Jo Roberts on Jewish trauma, the Nakba, and the olive tree

Mondoweiss, January 10, 2015


Since the state’s inception, Palestinian Israelis have very much been second-class citizens (just one example: while 15% of Jewish Israelis live under the poverty line, for the Palestinian Israeli community that figure is over 50%). Until 1966, Palestinian Israelis were held under martial law, their communities isolated from Jewish Israelis and from each other. Education during that time was minimal. This left a huge scar, both in terms of economic development and political organizing. Even after martial law had ended, Arab areas received very little funding. One man told me of growing up on a street in Jaffa that ran with open sewage, not realizing until he first visited Jewish neighborhoods in his early twenties that this was not a normal state of affairs. For many years, a number of Palestinians Arab villages were “unrecognized,” which meant no provision of municipal services: no water, sewage, electricity, roads, or schools. Community leaders faced a grueling, decades-long battle to change that, and while all the villages outside the Negev have now formally been recognized, they still face huge bureaucratic hurdles to any new development. (Thirty-five Bedouin villages in the Negev are still unrecognized, and are harried by the government: the village of al Araqib has been demolished and rebuilt 79 times.)

Nevertheless, as long as Israel saw itself as both a Jewish and a democratic state, there was room for both Jewish and Palestinian Israelis, however unequal their citizenship. (A significant majority of Palestinian Israelis see themselves as citizens of Israel; they have no desire to become part of the Palestinian Authority.) Now, if the right-wing parties have their way and Israel is defined first and foremost as a Jewish state, Palestinian Israelis will be seen even more as the intruding outsider. Already there are plans to remove Arabic as Israel’s second language, to make Palestinian-Israeli MKs swear allegiance to Israel as a Jewish state, even to pay Palestinian Israelis to leave. All these are ways of excluding Palestinian Israelis from the Israeli polity.