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Ha'aretz, May 5, 1999

Discrimination and denial

By Amira Hass

There are no Palestinians except for Yasser Arafat, Sheikh Yassin and, sometimes, Faisal Husseini. There are no dates beyond May 4.This is the sum and substance of public debate in Hebrew-speaking Israel on the eve of elections. When no news items force themselves into the Israeli public's consciousness, these are the standard limits within which Jewish Israelis view the Palestinian question. These limits are so narrow that they can best be described as "denial."

About 3.5 million Arabs live today west of the Jordan in what was once British Mandate Palestine. This is their homeland; and it's the homeland of another 3 million Palestinian refugees who live in neighboring countries and elsewhere in the world.

Blood-soaked historical circumstances, from World War II to the War of Independence and the Palestinian "nakba," have made the Jews the majority population but have not erased Palestinian ties to this land. Consistent Jewish Israeli policies, crossing party lines, aim at maintaining this demographic edge and, if possible, increasing it.

According to this policy's clear but undeclared parameters, the Palestinian population consists of three subgroups, identifiable by the varying discriminatory regimes imposed upon them.

The three subgroups are: Arab Israeli citizens, Palestinians who are "permanent residents" of Jerusalem, and Palestinians living in self-administered enclaves (which both One Israel and Meretz strangely term a "state"). The present context does not allow a detailed description of the categories or their history; suffice it to say that the basis of their classification has always been land.

The principal common denominator in discrimination against the three groups is ownership rights to, access to and use of land resources. In Nazareth and Jaffa, Hebron and Khan Yunis, Jabal Mukkaber and Anata, and other Arab communities, a policy of evicting Arabs and confiscating private Arab land in favor of Jews, forbidding use of public lands and employing discriminatory practices in infrastructure development has created a uniform landscape of overcrowding and suffocation and has accelerated the conversion of agricultural land into construction sites.

Together with restrictive economic legislation, this policy has produced a vast reservoir of cheap labor discriminated against in job opportunities, pay and working conditions. Yet Israeli Jews have the right and opportunity to live and work wherever they want in this land - on either side of the Green Line.

Various laws and regulations make it easy to cancel the residency rights of Palestinians, revoke their citizenship, and deny citizenship and residence to their spouses. East Jerusalem's annexation forced that area's Palestinian inhabitants to become "permanent residents" deprived of basic rights. In 1995, prior to the interim agreement's implementation on the West Bank, the government authorized the Interior Ministry to revoke this imposed status (which, from the start, ignored these native Jerusalemites' natural rights) if the individual in question worked overseas or had been forced to seek housing outside Jerusalem's boundaries.

Until the Palestinian Authority's establishment, various military regulations caused tens of thousands of Palestinians to forfeit their residency status on the West Bank and in Gaza. Israel continues to prevent them and their families from returning to their homes. In contrast, Jews can come here from anywhere in the world, be granted citizenship immediately and live anywhere they wish on either side of the Green Line.

Over the past eight years, Israel has consolidated and, with ever-increasing rigor, enforced a policy of denying freedom of movement to 2.5 million Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza. Limits have been imposed on their private lives, family relations, and economic, cultural and religious activities as well as on the effective functioning of the PA's institutions and of non-governmental Palestinian agencies. Palestinian individuals and institutions are completely dependent on movement permits issued by the Israeli military authorities. Only 100,000 Palestinians possess these permits. In contrast, Israeli Jews have unrestricted freedom of movement on either side of the Green Line, except for administrative entry limitations on PA-controlled areas in Gaza.

The morality and survival of any regime of structured discrimination is a gamble in the long run. But does that point interest anyone driven by short-term considerations


(c) copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved

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