Israel’s demographic war on Palestinians far from over
When the Israeli Knesset last week failed to renew what is commonly referred to as the family reunification law, news reports and analyses misrepresented the story altogether. The even split of 59 members of the Knesset voting in favor of extending the law and 59 against gave the erroneous impression that Israeli lawmakers are equally divided over the right of Palestinians to obtain permanent residency status or citizenship in Israel through marriage. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Under the guise of “security,” the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, which was initially passed in 2003, prohibited Palestinians in the West Bank who married Israeli citizens from permanently moving to Israel and obtaining work, permanent residency and, ultimately, citizenship.
The law was never made permanent and was instead the subject of an annual vote, which successfully renewed it 17 times. However, the 18th vote, held on July 6, ran into an obstacle. Contrary to the perception given by much of the media coverage, those who voted against the renewal of the ban did so for purely political reasons and not out of concern for the tens of thousands of Palestinian families that have been splintered since the law came into effect.
Since the ousting of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — at the hands of his protege, Naftali Bennett — Israel’s former leader has been determined to topple the latter’s fragile coalition. Bennett’s government allies extreme right-wing parties, including his own Yamina, with centrist and leftist parties. It even hosts a Palestinian party, the United Arab List, or Ra’am, of Mansour Abbas. A coalition of this nature is unlikely to survive long, considering Israel’s tumultuous politics, and Netanyahu — eager for an early election — will do everything in his power to facilitate what he sees as an imminent collapse.
Netanyahu’s Likud party and its allies in the opposition voted against renewing the discriminatory law to score a political point. Their justification, however, was more appalling than the law itself. Likud wants the temporary law to become a permanent fixture, to be added to the dozens of other similarly racially motivated laws that target the very fabric of Palestinian society.
Welcome to Israel’s demographic war on the Palestinian people. This one-sided war is based on the belief among Israel’s Jewish majority that the country’s greatest challenge is sustaining its demographic advantage. Israel’s main fear is not simply a decisive Palestinian majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea; the ruling classes are also rattled by the growing political influence of Palestinian citizens and are doing everything in their power to ensure this is restricted. The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law was designed specifically to keep this population in check.
The general elections of March 2020, in particular, provided a taste of what a doomsday scenario might look like. Palestinian parties unified under the single ticket of the Joint List and emerged with 15 seats, making it the third-largest political bloc in the Knesset, after Likud and Blue and White. If the Palestinians could muster this much influence when they make up only 20 percent of the overall Israeli population, imagine what they could do if the demographic tide continues to shift in their favor.
For Israel, the future of the Jewish majority — i.e., supremacy — is dependent on keeping the population equation in favor of Israeli Jews at the expense of Palestinians. Most of the laws that discriminate against Palestinians, regardless of where they reside, is motivated by this consideration.
According to the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah), Israel’s Palestinian population has been targeted by more than 65 government laws and regulations that aim to ensure they do not prosper as a community, keeping them politically disempowered, socioeconomically disadvantaged and constantly threatened with the loss of their residency and even citizenship.
Palestinians elsewhere suffer an even worse fate. For example, those living in Jerusalem, who supposedly hold permanent residency status, are subjected to different types of legal harassment so that the city maintains its current Jewish majority. When Israel illegally occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, it was almost entirely Palestinian. Due to numerous Israeli tactics, the city’s Palestinian population is now an ever-shrinking minority. Worse still, in 2018, Israel passed a law that granted the Ministry of Interior the right to revoke the residency of Jerusalemites based on the murky accusation of “breach of loyalty.”
The ruling classes are rattled by the growing political influence of Palestinian citizens.
Meanwhile, the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has taken population control to a whole new level; it is almost an exact science.
This is also why Israelis abhor even the discussion of the right of return for Palestinian refugees, for they consider it an implicit call for the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. According to this logic, if millions of Palestinian refugees are allowed to return to their homes and lands in historic Palestine, Israel will no longer exist in its current form and will instead become a democratic state for all of its citizens.
Following last week’s vote, what is likely to happen next is that Israel’s Ministry of Interior will continue to find caveats in the country’s ever-flexible statute book to block the reunification of Palestinian families until the Knesset officially renews the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law or, worse, makes it permanent. Either way, Israel’s demographic war on Palestinians is likely to intensify. Considering that this is a war that cannot be won rationally, Israel will fall deeper into the abyss of apartheid.
As Israel continues to experiment with controlling the Palestinian population, it would be shameful if the international community continued to remain silent. This outrage must end.
- Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books, and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. Twitter: @RamzyBaroud