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Conditional rights, conditional citizenship

Palestinian citizens of Israel have never known what it means to be welcome citizens in the country of their birth.

In a much-discussed video message to Palestinian citizens of Israel last week, Prime Minister Netanyahu lauded the achievements of Arabs in the arts, business, politics and the legal world. “Israel is strong because of our diversity and pluralism — not in spite of it,” he said, describing a plan to close social gaps in Arab society as aiming “to reach ever higher in the noble pursuit of equality and dignity for all.”

For Palestinian citizens of Israel, however, the speech sounded like nothing more than spin — a liberal democratic wrapper on an illiberal reality of discrimination and selective democracy. On the face of things, Israel does indeed resemble a democracy. But if you scratch a little deeper, there is an uglier layer behind the façade.

For instance, a week before Netanyahu praised the basic fact that there are Arab members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, he pushed through a law (which passed last week) that allows Jewish parliamentarians to reject and eject elected Palestinian representatives not to the majority’s liking.

While Netanyahu outlined a vision in which Arab children “grow up knowing they can achieve anything in Israel as valued and equal citizens in our democracy,” he and his government reject the very notion of Israel being “a state of all its citizens.” Palestinian children, instead of being welcome citizens, are a “demographic threat.”

And few days after the prime minister bragged about investing in Arab municipalities and waxed poetic that Jews and Arabs should be treated “with the same dignity and respect you’d want for your own family,” bulldozers started the process of demolishing the Bedouin village of Umm el-Hiran — in order to build a Jewish town on its ruins.

Roughly 100,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel live in “unrecognized villages” like Umm el-Hiran, where the state refuses to provide electricity, water, paved roads, sewage infrastructure, schools, medical care or economic opportunity.

And while freedom of speech is alive and kicking for Jewish citizens of Israel, the ultimate expression of which is the annual racist parade of hate through Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter under the protection of police, Palestinian citizens are thrown in jail for Facebook statuses and reciting poetry.

For its Palestinian citizens, Israel is a selective democracy at best. Palestinian citizens of...

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Why the state won't be able to break Breaking the Silence

The state’s attempt to bring down one of Israel’s most important anti-occupation organizations may backfire in a big way.

An Israeli court is set to decide next week whether the Israeli anti-occupation organization Breaking the Silence will be forced to reveal the identity of a soldier whose anonymous testimony raised suspicions of war crimes. By trying to expose the identity of Breaking the Silence sources, the state attorney — who is leading the move — is not trying to prevent soldiers from exposing more information on the violation of Palestinian rights in the occupied territories. Rather it is trying to undergird the hierarchy of the state — to show once and for all that Breaking the Silence, and civil society at large, are subject to the power of the army.

Human rights discourse cannot do much to stop the army. A soldier who breaks her or his silence knows well that if their identity is revealed, they may have to take responsibility for the actions of their superiors, despite the fact that the officers and generals are the ones who continue to entrench the occupation. The soldier breaks her silence in order to raise public awareness over the military rule in the occupied territories — this awareness is far too crucial to be silenced.

One can assume that the state attorney will achieve its goals in the crusade against the organization, one that began over a decade ago. But does that mean the end of Breaking the Silence? Not necessarily. The public and international outcry over a soldier who takes public responsibility for crimes committed in the name of Israel’s military regime will place Breaking the Silence at the forefront of the struggle against the occupation.

The fear of putting an end to soldiers’ testimonies is a worrying possibility, but it could also provide the opportunity to move away from anonymous testimonies that would allow a real opposition to the army. The army is worried by the Israeli society (as well as the international community), as is the state attorney. Breaking the Silence must do everything it can to fight against the attacks against it, as its work is too important, not only to Israelis, but also to Palestinians.

The concept of breaking the silence is intended, first and foremost, to break down the wall of silence surrounding the Israeli soldiers who took part in the occupation. Their conscience did...

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Palestinian teacher wins $1M prize while West Bank colleagues strike

Hanan al-Hroub wins global teaching prize worth one million dollars at the height of a mass strike by Palestinian teachers for higher salaries and better terms.

Hanan al-Hroub, a Palestinian teacher from Bethlehem, won $1 million for her work promoting nonviolence through learning on Sunday night. Al-Hroub, who teaches in both the West Bank city of al-Bireh and Dheisheh refugee camp, was given the second annual Global Teacher prize at a ceremony in Dubai. Palestinian television stations broadcasted the competition, along with the celebrations that took place in Ramallah following the announcement.

Over 8,000 teachers from across the world competed for the prize; 50 made it to the final rounds, among them three Palestinian teachers. The final 10 also included teachers from several European countries, Kenya, Pakistan, India, the United States, Australia, and Japan.

Al-Hroub’s won the prize for her work in developing a method to educate students exposed to violence to embrace dialogue and nonviolence in a reality of violent, continual occupation. In a video produced for the competition, al-Hroub explains the difficulty of educating children toward nonviolence when they live in a reality where death and arrests are daily occurrence. Alongside the monetary prize, al-Hroub also received worldwide exposure, which included a congratulatory video message from the Pope and Prince William.

Despite the celebrations, however, al-Hroub does not receive the proper recognition — nor a decent wage — just like all other Palestinian teachers in the West Bank. Ironically, the best teacher in the world is part of an educational system that was completely shut down due to a strike last month over teachers’ terms of employment in the Palestinian Authority. Tens of thousands of teachers demonstrated at the beginning of the month, and over 200,000 students not attended school since February 10th. Only on Sunday, following promises to raise teacher salaries (and without any connection to al-Hroub’s win), did the strike come to an end.

Palestinian teachers are demanding standard terms for all public service employees, including a raise (the current salary for a starting teacher in the Palestinian Authority is NIS 1,700). The teachers are also demanding equal retirement benefits for women, and democratic elections for the General Union of Palestinian Teachers.

Immediately following her win on Sunday, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah praised both al-Hroub and teachers in general. At the height of the strike, however, Hamdallah was quoted as...

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Why Palestinians aren't standing up for Israeli leftists

The Israeli Left with which most Palestinians are familiar speaks the same language as the Right — of segregation and safeguarding a racist regime. The ‘other Left’ needs to develop a new discourse, and we should all hope it succeeds.

The Left in Israel has been subject to what appears to be a serious and concerted attack in recent weeks, directed primarily at anti-occupation NGOs and activists. And while the Israeli media has done a decent amount of reporting on the matter, and as members of the Left talk about a dangerous political turning point, the Palestinian Left hasn’t expressed any interest.

You won’t find much coverage about the attacks against the Israeli Left on Palestinian websites based in the West Bank, or even those inside Israel. There also hasn’t been much of an outcry by politicians from the Joint List, the third-largest political slate in Israel, which is mostly Palestinian but also enjoys the support of some Jews.

We must ask why so many Palestinians don’t see the events of recent weeks as an indication of changes that might affect their own struggle. Why aren’t they joining forces and rallying to support the persecuted Jewish Left, which has found itself under attack?

The answer is wrapped up in two failures that play off of one another: the inability of the Zionist Left in Israel to create a space for the “other Left,” non-Zionist Jews and Palestinians; and the failure of the “other Left,” the non-Zionists, to work harder to distinguish itself from the old Zionist Left.

While we are still internalizing this era of institutionalized ethnic segregation inside Israel, the Palestinians are looking to the UN, the EU, and international peace activists from Europe to Latin America to Scotland in an attempt to thrust the injustices being done to Palestinians to the top of the international agenda.

Desegregating the struggle

Palestinians rarely address Israelis and Israeli society directly. The tragic reality is that Palestinians, far too many Palestinians, do not see a place for Israelis in their struggle. They have not found a way reach Israelis without being filtered out by the regime’s various mechanisms, from the media to political echelon. It will always be difficult for Palestinians to trust Israeli partners, for it will always be easy for them to compromise their dedication to the Palestinian struggle. Buried somewhere in their Jewish privilege, a sliver of...

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The heavy price of segregation and occupation

In Jerusalem nowadays, Palestinians stay on the east side, Israelis on the west, and Netanyahu’s right-wing government is smack in the middle racking up political points.

Much of the violence taking place at the moment begs the question: who actually benefits from the occupation? We know it’s not the Palestinians, and it’s definitely not the Israelis.

Watching the video clip of young Israelis rooting for the killing of a 19-year-old Palestinian by Israeli police (see below), and listening their cheerful applause once he is gunned down, I am reminded how Israelis fail to see the tragic moral consequences the occupation has on the occupier.

How can Israelis not be affected when racial discrimination is practiced systematically but written almost nowhere explicitly, thus forcing nobody to be accountable for it?

Israelis won’t find that racism in their history books that deny the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948. They won’t find it in the media. It is not explicitly stated in the boycott law, the Nakba law, the force-feeding law, administrative detention, and countless other policies that ooze of racism, but only if you know how to read between the lines.

One has to follow the bloodshed to find answers. One must look behind the stacks of law books and peer into the excuses used to indemnify Israelis — police, soldiers or settlers — who kill unarmed Palestinians, or even those “armed” with stones.

These are the same racist excuses the state mutters when it fails — or refuses —  to indict the terrorists who burned to death an entire family in Duma.

Palestinian blood is simply cheaper than Israeli blood. Only a fool would argue differently. And Palestinians citizens of Israel are no exception. The families of the 13 young men killed 15 years ago during October 2000 watched helplessly as the Israeli police officers who killed their sons walked free.

So why does the UN so “obsessively” pass resolutions against Israel and not Syria, as Benjamin Netanyahu lamented in his UNGA speech last week?

Despite Netanyahu’s apparent intelligence he somehow remains blind to see that he is overseeing a segregation regime. It shouldn’t be that difficult to see. Surely he understands that a regime based on ethnic superiority reminds the world of history’s ugliest and most painful lessons.

What kind of regime...

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'What’s the number of your room, child?'

Attacking and imprisoning Palestinian children has shaped Palestinian generations for decades. The more rights-deprived the childhood, the more hungry for freedom adulthood will be.

By Sawsan Khalife’

In this video (around the six-minute mark), an Israeli soldier is seen chasing a Palestinian child with a broken arm during the weekly demonstration held in Nabi Saleh in the West Bank. The soldier holds him by the neck and pushes his face into the stones while the boy’s mother and sister, along with other Palestinian demonstrators, try to pull him away.

It is always painful to see such images, but not surprising. According to Defense for Children International, each year approximately 500 to 700 Palestinian children, some as young as 12, are detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system. The most common charge is stone throwing.

While watching the child running from the soldier and crying for help, I couldn’t help but wonder whether he knew what would happen to him if he were arrested. I wondered whether there is a room for children in the West Bank similar to “Room Number 4,” which Palestinian children in East Jerusalem know all too well.

It would be surprising to find a child, or even an adult, in East Jerusalem who is not familiar with “Room Number 4.” This is the name of the interrogation room in Jerusalem’s police station in the Russian compound neighborhood, where Palestinian residents, including children, are interrogated.

While hundreds of children are arrested annually, it is the conditions they undergo during their arrest and interrogation that represents possibly the most severe violation, under both Israeli and international law.

The name of the room comes from the Israeli interrogators who ask the children about to be interrogated, “Do you know why we call this room ‘Room Number 4′? Because when we are done with you Arabs you will crawl out of this room on all fours, like babies.”

Nearly two years ago local activists launched a campaign called “Room number 4”, aiming to raise awareness of child abuse at the hands of Israeli police forces in East Jerusalem. The website they established serves as a platform for many testimonies of Palestinian children, and provides reports from the Madaa Center in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.

Using interviews with children between the ages of seven and 17 and their testimonies, as...

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Administrative detention being used to push controversial 'terror law'

A new bill that paves the way for putting Israeli citizens in administrative detention could one day affect activists, human rights workers, and Palestinian citizens of Israel.

By Sawsan Khalife’

A week after the Shin Bet recommended that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon sign off on administrative detention for two Jewish Israelis following the attack in the Palestinian village of Duma, he also recommended the Knesset pass an “anti-terrorism bill.”

The bill, which has been sitting on the shelf of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, authorizes the defense minister to use administrative detention without the standard prerequisite of declaring a “state of emergency” (which has been in place, essentially, since Israel’s founding). The law refers specifically to the administrative detention of Israeli civilians, since Palestinians in the occupied territories already live under a military regime.

The law will allow the court 48 hours to review the confidential evidence at hand, while the suspect will be denied the right to know the charges against him or her. Then the court will decide whether it approves or rejects an administrative detention order of up to six months, with the possibility for extension.

Different versions of this law have been discussed over the past several years in the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. Until the dissolution of the last Knesset in December, a number of discussions on the bill dealt only with the question of defining a “terrorist act.” According to the bill, a terrorist act is carried out of political, ideological, religious, or racist motivations. It is also an act that intends to inspire fear among the public in order to place pressure on the government to act or cease acting a certain way.

This general definition can easily be used as a means of blocking any type of struggle against government policy, social or otherwise. The use of administrative detention against settlers is a slippery slope, which could one day affect social activists, human rights workers, and Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Administrative detention is a violation of basic human rights. It is the detention of a person for an undefined period, which denies them the right to trial, knowledge of the charges or even hearing the evidence presented against them (if there was satisfactory evidence, the suspect would have formally been brought to trial).

There are approximately 400 Palestinians currently in administrative detention. Approximately...

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