In a country that continues to call itself “the only democracy in the Middle East,” it would appear that the days of Israel trying to present expanding segregation in the context of liberal values are over.
While the legislation calling for non-Jews to declare loyalty to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state has been billed as Netanyahu’s capitulation to his coalition in order to extend a partial settlement freeze, the reality is that Israel has shifted its primary target of controlling Palestinians to its own Arab citizens.
Seemingly in tune with the political climate, days before the vote, the military’s Home Front command, police and prison services held a training operation for a scenario where Palestinian citizens of Israel rioted in response to an agreement with the Palestinian Authority that involved their transfer to a Palestinian state. Israeli radio reported the scenario involved the establishment of a hypothetical internment camp in the Galilee to process those detained in the unrest.
While now being put into action, this shift can be traced back to the last Israeli polls that ran congruently with the Gaza war. Back then, the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu leader and now foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman, described Israel’s largest threat as its “internal enemy” – meaning Arabs in Israel. At the same time, the centrist now-opposition leader of the Kadima Party, Tzipi Livni, had contended that Israel’s Palestinian citizens would need to fulfill their national aspirations in a future separate Palestinian state.
This redirection of political and security attention display both the Israeli establishment’s comfort in their ability to maintain domination in the territories occupied since1967, and desire to solidify Jewish dominance within the 1949 armistice lines.
Speaking recently with Zachariah Zubidi, a leader in the Al-Alqsa Martyers Brigades during the second intifada and formerly topping Israel’s assassination list, he contended that “the Palestinian yard is empty of resistance,” in reference to the struggle in the West Bank. “Now the Palestinians have nothing to do but stay in their land until there is a change in the world,” he said dejectedly, referring to the internal division between Hamas and Fatah and the degeneration of national identity into factional loyalties as obstacles impaling unified struggle.
In this environment, where there is an absence of even internal collective strength to rely on, the blow leveled by the Israeli army is especially debilitating. When the campaign against the Israeli wall’s annexation of local farmland began in 2008 in the town of Ni’lin, it was a forceful symbol of Palestinian unity in mass popular protest. But as the human costs mounted and internal rifts expanded, participation in the struggle took a sharp decline.
However, amidst this sharp decline in West Bank activity and sealing off of Gaza from the rest of the world, much momentum has been gaining in the struggle of Arab-Israelis (48’ers as they’re commonly known in reference to their residence in Israel’s controlled territory at the end of the 1948 war). “The political energy and dynamic is here. People here have started to feel that they are the objective of the main Zionist politics now,” said Samieh Jabbarin, a leading activist of the leftist Palestinian 48’ers movement, Abnaa el Balad (People of the Homeland Movement).
While the struggle of 48’ers isn’t near the level of their counterparts in the West Bank and Gaza at the time of the outbreak of the Second Intifada, it is the only sector of Palestinian society to have expanded its resistance since the last Intifada. Clearly this is something Israel has recognized and explains the shifting security attention to defend the increasingly open policies of racial oppression.
It appears that Israel now feels secure enough in its military might, and confidence in the support of its powerful allies that it no longer needs to couch its actions in a progressive case. Yet despite the expanding dispossession, for the first time in 62 years the future of Palestinian liberation appears to lie in the heart of where the Nakba started. And this is the movement that continues to gain strength in the face of every Israeli act of injustice.
Jesse Rosenfeld is a journalist based in Ramallah and Tel Aviv-Jaffa. He is an editor of www.thedailynuisance.com. This commentary was written for THE DAILY STAR.