Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Facade of Israel

"Israel’s democratic facade erodes

Ziyaad Lunat

A Palestinian home torched during the Acre riots.

Recent riots in the Israeli town of Acre have attracted unwanted attention towards its Arab residents, Palestinian citizens of Israel who make a third of the city’s population. The disturbances began after Jewish extremists attacked a Palestinian man for driving during the religious holiday of Yom Kippur, when traffic in Israel largely comes to a halt. This was followed by an outbreak of violence during which Jewish mobs attacked the Palestinian neighborhood in Acre’s old city, throwing stones and torching homes.

These events have been interpreted by mainstream media as an aberration in Israel’s model “democracy.” The BBC echoed official Israeli discourse, emphasizing that the so-called “Israeli-Arabs” “have full rights as Israeli citizens.” Meanwhile, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called Acre “a shining example of co-existence.” However, the latest disturbances have brought to the fore a deeper issue: the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from inside Israel by Israeli Jewish extremists. According to Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, the violence at Acre was reminiscent of Bosnia, with mobs dehumanizing and inciting hatred against the Palestinians.

Historically, the Zionist state has been in the forefront of the efforts to suppress its Palestinian citizens, through a complex legal framework that circumspectly discriminates against them, but allows for Israel to sustain a “democratic” facade. One example of state discrimination is Israel’s policy of expropriating land from Palestinians and reserving it for “the Jewish people in perpetuity” and allowing the Jewish National Fund to administer these properties. This is matched by a separate, but related, policy of house demolitions linked to severe restriction on building permits that are designed to contain Palestinian urban growth within Israel. Therefore, the state has acted as a guarantor of the fragile and often contradictory relationship between democratic values and Zionist’s racial doctrine.

Israel provides political representation for its Palestinian citizens, as well as other social and economic rights, but only to the extent of their submissive acceptance of Jewish domination of the public sphere. This means that only the Zionist establishment can dictate the rules of the game for which the Palestinians are allowed to maintain their citizenship rights. In turn, the Israeli state displays its Palestinian citizens as a token of its democratic principles and practices to the rest of the world.