Palestinian residents of Israel have shaky ties with state

Article Summary
Palestinians living inside Israel have various views about their identity and relationship with the state, but all agree that the concept of a “Jewish state” is racist and exclusionary.

It was Oct. 1, 2000. All of the villages and cities that were occupied in 1948, without exception, had joined the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, bringing the storm to the Israeli interior. It was a violent thunderbolt. A week following clashes that resulted in 13 dead youths, the situation calmed down. The leaders of Palestinian political parties in Israel and the heads of the Arab towns and village councils in Israel got the situation under control after Israeli soldiers withdrew from village and city entrances. This was while leaders of the Palestinian factions in the West Bank and Gaza were preparing themselves for a militarization that was not long in coming. The “stone-throwing children” there (heroes of the first intifada in 1987) had grown up and become fierce fighters in a place where resistance potential, though minimal, is present. In Israel, the generation that fought on Land Day in 1976 had aged and feared what would happen to its children as a result of the continuation of the clashes. Moreover, the shock of the Palestinian citizens of Israel over the killing of their children in cold blood after long years of calm did not allow them to think of the possibility of resisting.

The clashes halted and we kept our martyrs’ photos alone. We named the occurrence the “October Events.” Political leadership (along with the martyrs’ families) went to an official Israeli inquiry commission. On the sidelines of the clashes, youths in revolt attacked and destroyed vital facilities, which for them represent “what is Israeli,” such as banks to which they pay debts, the post office where they pay taxes and even traffic lights placed by the Israeli Ministry of Transportation at town entrances. What is Israel for us? It is the “services” provided as favors from the state, but which in fact take advantage of the people’s fatigue, blood, land and dignity.

Riotous young man in an academic document

One of the “small victories” during those days was when a young man broke into a Bank of Israel branch in one of the villages of Galilee. An infamous, riotous young man in the village sat in the bank manager’s chair and started to randomly sign and seal papers in front of him while shouting: “God is great. Thanks God!” This is not the story of a young man; it is the story of all of us.

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This young man has never been asked whether or not what he did was part of the second intifada or part of the October Events. However, these stories pushed the cultural and political leadership of the Palestinians of 1948 to issue documents answering the question related to their “relationship” with the state that had been built on their remains and where they lived as citizens. These documents were keen to be representative, comprehensive and to have an academic background.

Three core documents were issued between 2005 and 2007: "The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel," the Haifa Declaration, and the Democratic Constitution. In their propositions, these documents have been consistent with each other more than they have been different. However, they diverged on two main points: the method and meaning of the drafting on the one hand, and the faith of those who were in charge of these documents that it was possible to implement them.

The form of the wording

"The Future Vision" was a form of internal recommendations for institutions, parties and the Palestinian leadership in Israel (the territories of 1948). It was based on research papers with an ideological character that was closer to the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Communist Party), an Arab-Jewish party that believed in the two-state solution. A large number of researchers involved in the Israeli academic system and in the administrative work associated with the Israeli administrative institutions worked on the document. It was a formula that was consistent with the “practical” character of this vision as a strategic program desired by the “committee of heads of local authorities,” a body gathering the elected heads (through the clan and sect often) of the local councils of Palestinian towns and villages in Israel.

On the other hand, researchers at the Mada al-Carmel Arab Center for Applied Social Research and those with them adopted a declaration formula in the Haifa document to express what the Palestinian citizens of Israel wanted by using the plural personal pronoun, “we.” This document was described as being close to the national trend (National Democratic Assembly Party), which refused the idea of a solely Jewish state and called for a binational state in Israel. The Haifa Declaration sharply and strictly answered the question of who we were and what was our presence in our homeland: “Despite the setback to our national project and our relative isolation from the rest of our Palestinian people and our Arab nation since the Nakba, and despite all the attempts made to keep us in ignorance of our Palestinian and Arab history, … we have spared no effort to preserve our Palestinian identity and national dignity and to fortify them, … and we reaffirm our right to remain in our homeland and to safeguard it.” The drafting exonerated those in charge of the Haifa Declaration from many and necessary explanations. It gave the opportunity of using terms such as “setback to our national project” without specifying the identity of the project or the setback.

Was the Oslo Accord the setback, for example? If the Oslo Accord was the setback, was the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), with its arms and operations, the national project for the Palestinians residing in Israel, too? This rhetoric enabled the Haifa document to avoid engaging in the details of a political solution, which most of those in charge of declaration knew that it had nothing to do with reality. … Instead, the document used flowery wordings, such as “tolerance, respect and democracy.”


The Democratic Constitution (2007), issued by the Adalah Center, was, as the name suggests, a proposal for a constitution upon which the political system in the State of Israel could be based. The center, founded in 1996, works primarily in the proceedings in Israeli and international courts. International law is a cornerstone of its work. The Democratic Constitution took us from the first point of divergence (structure and drafting) to the second point, which was the faith of those in charge of the documents in the possibility of implementing them.

This constitution came after various Zionist movements had issued proposals for a constitution governing the Israeli system. They were all, without any doubt, racist and colonial. The Democratic Constitution came as a response to this series of proposals, to explain “the huge gaps between the Israeli perception of the political system under which they want to live, and our vision of the political regime we want.”

But the content was not a real constitution as much as it was an objection to the Israeli draft constitutions. It was aimed to be an objection drafted in an equivalent wording and of an equivalent importance, not just a criticizing article or a paper expressing a position. The drafting-related problems indicate that the drafters were confident that the content would be achieved. The drafting of the proposed constitution, which used the ruse of a “bilingual multicultural democratic regime,” was only based on the Palestinian perspective and completely ignored that of the Jews. Nevertheless, whoever drafted the Future Vision believed that he had sought to develop “applicable strategic plans.” Thus, these drafters were supposed to believe in the possibility that what they had drafted would come true.

The document was divided into papers tackling the relationship with the state, the legal status of the Palestinians in Israel, land, housing, economic development, social development, education, cultural structure, and political and institutional action. These plans, however, were inconsistent in terms of their level of applicability. While recommendations ensued from the economic, social and cultural papers, … the papers tackling political areas did not specify actions that must be followed by Palestinians to achieve their political vision. None of those drafting the Future Vision discussed the cause of the disparity between the pragmatic socioeconomic papers tackling internal issues and the complete lack of the practical aspect in the political papers. It is worth mentioning that the political vision for a solution, no matter how committed it is to the “minimum agreed-upon [terms]” and regardless of the fine and diplomatic language it was drafted in, is still very far from reality.

These documents accurately reflected the role of Arab citizens in Israel in the Arab-Zionist conflict. Palestinians have an objecting role and presence and their goal is to stay in this land in spite of the available material conditions. They raise the level of their struggle within the framework of “citizenship” and “order,” and under the “international law and international conventions on human rights.”

A dream reality

The real problem lies in submitting these documents and visions as realistic hypotheses. Realism in Palestine is a synonym of the smoothness of the used language. "The Future Vision" would be more realistic than the Haifa Declaration, if the former used but was not limited to the expression “Israel’s acceptance of its responsibility for the Nakba” and if the latter used the expression “Israel must recognize the historical injustice.”

"The Future Vision" says “a common consensual democracy for Arabs and Jews,” which is more realistic than the Democratic Constitution when it says “a bilingual democratic state.” This is also, of course, much more realistic than the option of “one secular state,” which in turn is more realistic than the argument of (God forbid) “liberation of Palestine.” We sometimes forget in Palestine that the struggle for just causes is a struggle against an unjust reality, and that dreams are the only subject of the struggle.

These three founding documents would enjoy a founding capacity if we understood their limitations, and if those drafting them understood, even if they did not declare it, that their importance lies in that they took the Palestinians’ discourse to a whole new level and set a new threshold that became irrevocable. This threshold is useless if we don’t always think about the possibility of improving it, and lifting it to clash with the limits set by the colonization we are subjected to.

Exceptional relationship

The Nakba created a story that the region’s history is not familiar with. It is settlement colonization that displaced a part of the people while another part remained. The characteristic of the Zionist colonization of Palestine, which continues to exist even after concrete/rough colonial existence vanished in most world countries, is that, in contrast to classic cases, it does not have a founding state. This means that the colonized region did not turn into a subsidiary under the sponsorship of the colonizing state and it was not turned into a subordinated state. Not only the “character of the state” was not imposed on it, but this land turned into a center and an “origin.” The distance between the racist mentality that made decisions in Europe and those who were sent to apply these decisions, for example, in North Africa, such as Algeria and elsewhere, does not exist for us. This is exactly what creates the large confusion. The ongoing debate between seeking to expel colonialism and colonizers from Palestine or combating a racist regime — having its constitution and definition — must be dropped without prejudicing the existence of communities that live today in Palestine, even if they form a part of the colonial system.

The cultural image drawn for the colonized Palestinian is the image of a refugee. Since the colonial state here is built on expelling the majority of indigenous people and turning them into a minority, the term refugee became synonymous with colonized, and anti-colonialism became synonymous with the fight against the state and a complete breakup with it as a single and closed unit. Thus, the first step in the fight against this colonization became boycotting any dealings with it. At this culture-making moment, Palestinians who remained in their home country renounced their Arab affiliation. They were forced to deal with the colonial regime and to be citizens in it.

These questions were not on the table in bygone times, when European colonialism was imposed on all parts of the Arab world. Normal life under the regime was not disapproved and did not need to be justified. The need for the Arab citizens in Israel to justify their Israeli citizenship and resolve contradictions between the said citizenship and their struggle against colonialism is a new need. It is necessary in the journey of search for belonging and a struggle identity.

These documents shed light primarily on the difference between the political currents inside Palestine, but at the same time prove that these currents, no matter how varied and different, and regardless of the smoothness of their language and diplomatic discourse, agree on a final line stating that the Zionist system is too racist and brutal to understand the social and political differences within the Palestinian community. In the end, rejecting a regime based on the Judaism of the state is the only point agreed upon …

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Found in: west bank, palestine, occupation, nation building, nakba day, israeli-arabs, israel
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