Just hours after thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrated in the northern Israeli village of Kafr Kanna Saturday in response to the overnight killing from close range of 22-year-old Khir Hamdan by police, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued the following statement:
Israel is a nation of law. We will not tolerate disturbances and rioting. We will act against those who throw stones, block roads and call for the establishment of a Palestinian state in place of the State of Israel. Whoever does not honor Israeli law will be punished with utmost severity. I will instruct the Interior Minister to evaluate revoking the citizenship of those who call for the destruction of the State of Israel.
Netanyahu did not mention the protests in Kafr Kanna or the killing of Hamdan that prompted them, but the timing of the statement seems to imply he was referring to them. Considering the daily rioting in East Jerusalem, one would think he was directing his words at Palestinian residents. They, however, are not citizens of Israel.
WATCH: Security camera catches the killing of Khir Hamdan:
The statement is obscure and could be interpreted in several ways, but one thing is certain: Netanyahu is not seeking to calm tensions, but rather chose his words very carefully in order to add fuel to the fire. His message to all Palestinians is that they are not free to protest or resist the way they are treated; that when one of them is killed by the authorities, regardless of circumstance, there will be no questions or apologies; that their rights as citizens are in question; that their homes and livelihoods are under constant threat.
It is worth noting that under international law it is illegal to leave somebody stateless. As UN high commissioner for refugees, António Guterres, said: “Statelessness is a profound violation of an individual’s human rights. [It] makes people feel like their very existence is a crime.” So even if it’s legal under Israeli law to strip somebody of their citizenship, unless they hold a foreign passport it’s unlikely it will be approved.
In the statement, Netanyahu lumps together blocking roads and throwing stones with the call for a Palestinian state – labeling them all as a national security threat and implying that a Palestinian state will never come into existence because it would necessarily mean the destruction of Israel.
It is not clear what Netanyahu thinks qualifies as calling for the “destruction of the State of Israel,” but the statement could be implying that any demonstrations challenging the character of the country as it is devised by the ruling Israeli right will be under scrutiny.
What is clear is that on the same day that a Palestinian citizen of Israel was killed at close range by a police officer, the prime minister chose to tell 20 percent of the population that their citizenship is in question.