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Knesset passes segregation law

The Knesset passed a segregation bill today. Palestinian Israelis are not allowed to live in Jewish localities built on land confiscated from them. Government policy also makes sure they cannot build on the little private land that was left in their ownership. How long can Jewish Israelis continue pretending that Palestinians do not exist?

In a session lasting well after midnight, the Knesset passed (Hebrew) a new law, which allows communities of up to 400 members, in the Negev and Galilee (the south and north of Israel, respectively) to form “acceptance committees” that will screen candidates who wish to live in their locality, on the basis of various parameters, including vague wording relating to social and cultural compatibility. The law nominially forbids discrimination on the basis of race, gender or religion, but its effect and intent to segregate Palestinian Israelis are clear. I highly recommend reading the excellent post by Nimrod Lutz which outlines the background and implications of the bill. But there is an even broader context that should be remembered when this legislation is discussed.

On the one hand, acceptance committees are by no means exclusively intended to prevent Palestinian Israelis from living in Jewish localities. Other “unsuitable” people are excluded as well. For example, a case pending before the High Court of Justice pertains to a Jewish family denied residence because they viewed the move as a means to better their lives. Yes, you read that right – the acceptance committee decided they only want people whose lives are already perfect.

On the other hand, the shocking nature of this exclusion should not obscure the main intention of the bill, which is racial discrimination. It would be upsetting enough if the only element of discrimination was the principle of segregation which it enshrines. But as bad as that is, there is much worse discrimination at work here.

In the first decades of Israel’s existence, through a variety of legal and pseudo-legal means, vast amounts of land were confiscated by the state, almost all of it Arab-owned private land. Much of this land was transferred to the Jewish National Fund, which has a charter forbidding it to allocate land for the use of non-Jews (don’t worry – the rabbinate is not involved, it is simply enough to be “not Arab” in order to qualify).

Although this specific arrangement was shot down by the High Court of Justice, it is really superfluous, because even lands owned directly by the state have been allocated almost exclusively to Jews. But it actually gets worse.

Despite the massive confiscations, Israeli Palestinians have retained some ownership over private lands, mainly the lands on which they lived when Israel was founded or adjacent areas. Because of lack of adequate planning by the state, however, Palestinians often find it hard to obtain building permits for residential construction on land which they privately own. Sometimes, even buildings which existed when the country was founded are deemed illegal by the state. If Palestinians build illegally, their homes are either demolished or under threat of demolition, and cannot be connected to utilities.

Investment in infrastructure or public services in Palestinian localities is severely deficient in absolute terms, and terrible in comparison to nearby Jewish localities. Palestinian municipalities have been starved of funds by designating their jurisdiction area to exclude any facilities which might generate significant municipal tax income. Even private economic development has been hampered by the same inadequate planning which stands in the way of legal residential construction.

All of these problems have been significantly aggravated by the growth of the Palestinian Israeli population, from less than 200,000 in 1948 to over 1.3 million today. The shortage in housing, infrastructure, services and employment areas in Palestinian localities is acute. State budgets allocated for improving this situation are relatively small, and are easily overshadowed by the massive effect of continuing discriminatory policies.

In this context, it may not be surprising that some Israeli Palestinians wish to move to predominantly Jewish localities. This option is not available to many of them. Because Jewish areas are almost invariably richer, the cost of living there is higher. Because their own localities are so underdeveloped, the value of their property is low, so selling it to buy a home in a Jewish locality is usually out of the question.

Many Jews are unwilling to let their apartment to Arabs, and those that do are sometimes the target of intimidation, including through campaigns led by state employees. Finally, those who manage to overcome all these difficulties, often meet a hostile and disparaging treatment, as this sad story illustrates. Sometimes, the town pretends they do not exist and refuses to grant any recognition to their culture, up to and including a ban on Christmas.

Under these circumstances, it is no wonder some Palestinians are particularly drawn to the smaller Jewish localities in Israel’s periphery in the North and South. Since these are also the areas where most Israeli Palestinians live, they can be close to their families. Land prices are lower than in the central region. Building is usually in individual homes, which most Palestinians prefer to apartment buildings.

It is precisely from those places that the new law intends to shut them out. Unlike other groups which the law will help to unjustly exclude, the alternatives for Palestinians are much poorer and quickly disappearing. The Israeli government is terrified (Hebrew) of the prospect that they will form contiguous blocks inside the country which may secede. At the same time, it is unwilling to let them join Jewish localities (in large part, built on confiscated Palestinian private land), and egregiously neglects the places where they currently leave. Even some long-time mixed towns, such as Acre, have started to fray around the edges in recent years.

This policy is grossly unjust. It is unsustainable and foolish. Israel has been trying to pretend for over sixty years that is has no Palestinian population, and to treat a group of over a million people as some inanimate obstacle one has to build around, an attitude which is both criminal and wasteful. We live here together, whether we like it or not, so we might as well like it. The first, tiny and obvious step would be to abolish this heinous law.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Jill Oserowsky

      As an American and a Jew of mixed ancestry, I am appalled. This is unjust! This is not something I support. “Tzedek Tzedek tiradof!” Justice, not ‘just us’! For shame!!!!!!

      Reply to Comment
    2. Borg

      the shocking nature of this exclusion should not obscure the main intention of the bill, which is racial discrimination…are Palestinians a different race than Israelis, or rather a different nationality?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben Israel

      Just to understand those who oppose this meansure:
      Does this mean that you think it should be forbidden for Arab to refuse to sell property to Jews in their towns and villages, as is generally the case now? And does this mean that you oppose Kibbutzim having criteria for membership and that they should open their membership to Arabs?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Sinjim

      Is it possible to post a roll call of who voted for, who voted against, and who abstained? Were the Palestinian MKs present for the vote?

      Reply to Comment
    5. Waleed

      I dont cant understand how come people condemn such discriminative laws but believe in Israel’s right ro exist in Palestine !

      Reply to Comment
    6. Tahel Ilan

      @BI- mind sharing your unfortunate tale of trying to buy a house in Ramallah or Silwan and being turned down by the local terrorist population?
      if you think the problem with kibbutzim is that they don’t all admit arabs, they you are about 15 years behind the rest of us. just fyi.
      but for the fun of it- you can check out Kibutz Nir Eliyahu for some hippie love beads and peace news…

      Reply to Comment
    7. reanna

      comment was deleted because it contains personal insults

      Reply to Comment
    8. Chris

      Even though I do not agree with what the Knesset has done, nor do I believe in eye for an eye, for centuries the Jewish people have been lowered to second class citizens. They have endured the much, much worse treatment, and I’m not just referring to the Holocaust. Just realize, if you push a people far enough, they just might push back.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Geneva

      At the mere mention that this article is modern anti-Semitic because it finds, once again, the most disproportionate reporting I have ever seen as to what are the true crimes going on in the middle east..well let’s try it again as Muslims have no right to ask not to be insulted if we want to move Human rights forward at all. This article does NOT ONE BIT OF GOOD for Palestinians whatsoever..It is completely biased. Just because something which you may deem as unjust happens to another race, it does not mean it happened to them as a result of racism…There are many more arguments one can assume.. This also is not supported by any facts whatsoever that it was Because of racism that they were not allowed, as it also openly admits that it turns Jews down for…OTHER REASONS, which discredits your claim of racism all together. Like I said this is merely another opportunity to bring “moral equivalency” to the forefront wherein the acts of arab nations against Palestinians (far worse that Israels acts I might add)and THEIR racism and terrorism against any religion but Muslim, as well as Muslims who show any opposition to Islam are deemed as equal to this minor “news event” (if you could call it even that) and even entirely excusable. Nevermind the murder of the family of 5, as if Israeli’s do that to Palestinians while they are in bed asleep.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Geneva

      And at most, the only thing I see them guilty of maybe if it were true is snobbery against their own Jews. What a crime! Let the Jews complain about that, if they feel a need to, not you as you are no one to say how offensive it is to them and speak for them. What other country in the entire world does not subscribe to the exact same or worse! It is no different than the discrimination one has every right to use when they are hiring people for a job. DO the left have any idea at all that they are suggesting that Jews be held to a higher standard in terms of human decency than the rest of the world because what right to they have to be like any other normal Muslim, Christian or any other in their own acts, after all they are just Jews (they don’t fit into the mold with the rest of society just like the handicapped and the gays in the holocaust too so it is easier to condemn then to embrace). Oh now Jews are the racist???they have seen it themselves only 70 years ago, oh the irony!!! Labeling anyone a racist who has been through the real thing IS THE RACIST
      Oh but wait, lets all look out for racism but never mind terrorism or what people want to see happen to them all over again!!!!

      Reply to Comment
    11. Tahel llan

      Geneva you have truly given me an education with this priceless insight that simply can not be found anywhere else these days.

      THESE 972 people that spread lies and propaganda with saudi money should be tried for so many things I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

      I propose starting with their number one crime, which is currently a legal offense in Israel- thinking logically. I, for one, am totally not cool with all this common sense and so, I’m willing in the name of the greater good, to split the lawyer’s fees with you half and half and take these delegitimizing, racist, anti-Semitic, holocaust denying traitors DOWN.
      if you’re interested you can reach me at:
      1-800-GENEVA-UR-F*ck***-CRAZY

      Reply to Comment
    12. Hassan I

      Interesting that Geneva’s incoherent defense of racist measures undertaken by the current Israeli government hinges, for the most part, on the notion that Israel’s fledgling democracy should not be held to a higher standard then the vile dictatorships and monarchies that have ruthlessly ruled the Arab world for decades.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Hassan I

      As well as the notion that Israeli jewish dissidents are somehow anti-semitic because they wish equal rights towards israeli arabs…

      Reply to Comment
      • Tony mansour

        Why do idiots feel the need to comment. Rita levy is the perfect example of why people are waking up to the double standards Israel displays daily. She can’t even see the ludicrous nature of her comments. I’ll give her the benefit of being a paid troll because no one could be capable of that much ignorance.

        Reply to Comment
    14. Marcus

      The content of this comment was removed because it violated +972 Magazine’s comments policy.

      Reply to Comment
    15. lena

      How the hell is this racist??? Palestinians are not even a race in the first place too!

      Reply to Comment
    16. Mark

      Well sort of Hassan, but what is wrong with that, but not really. I think she was comparing Israels actions to the actions Of DEMOCRATIC states and that they might have done the same or even much worse. They might have very well wiped out all of Palestine many many violations ago. And no one questions their existence as a State but everyone question Israel’s when they should only question their policies. That they hold some holier than now standard of only Israel and how Israel should react to things – seems unjust if not even racist itself against the Jews. The Us engaged in the war in Afghanistan after all, and no one demonized them in fact most wanted it to happen for revenge from 911. And Israel is a newer democracy, so that is already saying something commendable of them, I think…for what they haven’t but could have done in reaction to terror against their own State.

      Anyway, Hassan you seem like you are just a terrorist apologist.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Carrie

      Last time I checked: Unequal rights or Discrimination is NOT a synonym for racism.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Waleed

      But being Anti-Zionist is anti-semtic ? even if you dont like the Jews , how come its considered anti-semitic ? how many Jews are semites ? Bibi or Livni …..!

      Reply to Comment
    19. Tahel Ilan

      my dearest MARK, reading your incredibly insightful comment was truly an experience one can only get from ynet. no, sorry- also from IDF spokesperson. come to think of it- also from the govt. press office, the ministry of foreign affairs and your local neighborhood grocer.
      why is it u feel the need to make that comment? are those words of wisdom simply so hard to keep inside that they need to burst out at me from all different directions all day long?
      btw- when you say “terrorist apologist”- are you talking about abu mazen or netanyahu? because i seem to recall both of them apologizing this week.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Rita Levy

      I think that the left or whomever they are of whatever agenda they have, are blowing up on anyone now and getting mad at anyone who challenges them.It is not so much the people that do atrocities but rather those who tolerate it or sometimes even accept it that are the real problem. And Moral equivalency is something the left does that equates real unnacceptable acts like launching rockets, to normal everyday life problems. But launching rockets is not normal behaviour over land disputes or for any reason. Look at Tahel who blew up. That comment made no sense. Sorry I am with Mark too…anyone is right to defend a nation that calls for its anhilation. There is no negotiating with that. And any logical thinker would agree with that if not, to drive them out alltogeher. Mark is just trying to teach the narrow-minded. And the country you are living in right now, I am sure, as you read this, gives you that very protection that you take for granted. Imagine the anarchy if every nation just let threats to their nation go? Or better yet, why not let the terrorists who killed the Fogel family go, while you are at it?
      “There is one small difference between Israelies and Palestinians that you conveniently overlook. Israelies do not teach their children to glorify murder and be martyrs, Palestinians do and very openly so, in schools and mosques, supported by the PA.
      Israelies do not rejoyce and hand out candy when Palestinians are dead, Palestinians do”

      The irony is the Jews have proven themselves over history that they are the last people to be against a certain race, purely for blood line reasons.. THEY in fact were the ones who were actually the victims of that, from the Aryan race and their crazy racial theories.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Tahel Ilan

      i admit, my comment made no sense. but that is exactly why it fits in perfectly with yours.

      if i wasn’t too busy blowing up, maybe this could have been the beginning of a beautiful friendship (but only because your last name is Levy- cause then its safe to assume you do not rejoice in the blood of the chosen people).

      Reply to Comment
    22. Lisa r

      Wait a second when have Jews ever had a problem with other races?

      Reply to Comment
    23. Sam

      @Geneva

      “Nevermind the murder of the family of 5, as if Israeli’s do that to Palestinians while they are in bed asleep.”

      - are you kidding me. That’s what Israeli’s do to Palestinians every week.

      Reply to Comment
    24. J - palestinian

      Tahel Ilan

      You made my day! Made me laugh for 30 minutes. Some people dont know real humor.

      Overallt this commentary is colored with cynism and fanatism. We as a humans should focus on the issues on the ground. No talking, just fixing. Enough said.

      Reply to Comment
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