Al Jazeera Centre for Studies organised a web conference in collaboration with Al Jazeera Mubasher under the title, “Palestinian Citizens in Israel and the Israeli Governing Institution”, which took place on 26-28 August 2023 featuring an elite group of researchers, experts and academics. The conference was moderated by Al Jazeera Mubasher presenters Salem Almahroukey and Rawaa Auge.
The conference delved into the conditions of Palestinians in Israel, the challenges they face and the opportunities available to them. In this context, the speakers discussed discrimination and racism, the escalating power of far-right extremists and their influence in the Israeli state's institutions. They also mentioned that Palestinians in Israel lack the mechanisms to foster their collective efforts to attain their full political and civil rights. Additionally, the speakers addressed concerns about assimilation and the erosion of identity.
In addition, the conference touched on discussed opportunities for Palestinians in Israel and how they can capitalise on them. Some of the most prominent characteristics they possess that can provide them with opportunities are their demographic strength, their distinguished educational and professional backgrounds, and the increase in international awareness of their cause.
The speakers concluded with a set of points, including:
Racial discrimination (apartheid)
Palestinians in Israel suffer from discrimination at the levels of both the state and society, despite being Israeli citizens holding Israeli identity cards. This racism is evident in the reduction of budgets allocated to cities and towns with Arab majorities and the lack of essential facilities like hospitals, universities and train stations in Arab cities. Additionally, basic services like electricity, water and sanitation are unavailable in the villages of the Negev Desert where around 150,000 Palestinian Bedouins live. Furthermore, Palestinians in Israel are denied promotions to higher government positions that have an impact on policy-making and decision-making; and prominent Palestinian figures face verbal and physical violence, along with ongoing security and legal attempts to restrict the political activities of Arab parties.
The speakers presented several means of addressing this discrimination. One of these is to collectively agree on the labelling of the aforementioned situation as emanating from a "racially segregated regime" resembling South Africa’s former apartheid regime. Consequently, the image that Palestinians in Israel will present to the international community is that of an ethnic minority bearing the "title" of "citizens" but lacking the rights of citizenship and demanding justice and equality.
The speakers also emphasised the necessity of shaping the political, media and human rights discourse of Palestinians in Israel on this basis. They underscored the importance of unifying their efforts to dismantle the entire Israeli system of racial segregation, and not limiting their demands to ending the occupation.
Aspects of a new national liberation strategy
The conference speakers offered their vision for addressing the challenges facing Palestinians in Israel, and underline the need for a Palestinian national liberation strategy whose core principles are based on the concept of "one democratic secular state". In this vision, Palestinians within the Green Line, the West Bank and Gaza, alongside Jews, would enjoy full citizenship rights without discrimination or exclusion. Most of the participants justified the shift towards the idea of a one-state solution due to the practical impossibility of a two-state solution, given that settlements have consumed Palestinian territories, leaving only 3.5% of historic Palestine's land unoccupied.
The speakers acknowledged the difficulty of achieving the idea of a one-state solution, especially given the rising extremism in Israel. However, they also maintained that although every dream may seem unattainable at first, through hard work and perseverance, it is possible to shift the balance of power and compel Israel to accept this solution.
In the context of efforts towards building a national liberation strategy, the speakers indicated that resistance in all its forms, whether peaceful or armed, adapted to the circumstances of each Palestinian community—whether within the Green Line, the West Bank, Gaza or in diaspora—will remain an option for the Palestinian people that could facilitate the realisation of their objectives.
In view of that, they recommended strengthening communication between all components of the Palestinian people. They stressed the necessity of expediting the establishment of elected Palestinian institutions to represent the Palestinian people and express the demands they see fit, rather than those determined by the interests of certain leaderships and elites.
The speakers highlighted the importance of reinforcing the national and cultural identity of the Palestinian people within the Green Line, despite the challenges they face in this regard. They specifically touched on issues related to the educational curricula taught to Arab students, which present only the Israeli narrative and use Israeli-Zionist vocabulary and terms with no mention of the Palestinian narrative.
The speakers also recommended boosting Arab presence in Israeli society by engaging in state institutions to gain leverage economically, socially and politically. They suggested using this approach to attract non-extremist Israeli segments that believe in the idea of a single state based on justice and equality, asserting that such an approach would be beneficial for both Jews and Arabs.
Developing mechanisms for collective action
The speakers maintained that the multiplicity of Arab political parties in Israel is a positive factor reflecting diversity and richness. Nonetheless, they accentuated the importance of strengthening mechanisms for collective action among Palestinian constituents. This could be achieved by agreeing on common denominators and unified tools that would enable them to enhance their influence in the Israeli system of governance and attain greater political and civil gains.
In this context, they expressed optimism about their future and the future of their cause. They attributed this optimism to what they described as the beginning of the disintegration of the Zionist project due to the rise of religious extremism. They also pointed to Israel's current and future inability to deal with the demographic equation that tends to favour Palestinians. Additionally, they noted Israel's inability to shed its "apartheid" or halt Palestinian resistance and national struggle. They concluded that these factors are sources of strength, hope and confidence in the future.