Week 5: Palestinian Citizens of Israel

Palestinian citizens of Israel face regular discrimination in policing, employment, housing, and every other facet of life. As the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens in Israel has called for January 30 to be an International Day for Supporting the Rights of the Palestinian Citizens of Israel, the Kumi Now community is this week turning our attention to these citizens. Here’s what you need to know about discrimination in Israel and what you can do so that together we can rise up.

Topic: Palestinian Citizens of Israel

Making up more than 20% of the population in Israel, Palestinian citizens encounter discrimination in almost every aspect of daily life. While Palestinians citizens in Israel don’t face the exact same discriminatory issues as their Palestinian sisters and brothers in the occupied territory, they still face an intersectionality of issues based on their identities as women (Week 43), Bedouins (Week 39), and indigenous persons (Week 32), among other aspects of their identities. 

As a result, Arab citizens in Israel run into problems educating their children, getting to work, getting married to the spouse of their choice, starting businesses, having bank accounts, capitalizing on tourism, buying an apartment, building new homes, getting a job, procuring books or watching television programming in their own language, and being accepted to university. The Arab minority continues to face oppression and many boycott elections as a result. In practice, Israel is firstly a Jewish state that creates a second-class non-Jewish citizenry.
While approximately 20% of Israel’s population lives below the poverty line, 53.3% of Arab families and 66% of Arab children live in poverty. 

A 2016 report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found Israel to have one of the most unequal economies of OECD countries. Employment is a large problem in the Arab community, especially for women partially due to a lack of childcare centers in Arab localities. Of more than 85,000 employees in high tech companies only 1,200 are Arabs. Only 2.5% of researchers in Israel are Arab. In 2016, Arabs made up only 9.25% of government employees and there are still entire government departments and bodies that contain no Arab employees, including for example the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, the Government Publications Office, the Department of Transportation, and the Knesset Television station.

The low socioeconomic status and employment stem in part from the relatively low levels of education in the Arab community. 84% of Jewish Israelis aged fifteen and over have completed elementary school, whereas, amongst Arabs of the same age, only 37% have finished. The Central Bureau of Statistics also demonstrates that the percentage of the workforce with higher education degrees among the Arab population is 17%, while the number stands at 40% among Jews. Moreover, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam scores of Arab students are 20% lower than those of Jewish students, regardless of their socioeconomic background. Dropout rates further demonstrate an immense gap between the education given to the Jewish population and that given to the Arab population. Whereas only 8% of Jewish students leave high school early, the figure for Arab students is 32%. Rather than mitigate these inequalities through affirmative action, the state invests far less in Arab schools. According to statistics from the Ministry of Education, Jewish students receive 35–68% more funds per student than their Arab counterparts of the same socioeconomic background. 

Discrimination against Arab students persists in higher education, as well. While Arabs are 26% of the college-age population in Israel, they account for only 16.1% of its undergraduate students, 13% of students pursuing a master’s degree, and 6.3% of students pursuing doctoral degrees. This is largely due to unequal funding at lower-levels of education, but it is also partially due to the fact that there are no universities in Israel that offer studies in Arabic. The few colleges that do, have limited funds and resources. Many Palestinian Arab students end up choosing to study in the occupied Palestinian territory, Jordan and elsewhere to get their degrees.
The state’s deliberate unwillingness to approve master plans for Arab localities and to distribute building permits has given rise to a housing shortage within Arab localities, although the State of Israel has allocated lands and provided planning services for over six hundred Jewish communities since its establishment. Aside from seven townships that the State created to concentrate the Bedouin Arab population in the southern Naqab, it has not created any other Arab locality despite the population of the Arab community growing sixteen-fold since 1948. 

Only four Arab localities (Nazareth, Taibeh, Tira, and Abu Basma) have planning and building committees. The other Arab localities must rely on regional councils, which do not have the capacity to provide adequate attention or resources for small, local development projects and often prioritize Jewish localities. This results in disproportionately high unlicensed construction in the Arab community. Currently, over 50,000 Arab families in Israel live in houses without permits. Thus, at least 200,000 Arab citizens (roughly one-fifth of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel) live under constant threat of home demolition. Rather than solving the issue of illegal construction at its root, the state continues to pursue a policy that retroactively punishes Arab citizens for crimes they have no choice but to commit. In April 2017, the Kaminitz Bill, which will further criminalize building violations and intensify enforcement of the law through increased home demolitions, larger fines, and heavier sentences for offenders passed into law.

The Nationality and Entry into Israel Law, also referred to as the Citizenship and Family Unification Law, was originally passed on July 31, 2003 as a temporary “security” measure. The Knesset, however, has renewed it every year. The law, which effectively denies citizenship and residency status to spouses of Israeli citizens from the occupied Palestinian territory (in addition to several so-called “enemy states”), was renewed again in June 2017. As a result of cross-border social ties between the Palestinian Arab communities in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, this law disproportionately impacts Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, dividing and imposing major financial, physical, and emotional burdens on the 24,000 Arab families that it affects in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. Although passed under the auspices of security concerns, the law seeks to maintain Jewish demographic primacy by limiting the number of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. To put this simply, Israel is trying to increase the numbers of Jewish citizens while trying to reduce the number of citizens of Palestinian descent. 

Through the week, Kumi Now will publish essays and stories from different organizations further exploring this topic and highlighting what they are doing to protect the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Essay contributed by Mossawa Center. Updated for the second edition of Kumi Now

Story: Lana and Taiseer

Lana and Taiseer met in 2004 in Lana’s home town of Jenin, located in the occupied West Bank. Taiseer, on the other hand, is a Palestinian citizen of Israel. Soon after, they fell in love, got engaged and married. At the time they were aware of the Citizenship and Family Unification Law. Despite the difficulties it imposes on their lives, Lana and Taiseer decided to live together in Akka because they believe no law in the world has the right to prevent people from being together. 

For the first few years they lived in Akka, Lana did not have legal permission to be inside Israel and she was constantly worried about being discovered. After an increase of international pressure, there was a small change in the law allowing women over 25 and men over 35 to apply for a permit. Lana was able to obtain a permit to live in Akka. However, the permit must be renewed every 6 months and does not entitle her to any rights such as normal employment, health care, or a driver’s license. 

Even now, 13 years later and with a bachelor’s in economics, Lana is unable to find a job due to the red tape and bureaucracy involved in hiring someone of her status. Potential employers are not willing to put in the effort of visiting multiple government offices just to have permission to hire her. Under the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank-with all its tanks, guns, and restrictions, Lana was relatively free to work, drive, and live independently. But in the “democracy” of Israel she is prevented from doing any of these things. 

Lana and Taiseer today have three children. Adnan (10), Yosra (9), and Sali (3). Even at their young ages the children understand that their mother is treated differently. Because Lana cannot legally drive, any time she wants to take the children somewhere Taiseer or someone else must drive them and pick them up. Every time they go to visit their grandmother in Jenin the children see Lana walk through the military checkpoint while the children and Taiseer are allowed to stay in the car.
Taiseer is active in a committee working against the citizenship laws. 

He is fighting for himself and Lana, as well as the families living in dire poverty due to the law. He says, “We believe that evil cannot win. We think racist laws can be abolished like they were in South Africa where there were also people not allowed to be together … No law should prevent people from being together based on nationality, religion, or ethnicity. One day it will be erased.” 

Kumi Action

Help keep families together! If you would like to help Lana and Taiseer and families like theirs or families suffering due to home demolitions because of the Kaminitz law, we urge you to contact your foreign ministries by phone, post or e-mail and tell them what you think about these laws. You can send your foreign ministries an early Valentine with a message to explain that as a citizen of your own country you “demand that Israel recognize the rights of Arab citizens and the rights of all people to be together with whom they choose.” 

Many foreign ministries have a specific Israel desk to which you can direct your comments. If you would like help finding the contact information for your foreign ministry or suggestions for what to say or write please contact Mossawa at Programs: mossawa@gmail.com. You can also call the parties in the Knesset at (+972) 2-6753333 to tell them to stop blocking resolutions that demand equal rights for citizens. 

Share the Valentine’s Day message that you send to your foreign ministry on social media, tagging the ministry, if possible. Encourage others to send similar messages, and give them this short video on the citizenship law to watch: https://youtu.be/VBBpENBXx4M. Include a link to this page of the Kumi Now website along with the hashtags #HappyValentinesDay, #KumiNow, and #Kumi5. 

Literature: “A Poet’s Voice” by Khalil Gibran

You are my brother, but why are you quarreling with me? Why do you invade my country and try to subjugate me for the sake of pleasing those who are seeking glory and authority?… 

Is self-preservation the first law of Nature? Why, then, does Greed urge you to self-sacrifice in order only to achieve his aim in hurting your brothers? Beware, my brother, of the leader who says, “Love of existence obliges us to deprive the people of their rights!” I say unto you but this: protecting others’ rights is the noblest and most beautiful human act; if my existence requires that I kill others, then death is more honorable to me, and if I cannot find someone to kill me for the protection of my honor, I will not hesitate to take my life by my own hands for the sake of Eternity before Eternity comes.

Selfishness, my brother, is the cause of blind superiority, and superiority creates clanship, and clanship creates authority which leads to discord and subjugation.

The soul believes in the power of knowledge and justice over dark ignorance; it denies the authority that supplies the swords to defend and strengthen ignorance and oppression-that authority which destroyed Babylon and shook the foundation of Jerusalem and left Rome in ruins. It is that which made people call criminals great men; made writers respect their names; made historians relate the stories of their inhumanity in manner of praise.

The only authority I obey is the knowledge of guarding and acquiescing in the Natural Law of Justice.

What justice does authority display when it kills the killer? When it imprisons the robber? When it descends on a neighboring country and slays its people? What does justice think of the authority under which a killer punishes the one who kills, and a thief sentences the one who steals? You are my brother, and I love you; and Love is justice with its full intensity and dignity. If justice did not support my love for you, regardless of your tribe and community, I would be a deceiver concealing the ugliness of selfishness behind the outer garment of pure love.

From “A Poet’s Voice” by Khalil Gibran, a Lebanese-American poet and visual artist known as “the prophet of the East.”

Additional Resources

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