felt that Israel “was brainwashing our children to forget their Palestinian identity while at the same time becoming admirers of their occupier,” as one put it.

The Israeli curriculum refers to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and encourages children to celebrate what Israel has done since capturing it or, as they refer to it, as its “unification”. This is only one example of how Israel attempts to impose its own narrative on impressionable young children in early school years.

My recent experience though tells me that Israel cannot win the battle for the hearts of the children who are Palestinian, feel Palestinian and will grow up as Palestinian. Israel may feel that imposing its own narrative through blackmail may change minds, but it will fail. Palestinian schools may adopt the Israeli curriculum in order to secure funds, but Israel should realise that the industrious and proud Palestinians will ensure their children think Palestinian too.

East Jerusalem may be under occupation, but the hearts and minds of the children are not.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a longstanding campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com. He writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.