Israel approves ‘Jewish state’ bill, pushes for right to revoke citizenship

Israel will no longer be defined in its Basic Laws as “Jewish and democratic,” but instead as “the national homeland of the Jewish people” according to a proposal endorsed by the Israeli government on Sunday, amid growing violence and discrimination against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and Bedouins in Occupied Palestine.

Following a stormy meeting, the cabinet voted 14 to six in favor of a proposal to anchor in law Israel’s status as the national homeland of the Jewish people, with ministers from the two centrist parties voting against, Israeli media reported Sunday.

“The cabinet today approved a draft basic law: Israel is the national state of the Jewish people,” a statement from the Likud party, one of whose MPs was a sponsor, read.

The proposal would mean Israel would no longer be defined in its Basic Laws as “Jewish and democratic,” but instead as “the national homeland of the Jewish people.”

Critics, who include the government’s top legal adviser, say the proposed change to the laws that act as Israel’s effective constitution could institutionalize discrimination against its 1.7 million Palestinian citizens.

By giving preeminence to the “Jewish” character of Israel over its democratic nature, the law in its current format is anti-democratic, they say.

The Israel Democracy Institute said that the state’s Jewish identity is already contained in its 1948 declaration of statehood.

“However, that declaration also emphasizes the Jewish state’s absolute commitment to the equality of all of its citizens – an essential component missing from the proposals being presented to the government today,” IDI president Yohanan Plesner said in a statement.

Netanyahu insisted the law would give equal weight to both characteristics.

“There are those who would like the democratic to prevail over the Jewish and there are those who would like the Jewish to prevail over the democratic… both of these values are equal and both must be considered to the same degree,” he said.

The version of the “Jewish State” bill approved by ministers on Sunday represents a nod from Netanyahu to the most hardline elements of his party and ruling coalition as talk grows of an early election.

But it will be incorporated into a hybrid proposal approved by Netanyahu, the Likud statement said.

“The bill will pass a preliminary reading in the Knesset this Wednesday and will be revised to conform with a government bill which will be drafted and approved by the cabinet soon,” it said.

The proposal has provoked uproar among MPs and ministers from the center and the left, who fear the text legalized and institutionalized discrimination.

Revoking rights of 1948 Palestinians

Netanyahu said Sunday that the Israeli government is to seek powers to strip 1948 Palestinians or Palestinian residents of Jerusalem of their residency and welfare rights if they or their relatives participate in acts of unrest.

His comments at the weekly cabinet meeting came as Interior Minister Gilad Erdan used existing powers to revoke the residency of a Palestinian resident of annexed East Jerusalem who had already served 10 years in prison for his alleged role in a 2001 bombing.

Netanyahu told ministers that the proposed change to the law would seek authority to revoke the rights of any Palestinian in Occupied Palestine and East Jerusalem who took part in, or incited, violence, even stone-throwing.

He said the proposals would complement the policy of demolishing the family homes of those involved in attacks on Israelis which his government adopted in annexed East Jerusalem earlier this month despite condemnation by human rights watchdogs.

Punitive house demolitions have been used by Israel for years in the West Bank, but demolitions in annexed East Jerusalem this month drew condemnation from human rights groups, which said the practice amounted to collective punishment as the victims were not the perpetrators of attacks but their families.

“It cannot be that those who attack Israeli citizens and call for the elimination of the State of Israel will enjoy rights such as National Insurance – and their family members as well, who support them,” Netanyahu told ministers.

“This law is important in order to exact a price from those who engage in attacks and incitement, including the throwing of stones and firebombs,” his office quoted him as saying.

If the “Jewish homeland” proposal becomes law, it would mean “the institutionalization of racism, which is already a reality on the street, in both law and at the heart of the political system,” warned Majd Kayyal of Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

“Democracy guarantees that all citizens have the same rights and are equal before the state, but this racist change introduces a distinction on the basis of religion,” he said.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, the government’s legal adviser, has also criticized the proposal, saying it weakens the state’s democratic character.

Palestinian citizens of Israel, who account for about 20 percent of the population in Occupied Palestine, are the descendents of Palestinian who remained on their land when the Zionist state was established in 1948. The majority of Palestinians were killed, expelled from their homes, or detained in work camps.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly expressed his refusal to compromise the longstanding Palestinian stance against recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.

Palestinians fear that identifying Israel as such will cancel the right of return of Palestinian refugees or the right to reparations for those affected by the creation of Israel in 1948.

Meanwhile in a statement on Sunday, Erdan confirmed he had cancelled the permanent residence of Mahmoud Nadi, who served a 10 year prison sentence for driving a man responsible for a 2001 bombing at a Tel Aviv nightclub.

Nadi was convicted of being an accomplice to murder, helping cause serious injury and helping someone to stay in Israel illegally.

The decision to strip him of his residency was communicated to him in a letter sent by Erdan, which gave no explanation of the timing of the move.

“In these circumstances, given the severity of your actions and the flagrant breach of trust as a resident of Israel… I have decided to make use of my authority to cancel your permanent residency in Israel,” Erdan wrote.

The decision involves cancellation of Nadi’s entry in the population registry and the revocation of his blue Israeli ID card, and means he will no longer be eligible to receive any social benefits, such as national insurance or health insurance.

The so-called “blue ID” is an Israeli identification card issued by the interior ministry that entitles holders to national insurance and freedom of movement throughout the country.

“Israel is facing a wave of terror and incitement, in which (Israeli) residents are carrying out attacks, aiding them and justifying them, and even inciting others to carry out crimes and acts of murder,” Erdan said.

“These people cannot continue enjoying the permanent status of resident of Israel, and I will work with all my power to cancel their residency and prevent them from receiving any financial benefit which this residency grants,” he said.

Palestinian Bedouin community battles eviction by Israel

After living under decades of Israeli occupation, Palestinian Bedouins now face an Israeli plan for their forced displacement to urban areas, which, they say, does not suit their nomadic lifestyle.

Abu Raed, a 66-year-old leader of a Palestinian Bedouin community near Jerusalem, described the Israeli plan as “the worst threat we have ever faced.”

The area where he and his family live was labeled by the Israeli government “E1” – one of Israel’s settlement expansion plans that was approved by the Israeli authorities in 1999 but was delayed due the international pressure.

If realized, the E1 plan, which aims to build new illegal Zionist settlements on an area of 12,000 dunams, will link the settlements of Maale Adumim, Mishor Adumim and Kfar Adumim in the occupied West Bank to East Jerusalem.

One dunam of land is roughly equivalent to 1,000 square meters.

To achieve this, Israeli authorities will relocate Raed’s family, along with many Bedouin communities, to the Jordan Valley near Jericho.

“We heard that the Israelis would bring thousands of outsiders into this land, which would mean forced displacement for us. All the Jewish settlements around will be combined and united with Jerusalem,” Abu Raed told Anadolu.

He said that moving into an urban township would bring their traditional lifestyle – which they have enjoyed for centuries – to an end.

“Our life depends on livestock. We cannot live in the city. That is against our lifestyle. We cannot feed and water our livestock in a city,” he lamented.

Palestinian Bedouin, he said, also fear losing the privilege of keeping at least 200 meters between their homes, in accordance with their traditions – a custom that would become untenable in the city.

“Bedouin women don’t associate with outsiders, but in a crowded town, they won’t be able to keep this tradition anymore,” he said.

“City life is totally against our lifestyle. We are shepherds. We only know how to feed animals. We will be like brutes in the city,” he added.

He asserted that they didn’t reject modernity. They just want to become a modern society – but in the mountains instead of the city.

Mohammed al-Korshan, head of the NGO Jerusalem Bedouin Cooperative Committee, says the Bedouin living in Khan al-Ahmar had taken refuge in the area after becoming refugees when Israel was created in 1948.

The roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict date back to 1917, when the British government, in the now-famous Balfour Declaration, called for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

Jewish immigration rose considerably under the British administration of Palestine, which was consolidated by a League of Nations “mandate” in 1922.

In 1948, with the end of the mandate, a new state – Israel – was declared inside historical Palestine.

As a result, some 700,000 Palestinians fled their homes, or were forcibly expelled, while hundreds of Palestinian villages and cities were razed to the ground by invading Zionist forces.

The Palestinian diaspora has since become one of the largest in the world. Palestinian refugees are currently spread across the region and in other countries, while many have settled in refugee camps in the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel then occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the 1967 Middle East War. It later annexed the holy city in 1980, claiming it as the capital of the self-proclaimed Zionist state – a move never recognized by the international community.

According to Korshan, the Bedouin tribesmen who lost their land in the wake of the creation of Israel had settled in the Khan al-Ahmar area, refusing – for two main reasons – to move into refugee camps.

“Firstly, we thought we would get our land back very soon. And the second reason was to keep our traditional lifestyle,” he said.

“We currently live near Jerusalem; we don’t want to move away from the holy city due to its religious and commercial significance,” he added.

“Israel’s construction of the separation barrier has already isolated us from Jerusalem,” Korshan lamented.

According to the Ramallah-based Palestinian government, the separation barrier – which snakes through the West Bank, isolating large swathes of Palestinian territory – cuts some 50,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem off from the city center.

Asking European countries to help them against the settlement plan, Abu Raed voiced fear that there would be no local Palestinian village left in the area if Israel forced them off the land.

“It is impossible to bring peace with this kind of eviction plan,” he argued.

Last month, Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the European Union sought to persuade Israel not to take a series of moves in the occupied West Bank deemed “red lines” by the union – including settlement building in the E1 area.

According to the paper, the European Union believes that crossing any of these “red lines” by Israel could undermine the possibility of a future Palestinian state alongside Israel – a risk that could draw further European sanctions against Israel.

Palestinian leaders continue to demand the establishment of an independent state in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, with East Jerusalem – currently occupied by Israel – as its capital.

In November 1988, Palestinian leaders led by Yasser Arafat declared the existence of a state of Palestine inside the 1967 borders and the state’s belief “in the settlement of international and regional disputes by peaceful means in accordance with the charter and resolutions of the United Nations.”

Heralded as a “historic compromise,” the move implied that Palestinians would agree to accept only 22 percent of historic Palestine, in exchange for peace with Israel. It is now believed that only 17 percent of historic Palestine is under Palestinian control following the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) this year set November 2016 as the deadline for ending the Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967 and establishing a two-state solution.

According to PA estimations, 134 countries have so far recognized the State of Palestine, although the number is disputed and several recognitions by what are now European Union member states date back to the Soviet era.

It is worth noting that numerous pro-Palestine activists support a one-state solution, arguing that the creation of a Palestinian state beside Israel would not be sustainable. They also believe that the two-state solution, which is the only option considered by international actors, won’t solve existing discrimination, nor erase economic and military tensions.

Source: Al-Akhbar English

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