Hundreds if not thousands of Bedouin are having their citizenship revoked seemingly for no reason, according to ‘Haaretz.’ Shocking as it may be, it’s not surprising. Citizenship has never provided non-Jewish Israelis with the same security it gives their Jewish compatriots.
Imagine going to renew your passport or change your official address and after a few minutes of pattering on a keyboard without looking up to see the human being in front of him or her, a government clerk informs you that you are no longer a citizen of the only country you have ever known. The country of your birth.
And no, it’s not that your citizenship is being revoked, the clerk calmly explains. It’s not like that. You were never a citizen in the first place, you see, it was all a mistake — never mind the fact that you were born in Israel to parents who are Israeli citizens, and your siblings are Israeli citizens, and maybe you even served in the Israeli army.
Hundreds if not thousands of Bedouin citizens of Israel have undergone that exact terrifying experience in recent years, according to a report by Jack Khoury in Haaretz Friday.
The Kafqesque ordeal, to which Jewish Israelis are exempt, is part of a policy in which one’s citizenship is re-adjudicated, without a judge or judicial process of course, every time one comes into contact with an Interior Ministry clerk for the most routine reasons, according to the Haaretz investigation.
The gut-wrenching practice is shocking on the most basic levels. For those of us lucky enough to be citizens of a country, so much of our security in this world comes bundled up with it. Of course, Palestinians and other non-Jews have never had the same level of security attached to their citizenship in Israel as their Jewish compatriots do. Many of them, like the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from East Jerusalem, don’t even have citizenship to begin with.
As shocking as the Haaretz report is, nobody should be surprised. The Israeli prime minister has openly declared his belief that some, namely Arab, Israeli citizens should be stripped of their citizenship for making political statements not to his liking. A senior government minister recently threatened a “third Nakba,” referencing the largely forced displacement of 700,000 Palestinians in 1948. And then there was the landmark ruling earlier this month actually stripping a Palestinian-Arab man of his Israeli citizenship because of his familial lineage. Let us not forget the more-than 14,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who have had their permanent residency status stripped of them over the years, sending them into exile.
Again, none of this should be news. Israel is not a state of all its citizens — any minister in the current Israeli government would be happy to tell you as much. Advocating turning Israel into a state with those types of liberal-democratic building blocks is considered nothing short of seditious. It is antithetical to Zionism as it has come to be defined in the contemporary Israeli zeitgeist.
It should also be no surprise that attempts to reduce the number of Arab citizens are taking place in the Negev desert, where every Israeli government has tirelessly worked to establish Jewish hegemony in the sprawling desert that comprises more than half of Israel’s land mass. The latest iteration of those plans, The Prawer Plan, which sought to displace some 40,000 Bedouin citizens living in dozens of “unrecognized” villages, was just one in 70 years of similar efforts. Currently, the Israeli government is finalizing the destruction of the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in order to build a new settlement in its place — for Jews only.
Imagine the feeling of living under a regime which views your very existence as a strategic threat; one out of every five Israeli citizens do.
A state that belongs less to some of its citizens than others, which sees some of its citizens as assets and others as liabilities, which bestows inalienable rights upon some and views others as expendable — is not a just state. After 70 years, the question is no longer whether Israel can balance its Jewish and democratic character. The question is which of them it has chosen.
Even that debate won’t be relevant for much long. The Israeli Knesset is scheduled to advance the “Jewish Nation-State” law in the coming weeks. The government-supported bill, which is the equivalent of a constitutional amendment in Israel’s system, would explicitly favor the country’s Jewish character over its democratic character.